Orthodox groups brace for consequences of same-sex marriage ruling


The name that keeps coming up when Orthodox Jewish groups consider the consequences of the U.S. Supreme Court decision extending same-sex marriage rights to all states has little to do with Jews or gays.

Bob Jones University, the private Protestant college in South Carolina, lost its tax-exempt status in 1983 when the Supreme Court ruled that its policies banning interracial dating on campus were “wholly incompatible with the concepts underlying tax exemption.”

Orthodox Jewish organizations, several of which publicly dissented from the Jewish community’s broad endorsement of the High Court’s decision, now worry similar consequences could befall them.

“It remains to be seen whether gay rights advocates and/or the government will seek to apply the Bob Jones rule to all institutions that dissent from recognizing same-sex marriage,” Nathan Diament, the Washington director for the Orthodox Union (OU), said in an email.

The groups point to an exchange in April between Donald Verrilli, the Obama administration solicitor general, and Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who asked if a school could lose its tax-exempt status if it opposed gay marriage.

“I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue,” Verrilli replied. “It is going to be an issue.”

How much of an issue now exercises Jewish groups. Will Jewish schools lose tax-exempt status if they don’t recognize gay couples? Could they become ineligible for government grants or face discrimination lawsuits for teaching traditional Jewish perspective on homosexuality?

Abba Cohen, who directs the Washington office for Agudath Israel of America, called the court’s ruling an “ominous” sign.

“When an impression is given that religious views are bigoted and are vilified, and that [their adherents] really should be given the status of second-class citizens, once you’re dealing in that kind of atmosphere, you don’t know what kind of disadvantages and disabilities people will suffer,” Cohen said.

After the court’s decision was released on June 26, an array of Jewish groups were rejoicing, but the Orthodox groups — including Agudah, the OU and the Rabbinical Council of America  —  expressed worry.

“We are deeply concerned that, as a result of today’s ruling, and as the dissenting justices have pointed out, members and institutions of traditional communities like the Orthodox Jewish community we represent may incur moral opprobrium and risk tangible negative consequence if they refuse to transgress their beliefs, and even if they simply teach and express their religious views publicly,” said a statement from Agudah, which had filed an amicus brief opposing same-sex marriage.

The justices themselves acknowledged the possible fallout for religious groups. Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said the First Amendment protected religious groups that wished to advocate their view that same-sex marriage is illegitimate. But in their dissents, Chief Justice John Roberts and Clarence Thomas said such protections were insufficient.

“Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage,” Roberts wrote. “There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court. Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.”

Marc Stern, counsel for the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which also filed an amicus brief in favor of same-sex marriage, said immediate consequences were unlikely at the federal level. But on the local and state levels, there would be challenges.

“Will a state or city official take the decision to remove a tax exemption? In San Francisco, it’s a possibility. In New York City, it might happen,” said Stern, who pointed out he was speaking as a legal analyst.

Another potential challenge cited by Diament is whether groups that reject gay marriage might become ineligible for government grants, citing a debate during the George W. Bush administration about whether drug rehabilitation programs run by proselytizing religious groups should be eligible for funding through the White House’s faith-based initiative.

“We also can anticipate a fight akin to what we had in the context of the Bush faith-based initiative — whether institutions must recognize same-sex marriage to participate in government grant programs,” Diament said.

Cohen also wondered whether Jewish adoption agencies might be prohibited from limiting placement to heterosexual couples or if schools run by religious groups that reject homosexuality could be subject to discrimination lawsuits. 

Moving and shaking: Marriage equality rally, L.A. Press Club Awards, the Black Eyed Peas and more


Los Angeles clergy, city officials, same-sex couples and other supporters of gay marriage rejoiced in the Supreme Court’s decision to make same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states during a June 26 rally in West Hollywood Park.

“Marriage, that peculiar and particular joining of human hearts and souls, is high on the list of what serves some human needs,” Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC) Rabbi Lisa Edwards said, addressing the large crowd assembled on the same day of the court’s ruling. “It is why it has become a cause worldwide, and it is why we are here tonight in such a variety of human experience — to celebrate this hard-won victory of the human heart.”

The crowd numbered approximately 1,000, this reporter estimated, and came waving American flags, gay pride flags, and carrying signs that read, “Love Wins.” The evening’s attendees were in good company: Similar events took place all over the country, according to uniteformarriage.org.

Among those who participated in the program were BCC Rabbi Heather Miller; L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz, a former mayor of West Hollywood; and City Controller Ron Galperin, who is married to Rabbi Zachary Shapiro of Temple Akiba in Culver City.

BCC member Bracha Yael was in attendance with her partner of 35 years, Davi Chang, a fellow member of the congregation founded in 1972 as the world’s first lesbian and gay synagogue.

“I just welled up and cried,” Yael said, describing her reaction to the court’s decision. 

Edwards, spotlighting the work of faith leaders who helped make the day’s ruling possible, mentioned Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami, the other LGBT synagogue in L.A. Eger was in Israel and unable to attend.

“As religious leaders, we celebrate today how far we have come,” Edwards said, “but we don’t rest yet.”

The rally’s sponsors included BCC, the Anti-Defamation League and the Office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.


The Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism recognized the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo during the June 28 Los Angeles Press Club gala dinner at the downtown Millennium Biltmore Hotel Los Angeles. 

The target of a January terrorist attack in Paris by Islamic extremists that took the lives of 12 people, Charlie Hebdo skewers religion, politicians and current events. The murder of the magazine’s staff prompted expressions of solidarity around the world.

From left: Judea Pearl, co-founder of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, and Charlie Hebdo journalist Antonio Fischetti attended the June 28 Los Angeles Press Club gala. Photo by Kerstin Alm

 “We grieve and stand united with the French people, and with the families of all victims of the Paris massacre,” said Judea and Ruth Pearl, presenters of the award and parents of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, in a statement. “We are humbled by their sacrifice, which has reawakened the world to a deadly peril that must be confronted and eliminated.”

Hebdo joins the company of previous winners: NBC News’ Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel, the late Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya and ABC News’ Bob Woodruff.

The Journal won several awards in the “Print Over 50,000 Circulation” category. First-place winners were Danielle Berrin for her work as a columnist and Marty Kaplan in the commentary category. 

Simone Wilson won second place in the investigative/series category and third place in the individual online blog. Jared Sichel was honored for a news feature over 1,000 words (third place) and Rob Eshman for his work as a columnist (third place). 


Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller is retiring from his position as executive director at the Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA after 40 years with the organization. As of July 1, he will transition into an emeritus role, which he will maintain “in the year ahead,” according to a press release. A May 27 event at the home of Jeanne and Anthony Pritzker spotlighted, among other things, Seidler-Feller’s upcoming transition to a new role.

Rabbi Aaron Lerner, current Hillel at UCLA Simha and Sara Lainer Senior Jewish Educator, will become the organization’s new leader.

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller and Rabbi Aaron Lerner. Photos courtesy of Hillel at UCLA

Two events — a day of learning and a gala ceremony — will celebrate Seidler-Feller on Jan. 31, 2016. The former will feature keynote addresses from visiting scholars.

Seidler-Feller’s accomplishments during his tenure include overseeing the construction of the Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life, engaging Persian students by founding the UCLA Persian Community at Hillel and promoting Jewish-themed student arts on campus by creating the Streisand Center for Jewish Cultural Arts, the precursor to the Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts at UCLA Hillel. He has been a staunch advocate of Israel, as well, helping to push back against the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement on campus.

Meanwhile, Lerner, who recently completed his third year at UCLA’s Hillel, is also involved with Israel advocacy and has worked with student leaders who, in turn, do outreach to other Jewish students on campus. A Wexner Graduate Fellow, he was ordained at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and worked in commercial real estate finance after graduating from the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. He and his wife, Rachel Lerner, have three daughters.


With his interest in telling stories, Jeffrey Tambor had the childhood ambition of becoming a rabbi. But when his father told him he’d need to learn Hebrew, he opted to become another kind of storyteller — an actor. 

Beth Chayim Chadashim honoree and actor Jeffrey Tambor (“Transparent”) accepts an award from Amy Landecker (left)  and Judith Light, his “Transparent” co-stars. Photo by Ryan Torok

Tambor revealed this and more when he was feted June 28 at the Beth Chayim Chadashim 2015 Awards Brunch at the Skirball Cultural Center, where he was honored with the Rabbi Erwin and Agnes Herman Humanitarian Award for his work on the hit Amazon TV series “Transparent.”

“I think I should get the ‘Luckiest Guy in the Room Award’ or, more specifically, the ‘Luckiest Jew in the Room [Award],’ ” Tambor said upon accepting his award, which was presented by “Transparent” co-stars Amy Landecker and Judith Light. The award was a shofar that Tambor, caught up in the excitement of the moment, almost forgot to take with him as he left the stage at the conclusion of his remarks. 

Coming on the heels of the June 26 landmark Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage across the nation, BCC, the self-described world’s oldest LGBT synagogue, had added reason to celebrate. Many of the day’s speakers, including BCC Rabbi Lisa Edwards, highlighted the importance of the court decision. 

The synagogue also honored Sylvia Sukop and Bonnie Kaplan with the Harriet Perl Tzedek Award and Bruce Maxwell with the BCC Presidents Award.  

The event drew nearly 300 people, including  BCC Cantor Juval Porat, who performed; Elissa Barrett, a BCC congregant and vice president at Bet Tzedek and her partner, writer Joshua Gershick; and BCC President Lauren Schlau


The Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) celebrated its 111th anniversary and honored various community members during its June 10 gala at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel in Bel Air. 

Dr. Richard Shemin, a cardiac surgeon, received the Nathan Shapell Memorial Lifetime Commitment Award, and Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer was given the Ben and Anne Werber Communal Service Award. James and Sandra Kohn, who established the JFLA Kohn Family Fund for the Arts, a loan program, were honored with the Mitchell Family Foundation Philanthropy Award, and Betsy Berger, a former JFLA emergency loan recipient who now works for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, received the Salter Family Foundation Client Recognition Award.

Comedian Monica Piper (“Not That Jewish”) served as emcee of the event, which drew JFLA CEO David Levy and 225 other attendees. 

Established in 1904, JFLA provides interest-free microloans to people of any faith facing financial challenges in the Los Angeles area.


Bet Tzedek’s 19th annual Justice Ball on June 20 drew 800 attendees and raised approximately $250,000 for the pro bono legal aid agency that assists low-income people with housing and other emergencies, Holocaust survivors applying for reparations and others in need. Founded as a storefront operation, the organization is currently headquartered in Koreatown.

Highlights of the Bet Tzedek Justice Ball included a live performance by rapper Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas. Photo by Ben Shani Photography

Every year, the Bet Tzedek New Leadership Council organizes this event for young professionals. This year, for the first time, the Justice Ball was held at the Conga Room at L.A. Live, a Cuban-themed nightclub with its own cigar-rolling station and salsa-dancing lessons studio offering panoramic views of Nokia Plaza and the Staples Center’s entrance.

The highlights of the evening included separate live performances by rappers Travie McCoy and Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas, their energetic tunes drawing hundreds of people — including folks otherwise blissfully cordoned off in the VIP area — to the Conga dance floor.

The Journal caught up with Bet Tzedek CEO/President Jessie Kornberg while she was in line at one of two cocktail bars. This was the first Justice Ball for Kornberg, who was hired last October. 

McCoy sported a white T-shirt, cargo shorts and a chain necklace. He played DJ for a while — leaving some in the crowd, including The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Jocelyn Orloff, to wonder if he was ever going to get behind the microphone — before finally singing his hit song, “Billionaire.” (“I want to be a billionaire, so freaking bad,” the chorus goes.) Performing before young and upcoming lawyers, he dedicated the song to the “future billionaires” in the crowd.


Atid, a young-professionals organization at Sinai Temple, held its first gala on June 6. More than 150 gathered at the temple to mingle, dance, enjoy dinner and present Barak Raviv with the Outstanding Leadership Award. 

From left: Bryce Megdal, Simone Nathanson and Andrea Paige attend Atid’s first gala. Photo courtesy of Atid 

As senior vice president and senior portfolio manager at Morgan Stanley in Beverly Hills, Raviv has donated 10 percent of his income to various charitable organizations through the Barak Raviv Foundation for more than a decade. Last year, he donated a substantial amount to Atid and sponsored numerous events. 

“It’s one of the most powerful organizations for reaching young professionals in the Jewish community,” Raviv, 39, told the Journal. “It creates a community, and people see it as a second Jewish home.”

Established by Rabbi David Wolpe almost 20 years ago, Atid serves 21- to 39-year-olds, holding around 10 programs each month. These include Wolpe’s lectures, holiday events and singles programming.

“We try and provide entry points for as many different types of Jews in L.A. as possible,” said Matt Baram, Sinai Temple’s Millennial Director and the man behind the event. 

“[Raviv] is a mensch who supports Atid both financially and with his attitude,” Baram said. “We give the award to someone who positively impacts the greater community with his words and actions, and he is just that.” 

The gala raised $7,000 and was a launching point for a new fundraising campaign called Chai 1,000. The goal of the campaign is to have 1,000 people donate $18 or more to the organization.

 —  Sarah Soroudi, Contributing Writer

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. 

Male-female marriage remains the ideal


Shortly before she was elected attorney general of California, Kamala Harris and I debated same-sex marriage on CNN. At one point, she asked me if I would prefer a child be raised by same-sex parents who have their act together (a paraphrase, but that was the gist) to being raised by a dysfunctional mother and father. I said I would prefer the functional same-sex parents. 

Having answered her question, I posed one of my own.

I asked her to imagine two couples, one a same-sex couple and the other a married man and woman, and the two are equally loving, psychologically and emotionally healthy, and responsible. If you had a newborn baby that had been placed for adoption, I asked her, which couple would you give the baby to? 

At first, Harris avoided responding to the question. Finally, when pressed, she said that she would need more information about the couples.

The reason I asked the question was that I assume that most proponents of same-sex marriage don’t really believe that starting out life without a mother or without a father — and never having the opportunity to have a mother or father later in life — is just as good for a child as having a mother and a father. 

That’s why Harris didn’t want to answer the question. As a proponent of same-sex marriage, she could not possibly say on national television that, all things being equal, it is better for a child to have both a mother and father. On the other hand, she would sound foolish to most Americans — even many liberals — to say that not having a mother or not having a father makes no difference.

Yet, that is what defenders of same-sex marriage are forced to say. Because if they acknowledge the importance of having a mother and a father, they are implicitly acknowledging that man-woman marriage is the ideal — at least with regard to children.

The reason for the intensity of the passion on behalf of same-sex marriage has little to do with legality and rights. Rights available to married couples could have been made available to same-sex couples without having to redefine marriage. 

Rather, the reason for the intensity on behalf of same-sex marriage is that any same-sex union other than marriage would imply that the male-female union is the ideal. And in the Age of Equality in which we live — all cultures are equal, all religions are equal, all nations are equal — this assertion is not expressible. 

Yet, as much as people seek to deny it, male-female marriage has been the ideal in every civilization that has a recorded history. It has certainly been the Jewish ideal. Adam is alone and God makes for him a woman. A man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave unto his woman and they shall be as one flesh. And men should restrict their sexual activity to their wives (this was unique to the Torah — every other ancient culture celebrated male-male sex; sex with wives was for making babies).

Does the male-female ideal mean that the homosexual man or woman is inferior? Of course not. One example should make this clear: No one, not even most liberal Jews, would argue that having a single (loving and competent) parent is no different from having two (loving and competent) parents. Every intellectually honest person knows that a two-parent home is the ideal. Yet, no one would argue that a single parent is an inferior human being. The idea is preposterous.

Likewise, to acknowledge that the man-woman union is the ideal is in no way a negative judgment about the gay individual. It is only a judgment in favor of the male-female union. Just as the two-parent ideal is in no way a reflection of the worth of the unmarried parent as a human being.

But the left has equated such commonsensical assertions with “hatred,” with “bigotry” and with “racism.” 

The majority of gays will never marry. But the cultural left knows that anything other than marriage — no matter how many rights are allowed — implies that the male-female union is the ideal. And that is not allowed. To even hint at it is to be a “hater.”

That is what the battle over same-sex marriage is largely about.

And that is why it is particularly sad to see how many non-Orthodox rabbis have decided that Judaism has been wrong for 3,000 years in insisting that male-female marriage is the human ideal. It gives one little faith in the non-Orthodox movements’ ability to withstand societal pressure and stand up for Judaism. And this is written by a non-Orthodox Jew.

We have entered a Brave New World unimaginable even to Aldous Huxley, the author of the book of that famous title. He could never have imagined, for example, the latest poll showing that most American young people, 16 to 34, believe that gender identity is “fluid.” 

But how could it not be? If the gender of the person you marry doesn’t matter, if the gender of your parents doesn’t matter — then gender doesn’t matter.

Pity this next generation. They are guinea pigs in the most radical social transformation in history.

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best-seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

Why we are crying


I was reminiscing with a friend last night about my 21 years as rabbi of Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC), the first and oldest LGBT synagogue in the world (founded in 1972). I arrived in 1994, in the midst of the AIDS crisis, and my calendar filled immediately with death-bed conversations, funerals, shivahs and a congregation in grief.

In 2008, my calendar filled to overflowing again, this time with the extraordinary high of wedding after wedding during that all-too- brief 4 1/2-month window of legal marriage in California before Proposition 8 slammed the window shut.

My reminiscing was prompted, of course, by news of the 5-4 Supreme Court decision on the morning of June 26 — flinging open the window of marriage equality in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.  

My wife, Tracy Moore, an out lesbian activist since the early 1970s, wrote to her cousin that Friday:  

“It does seem that change happened fast! Consider how long it took to get Loving v. Virginia (1967) to do away with ‘anti-miscegenation’ laws. Still, many have long suffered for lack of these rights. Children forgone, deathbed farewells forbidden, inheritances appropriated, jobs lost or not striven toward thru fear of exposure, relationships undermined for lack of family support. On and on. I’m glad you helped me think of those things by sending me your congratulations on this most thrilling day.”

I think of people I have known personally:

The years she lived in fear her ex-husband would sue her for sole custody by outing her in court as “unfit.”

The father whose children were removed from his life — even visiting rights, let alone joint custody, were denied.

The one dying from AIDS, whose parents descended and locked his partner out of his house.

I remember the first time I saw pieces of the AIDS Memorial Quilt: “I am 21 years old. If you are reading this, I am dead.” 

The toll taken over the years on teachers who chose to deny being gay or lesbian so as not to lose their livelihood or be denied the job they loved.

I cried, too, watching President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden telling the country that the Supreme Court’s marriage decision moved us a step closer to a more perfect union, even knowing that he would leave the garden moments later to fly to Charleston, S.C., and deliver that eloquent eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine voices of faith killed by the disease of racism and violence still running rampant in our country. (Since the shooting, six historically Black churches have been victims of arson.)

And suddenly I was crying again — remembering the LGBT community’s delicate balance on Election Night in November 2008, when news of Obama’s thrilling election came side-by-side with the Prop. 8 win, which brought a screeching halt to the weddings and aufrufs our community had been so enjoying.

On June 28, BCC honored actor Jeffrey Tambor for his extraordinary work as the character Mort/Maura Pfefferman in Jill Soloway’s amazing Amazon Prime series, “Transparent,” and for his commitment to use his star turn to advocate for LGBT people, particularly transgender people who face so many hurdles in their lives, including civil rights withheld from them. 

At Friday’s rally on the Day of Decision in West Hollywood Park, where LGBT people and our allies have gathered so many times over the years, shedding tears of outrage, sorrow and joy, I was reminded that our tears have fed the roots of our resolve to resist, persist and overcome. 

 As a representative of the faith community at Friday’s rally, I reminded the crowd (though many needed no reminding):

We know marriage is not the be-all and end-all of civil rights. We know that marriage is not for everyone, nor is it bliss for all who enter it.  

We know that there are many battles still to fight, for transgender rights, health care rights — including mental health, rights to living wages, to shelter, to food, to legal immigration, to gun control, to an end to global warming, and an end to bullying and discrimination and prejudice and injustice in all their many forms.

As a religious community, we celebrate today how far we have come. But we don’t rest yet — we know there is a long road ahead until the day we can say that all people, all genders, all colors, all configurations of families, may truly rest secure knowing that the law is there to protect us all so that all human hearts may open wide and let love in. Let Love Win. 

Rabbi Lisa Edwards is rabbi of Beth Chayim Chadashim (

I believe in Torah, halachah and equality


On June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that it is unconstitutional for a state to ban same-sex marriage. The issue still divides America, though the latest Pew Research Center survey numbers say 54 percent of Americans favor gay marriage, and only 36 percent oppose it.

In the Orthodox Jewish community, the matter is far less polarizing. I could not find any actual numbers, but I think most people are correct in assuming that the vast majority of Orthodox Jews oppose same-sex marriage for themselves and for the United States. All of the mainstream Orthodox Jewish umbrella organizations have issued statements over the past few years reiterating this opposition. Some Orthodox Jews are ambivalent on the issue, and a small minority is in favor of gay marriage.

I celebrate the Supreme Court decision.

A lot of people are confused at how an Orthodox rabbi who follows the Torah and its laws could celebrate the legalization of gay marriage.

I have been mocked, berated, insulted and even ousted from Orthodoxy for supporting marriage equality. I’ve been asked, respectfully and less respectfully, how I reconcile my belief in marriage equality and my religious beliefs. 

This is my official response: Marriage equality is a civil rights issue. Gay people exist. They are your neighbors and co-workers. They might be your friends and family as well. It’s hard to be gay in America. There’s trauma involved. Gay people fall in love. They want to live together as a married couple. They want to get married for the same reasons everyone else wants to get married. Restricting consenting adults from a loving, committed marriage is a form of discrimination. I believe that discrimination is wrong. I believe that citizens of free countries should not feel oppressed. I believe that more freedom for more people is a good thing for everyone, including Orthodox Jews.

Of course, I am concerned about the implications of the ruling. I am concerned about clergy with religious objections to officiating a gay marriage, but those personal concerns cannot trump the more basic civil rights of others, especially people who typically suffer persecution and discrimination.

I am not concerned that America is becoming a Godless state with no morals. If you want equal rights and protection under the law, everyone else must benefit, too. It is wrong to suggest that equality applies unevenly. George Orwell said it best in “Animal Farm”: “All animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” It is moral to be fair to others, even if those others are people who violate your religious beliefs. There are competing morals in this case, and America is choosing the more compassionate and the more just of the moral options.

Marriage equality is a good thing. I celebrate marriage equality. I am also an Orthodox Jew, and I will not perform a religious ceremony that is not recognized by my religion as valid, including a gay marriage. Those two statements are not contradictory.

There is a long list of things that I think are very important to Orthodox Judaism. Banning gay marriage is near the bottom of the list. Kindness, compassion and fairness are near the top of the list.

I understand that many Orthodox Jews have visceral fears about gay marriage because of Jewish law. I hope we can get past those fears and move forward toward understanding
and love. 

Eliyahu Fink is an Orthodox rabbi, writer, and teacher in Beverly Hills and online at finkorswim.com. A version of this article was originally published on finkorswim.com.

Cartoon: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness


Supreme Court rules in favor of gay marriage nationwide


The Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the U.S. Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry, handing a historic triumph to the American gay rights movement.

The court ruled 5-4 that the Constitution's guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law mean that states cannot ban same-sex marriages. With the landmark ruling, gay marriage becomes legal in all 50 states.

Immediately after the decision, same-sex couples in many of states where gay marriage had been banned headed to county clerks' offices for marriage licenses as state officials issued statements saying they would respect the ruling.

President Barack Obama, appearing in the White House Rose Garden, hailed the ruling as a milestone in American justice that arrived “like a thunderbolt.”

“This ruling is a victory for America,” said Obama, the first sitting president to support gay marriage. “This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing on behalf of the court, said the hope of gay people intending to marry “is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

Kennedy, a conservative who often casts the deciding vote in close cases, was joined in the majority by the court's four liberal justices.

Kennedy, appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1988, has now authored all four of the court's major gay rights rulings, with the first coming in 1996. As with his 2013 opinion when the court struck down a federal law that denied benefits to same-sex couples, Kennedy stressed the dignity of marriage.

“Without the recognition, stability and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser,” Kennedy wrote.

In a blistering dissenting opinion, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia said the decision shows the court is a “threat to American democracy.” The ruling “says that my ruler and the ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court,” Scalia added.

Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts read a summary of his dissent from the bench, the first time he has done so in his 10 years on the court. Roberts said although there are strong policy arguments in same-sex marriage, it was not the court's role to force states to change their marriage laws.

“Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law,” Roberts wrote.

The dissenters raised concerns about the impact of the case on people opposed to same-sex marriage on religious grounds.

Although the ruling only affects state laws and religious institutions can still choose whether to marry same-sex couples, Roberts predicted future legal conflicts.

“Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage,” Roberts said. Roberts gave as an example a religious college that provides married student housing only to opposite-sex couples.

The ruling is the Supreme Court's most important expansion of marriage rights in the United States since its landmark 1967 ruling in the case Loving v. Virginia that struck down state laws barring interracial marriages.

There were 13 state bans in place, while another state, Alabama, had contested a court ruling that lifted the ban there.

The ruling is the latest milestone in the gay rights movement in recent years. In 2010, Obama signed a law allowing gays to serve openly in the U.S. military. In 2013, the high court ruled unconstitutional a 1996 U.S. law that declared for the purposes of federal benefits marriage was defined as between one man and one woman.

Reaction came swiftly. James Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the case, told a cheering crowd outside the Supreme Court, “Today's ruling from the Supreme Court affirms what millions across this country already know to be true in our hearts – our love is equal, that the four words etched onto the front of the Supreme Court – equal justice under law – apply to us, too.”

Hundreds of gay rights supporters celebrated outside the courthouse with whoops and cries of “U-S-A!” and “Love is love” as the decision came down.

'JUDICIAL TYRANNY'

Conservatives denounced the ruling. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said, “This flawed, failed decision is an out-of-control act of unconstitutional judicial tyranny.” Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum lamented that five “unelected judges redefined the foundational unit of society.”

Opponents say same-sex marriage legality should be decided by states, not judges. Some opponents argue it is an affront to traditional marriage between a man and a woman and that the Bible condemns homosexuality.

Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, wrote on Twitter she was “proud to celebrate a historic victory for marriage equality.”

The decision follows rapid changes in attitudes and policies toward gay marriage in America. It was not until 2003 that the Supreme Court threw out state laws banning gay sex. And it was not until 2004 that the Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. Gay marriage has gained increasing acceptance in opinion polls in recent years, particularly among younger Americans.

Gay marriage also is gaining acceptance in other Western countries. Last month in Ireland, voters backed same-sex marriage by a landslide in a referendum that marked a dramatic social shift in the traditionally Roman Catholic country.

Ireland followed several Western European countries including Britain, France and Spain in allowing gay marriage, which is also legal in South Africa, Brazil and Canada. But homosexuality remains taboo and often illegal in many parts of Africa and Asia.

The Supreme Court's ruling came in a consolidated case pulling together challenges filed by same-sex couples to gay marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

The Obama administration argued on the side of the same-sex marriage advocates.

The legal repercussions for same-sex couples are broad, affecting not just their right to marry but also their right to be recognized as a spouse or parent on birth and death certificates and other legal papers.

U.S. Supreme Court upholds key Obamacare insurance subsidies


The U.S. Supreme Court handed President Barack Obama a major victory on Thursday by upholding tax subsidies crucial to his signature healthcare law, with Chief Justice John Roberts saying Congress clearly intended for them to be available in all 50 states.

The court ruled on a 6-3 vote that the 2010 Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare, did not restrict the subsidies to states that establish their own online healthcare exchanges. It marked the second time in three years that the high court ruled against a major challenge to the law brought by conservatives seeking to gut it.

“Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” Roberts wrote in the court's decision, adding that nationwide availability of the credits is required to “avoid the type of calamitous result that Congress plainly meant to avoid.

Roberts was joined by fellow conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy and the court’s four liberal members in the majority.

Shares of hospital operators, health services providers and insurers rallied broadly following the court's decision to uphold the subsidies. Top gainers included hospital companies Tenet Healthcare Corp., up 8.8 percent, and Community Health Systems Inc., up 8.5 percent.

The decision means the subsidies will remain not just in the 13 states that have set up their own exchanges and the three states that have state-federal hybrid exchanges, but also in the 34 states that use the exchange run by the federal government.

The case centered on the tax subsidies offered under the law, passed by Obama's fellow Democrats in Congress in 2010 over unified Republican opposition, that help low- and moderate-income people buy private health insurance. The exchanges are online marketplaces that allow consumers to shop among competing insurance plans.

The question before the justices was whether a four-word phrase in the expansive law saying subsidies are available to those buying insurance on exchanges “established by the state” has been correctly interpreted by the administration to allow subsidies to be available nationwide

Roberts wrote that although the conservative challengers’ arguments about the plain meaning of the statute were “strong,” the “context and structure of the act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase.”

SCALIA DISSENTS

Justice Antonin Scalia took the relatively rare step of reading a summary of his dissenting opinion from the bench.

In his reading of the statute, “it is hard to come up with a reason to use these words other than the purpose of limiting credits to state exchanges,” Scalia said.

“We really should start calling the law SCOTUScare,” he added, referencing the court’s earlier decision upholding the constitutionality of the law. SCOTUS is the acronym for the Supreme Court of the United States.

Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito joined Scalia's dissent.

The ruling will come as a major relief to Obama as he seeks to ensure that his legacy legislative achievement is implemented effectively and survives political and legal attacks before he leaves office in early 2017.

The current system will remain in place, with subsidies available in all 50 states. If the challengers had won, at least 6.4 million people in at least 34 states would have lost the subsidies whose average value is $272 per month.

“The subsidies upheld today help patients afford health insurance so they can see a doctor when they need one and not have to wait until a small health problem becomes a crisis,” said Dr. Steven Stack, president of the American Medical Association.

Rich Umbdenstock, head of the American Hospital Association, said the subsidies have allowed people to more easily seek care, calling the ruling “a significant victory.”

A loss for the Obama administration also could have had a broader impact on insurance markets by deterring younger, healthier people from buying health insurance, which would lead to premiums rising for older, less healthy people who need healthcare most, according to analysts.

The Democratic-backed law aimed to help millions of Americans who lacked any health insurance afford coverage.

The Obama administration has hailed the law as a success, saying 16.4 million previously uninsured people have gained health insurance since it was enacted. There are currently around 26 million people without health insurance, according to government figures.

Leading up the high court's ruling, Obama warned of far-reaching consequences of overturning a law that he said had become “woven into the fabric of America.” In a June 9 speech, Obama said taking away health insurance provided under the law to millions of people who need it the most “seems so cynical.”

Conservatives have fought Obamacare from its inception, calling it a government overreach and “socialized medicine.”

Opponents repeatedly but unsuccessfully sought to repeal it in Congress and launched a series of legal challenges. In 2012, Roberts, a conservative appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, cast the deciding vote in a 5-4 decision that upheld the law on constitutional grounds, siding with the court's four liberals.

The current case started as a long-shot legal challenge by conservative lawyers that oppose the law. Financed by a libertarian Washington group called the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the lawyers recruited four people from Virginia to be the plaintiffs. The lead plaintiff was a self-employed limousine driver named David King.

The plaintiffs said they were “deeply disappointed” with the ruling. The law “unfairly restricts the health insurance choices of millions of people, and it threatens their jobs as well,” they added.

A district court judge ruled for the government, as did the federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia. But the Supreme Court then agreed to hear it.

The challengers said that the four-word phrase in the law indicates that only people who have bought insurance on state-established exchanges qualify for the tax-credit subsidies.

The Obama administration, backed by the healthcare industry, said other provisions in the law made clear that Congress intended the subsidies to be available nationwide regardless of whether states set up their own exchanges or leave the task to the federal government.

The case is King v. Burwell, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 14-114.

U.S. birth control ruling fuels battle over corporate rights


The U.S. Supreme Court has opened up a new front in the battle over corporate rights by ruling that family-owned and other closely held corporations can mount religious objections to government action.

Monday's decision came in a case in which companies sought an exemption to a provision of the 2010 Obamacare healthcare law that requires employers to provide insurance coverage that includes birth control.

The court allowed the exemption and in so doing raises the possibility of religious-based exceptions on issues such as blood transfusions, antidepressants, and vaccinations, liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned in her dissenting opinion.

She added that there was nothing in the majority opinion, written by conservative Justice Samuel Alito, that foreclosed the possibility of a publicly traded company making a similar claim.

The majority's logic “extends to corporations of any size, public or private,” she said.

Alito said there would be various obstacles to such a company making a claim. He questioned whether a broad array of shareholders would ever agree to run a company under the same religious beliefs. He said it “seems unlikely” that big public companies would ever want to make a religious claim.

The high court ruled 5-4 in lawsuits brought by two family owned companies, Hobby Lobby Stores Ltd and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. It concluded for the first time that such closely held corporations could make religious-based objections under a 1993 law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Some lawyers critical of the decision said it paved the way for business owners to discriminate against certain employees, including gays and lesbians. Others said corporations could seek exemptions from environmental regulations.

The court's majority and lawyers representing the companies involved in Monday's case insisted the ruling is narrow.

Who ends up being correct about the scope of the ruling will become clearer when lower courts test the limits of the decision in future cases.

CORPORATIONS AS PEOPLE

Four years ago, again on a 5-4 vote, the court endorsed corporate rights in another context: campaign finance. The ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission cleared the way for increased corporate and union spending during federal elections.

It drew sharp criticism from the left, including from President Barack Obama who, with Supreme Court justices in attendance at his 2010 State of the Union address, accused them of opening the floodgates for special interests to spend without limit on U.S. elections.At the time Alito, most notably among the justices present at the speech, shook his head and mouthed the words, “Not true.”

Emphasizing a partisan split on how the law should treat corporations, Mitt Romney, Obama's Republican opponent in the 2012 presidential election, memorably told a protester on the campaign trail that “corporations are people, my friend.”

The idea that corporations have some of the same rights as people is not new in U.S. jurisprudence, but Monday's ruling and the Citizens United case have both expanded on it in new areas of the law. Seizing upon the rhetorical links between the cases, Ginsburg on Monday cited then-Justice John Paul Stevens' lengthy dissenting opinion in Citizens United, in which he said corporations “have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.”

When judged alongside Citizens United, Monday's ruling provided further ammunition to liberal activists who claim the Supreme Court majority is too pro-business at the expense of workers.

“The court's conservative majority will bend over backwards to find that corporations can make every claim that individuals can bring,” said Doug Kendall, executive director of the Constitutional Accountability Center, a liberal group critical of what it describes as the court's pro-business bias.

Others disagreed that Monday's ruling was such a major development. The court's conclusion that the word “person” in the religious freedom law applies to closely held corporations was a reasonable one, said Ilya Shapiro, a legal scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute. “This was a technical, statutory ruling,” he said.

When analyzing religious objection, courts are required under the religious freedom law to determine whether the government regulation unduly burdens the company's owners, and, if so, whether it furthers a compelling government interest and whether the regulation is the least restrictive way of achieving that goal.

Alito said the ruling dealt specifically with the birth control provision, noting that in other cases, like immunization, the government was likely to be able to show that it had a compelling interest and that there was no less restrictive means for it to achieve its goal.

In Monday's ruling, the court indicated that regulations that already allow for exemptions, as the birth control mandate does for religious institutions, might be especially vulnerable.

Alito addressed Ginsburg's concerns about potential future cases in his majority opinion. He said it did not give corporations carte blanche to object to an array of government action, including bans on employment discrimination.

Ginsburg was not persuaded. The court's “expansive notion of corporate personhood … invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faith,” she wrote.

The Conservative gay marriage debate


On Rosh Hashanah in 1992, Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis stood before his Conservative congregation at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino and declared that despite the words of Leviticus, homosexuality is not an abomination. He argued that the same understanding and compassion Jews afford all human beings should be extended to those attracted to others of their own sex, and he told his congregation: 

“More than compassion is involved. Jewish wisdom and the morality of Jewish law are at stake. … Jews have the right, and the tradition, to interpret the text so that it sanctifies God’s name, our lives and that of our children. This is no heresy.” 

Schulweis spoke long before the arguments over gay marriage became prevalent in public discourse. He spoke well after gay pride had been established, but six years before the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay teenager. It was also a year before the enactment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which would bar harassment of closeted soldiers serving in the military, while preventing gays and lesbians from being open about their lives. The rabbi had heard many tragic stories from gays in his congregation, but he did not know how his congregants might react to his words. 

They gave him a standing ovation.

Not all congregations, even ones in the same denomination, work according to the same clock. More than two decades later, just one month ago, Rabbi David Wolpe wrote a letter to his Conservative congregation at Sinai Temple, a prominent Westside synagogue less than 10 miles south of VBS, and told them that the rabbis at Sinai had “unanimously decided that it is in accordance with the great halachic [Jewish legal] principle of kavod habriot, honor due all of God’s creation, to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies, once this possibility is afforded by California law.”

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Jewish groups largely applaud health care ruling


American Jewish groups—with the notable exception of the Republican Jewish Coalition—were largely satisfied with the U.S. Supreme Court’s vote to uphold President Obama’s landmark Affordable Care Act in a 5-4 vote.

Nancy Kaufman, CEO of the National Council for Jewish Women, was “thrilled” with the decision. 

“As a Jewish woman who believes strongly that comprehensive, quality affordable health care is essential to women’s well-being and their health and their economic security, this is a terrific outcome,” Kaufman told JTA.

However, Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, emphasized in a news statement that the law’s “negative effects … on the economy, on jobs, on medical research and development, and on the quality of health care in America are very troubling.”

He added, “The American people will have the opportunity to express their opinion on the wisdom of Obamacare in this election year.”

The high court upheld the most controversial portion of the law, ruling that the individual mandate that requires all Americans to purchase health insurance or face a penalty was constitutional. It also indicated that the individual mandate of requiring Americans to buy insurance was constitutional as a tax. That mandate does not go into effect until 2014. 

However, the court ruled that the provision forcing states to expand eligibility in their Medicaid programs was unconstitutional. It said the federal government cannot threaten to remove Medicaid funding from states that do not participate in expanding Medicaid eligibility. 

Many observers were surprised that Chief Justice John Roberts, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, joined the court’s liberal wing, voting with Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor in upholding the law. 

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito voted in the minority.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in a news statement that he was “elated” with the ruling.

Reform congregations, he said, have been “at the forefront of advocacy on behalf of health insurance reform in their states and at the national level.” He cited Maimonides, noting that the medieval scholar “placed health care first on his list of the 10 most important communal services that a city should offer its residents.”

Rabbis Julie Schonfeld and Gerry Skolnik, the executive vice president and president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said in a statement that the decision puts the country “significantly forward on a moral path, and the members of the Rabbinical Assembly will continue to promote a system of health care that is inclusive, affordable, accessible and accountable.”

Rabbis for Human Rights-North America also applauded the decision, saying in a statement that “it is our moral duty to provide health care for all.”

Alan van Capelle, CEO of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, offered a personal remembrance of when he was a child and his father lost his job, “and my family was afraid we might not be able to afford health insurance.”

“Today’s ruling means that millions of families will never again have to endure this kind of fear,” van Capelle wrote in a statement.

Some Jewish organizations focused on what they said was gender-based discrimination by health insurance companies. They claimed that some companies charged higher rates for women. 

With that in mind, NCJW supported the Affordable Care Act provisions that assisted women with affordable preventive services and ended gender-based discrimination by health insurance plans. 

The law also allows for preventive services for women such as mammograms and prenatal screenings without co-pays. 

Marcie Natan, the national president of Hadassah, said in a news statement that her organization “recognizes that lack of coverage compromises the health and economic well-being of millions of uninsured individuals, as well as our nation as a whole.” 

Likewise, Mark Olshan, associate executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, said, “We have long supported a comprehensive health care reform and we were obviously quite pleased that it came out this way.” 

Going forward, various Jewish organizations will focus their advocacy efforts on implementation issues. 

Kaufman added that NCJW will continue to ensure that the government implements the law. 

“Obviously we’re going to be monitoring this very closely and ensuring that the law of the land is upheld,” Kaufman said. 

The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives intends to vote on a repeal of the law on July 11 after its members return from their Fourth of July recess. 

Regardless of that possibility, David Harris, president and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, emphasized that the decision will play well with American Jews for President Obama in the 2012 presidential election. 

“The American Jewish community is clearly supportive of so much of Obamacare, just as a broad majority of Jews support President Obama’s domestic agenda,” Harris said in a statement to JTA. He said the court’s decision “will remind Americans and American Jews why they’ve supported the president all along.”

HEALTH CARE DECISION — Jews React: Rabbi Elliot Dorff


American individualism, at the root of some of the great blessings of freedom and pluralism of our country, is also the ultimate cause over the last half century of our inability as a nation to come together to provide health care for us all, in shameful contrast to all the other Western democracies.  President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act (“Obamacare”)—adopted in Congress only after prodigious effort on the part of the President and his allies and at the cost of a number of members of Congress losing their seats in the subsequent 2010 election, and now approved as Constitutional by the slimmest of majorities of the Supreme Court as well—is finally going to accomplish that important end.

As American Jews, we inherit not only the American heritage of Western liberalism, but also the Jewish heritage that is much more communitarian, that requires us as a community to take care of the poor and sick in our midst.  The Jewish part of us therefore applauds loudly that we Americans have finally found a way to come together to achieve this morally important goal.

But the American part of our identity must also applaud.  American pragmatism, after all, is also part of our heritage.  Until the new legislation, people without health insurance—or who are underinsured—have gotten the services they need but in the most expensive way possible—through the emergency room.  This is not only morally problematic because it forces people to suffer the pain of diseases often for months or years before they get medical help, but it is also fiscally irresponsible.  It is no wonder that for the last 20 years we Americans have been spending 15 to 18 percent of our gross national product on health care, while Canadians, Europeans and Israelis have spent half that, and, according to annual United Nations ratings, they get much better results in health outcomes than we do. So the pragmatic, American side of us, as well as the morally insistent Jewish side of us, should celebrate the fact that we as a nation finally have a way to provide for health care for us all.

HEALTH CARE DECISION — Jews React: Spokesperson for Los Angeles’ Saban Free Clinic


“Obviously we’re very excited over the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold this important law. We applaud theirdecision and think it’s a huge step forward for our patients and the community,” Ray said.

“The Saban Free Clinic will continue to gear up for full health care reform, ensuring that our patients will receive quality and affordable medical care they deserve. In anticipation of health care reform in 2014, our clinic will enroll as many eligible patients as possible into the LA County no-cost health care coverage program, Healthy Way LA, so that our patients can more easily make the transition into Medi-Cal at that time.”

Healthy Way L.A. is a “no-cost health program that provides health care coverage to low-income uninsured adult citizens and legal residents” and provides a permanent home for patients at one of more than 100 clinic sites, according to the County of Los Angeles – Department of Health Services Web site.

“As health care advocates, we clinics will work to create public awareness and understanding of the law’s benefits and protections,” Ray continued. “We are here to help the community residents to enroll in Medi-Cal and obtain coverage through the California Health Benefit Exchange so that they are able to get the health care services they need.”

HEALTH CARE DECISION — Jews React: Bikur Cholim Jewish Healthcare Foundation President


Rabbi Hershy Ten, president of Bikur Cholim Jewish Healthcare Foundation in Los Angeles, never thought the health care system needed much reform.

“Thank God, the United States has always been a destination for people from all over the world to come here to receive the best possible care. Our system of health care has always been a leader innovation, in safety, in creating proven therapies that have gone from the lab to patients’ bedsides,” he said. “So I never thought that our health care system required reform. But I do believe the insurance industry requires reform.”

Bikur Cholim offers health education to the Jewish community and support services to those facing illness, including helping them find physicians and navigating insurance.

Ten isn’t convinced that the Affordable Care Act will get more people better health care.

“The administration has always been motivated to see that more Americans are insured, and I believe Obamacare is an end to that means,” he said. “But, the fact that more Americans will be insured does not guarantee that more Americans will have access to health care.”

Most medical providers don’t accept public benefits, Ten said. He said for people on

Medicaid, finding a doctor is two-fold challenge. Very few providers accept Medicaid, and there is no comprehensive list of those that do. And he said almost no specialists or surgeons accept Medicaid. Many doctors don’t even accept some nationally known private insurers, because the reimbursements are not worth their time.

“Insurance does not allow for equal access, and my concern now is whether our already overburdened health care system will collapse under this new law,” Ten said.

Ten concedes that opening up insurance to those with pre-existing conditions, and other provisions in the health care law, will help those who can afford private insurance.

Ten said he would remain vigilant as implementation rolls out.

“I think for those of us dedicated to making sure people get quality health care, time will tell, he said. “ We need to stay focused on how things, at the end of the day, affect the people that need care.”

HEALTH CARE DECISION: L.A. Jewish community reacts


The following are some of the statements from community leaders and from Jewish organizations that were issued following the Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act:

Thomas M. Priselac, president and CEO of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center:

“Access to affordable healthcare for all is vital to our nation and remains a key piece of the legislation that was upheld today by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Cedars-Sinai remains strongly committed to that goal, as well as to the other key factors transforming healthcare, including accountability, quality and value. Thanks to the extraordinary dedication of Cedars-Sinai’s physicians and staff to our patients and to community health, we’re in a strong position in this new environment, and look forward to continuing to serve the communities of Southern California and beyond, as we have for more than 100 years.”

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a national coordinating body for local community relations councils:

“As we study today’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act, we are struck by the seriousness and thoughtfulness of the Court’s process and deliberations. The rule of law is central to the American legal system, the protection of civil and human rights, and the viability of democracy.  The ACA is the law of the land and universal, affordable, and accessible healthcare coverage for all Americans remains a compelling policy goal and moral imperative.  Over the next few months, as the Court’s decision is parsed and the ACA is implemented, we will work with Congress and the Administration continually to improve our healthcare system and governance. We are particularly focused on the implications for Medicaid, a vital program that ensures healthcare for the most vulnerable among us.  Today, we are reminded of the genius of American system of laws and government.”

Congressman Brad Sherman, who graduated Harvard Law School with Chief Justice Roberts in 1979:

“Today Chief Justice Roberts provided a well-reasoned legal analysis based on precedent.

In doing so, he helped bolster confidence in the United States Supreme Court, while dispelling the view that all controversial cases are decided on party lines.

In his opinion, he noted that every reasonable construction of a statute must be considered, in order to save a statute from unconstitutionality. He then showed that for over 100 years the Supreme Court has looked at the substance of an enactment to determine whether it is a tax, rather than whether Congress chose to label the enactment a tax.

He then demonstrated that taxes designed to influence behavior are hardly new, and that some of the very first taxes enacted by the Federal Government were designed to deter the purchase of imported manufactured goods in order to foster the growth of domestic industry. In fact almost every tax influences behavior, and often influencing behavior is the primary intent. For example, cigarette taxes are designed to reduce smoking as much as they are to provide revenue.

Roberts then pointed out that the payment due from those who do not purchase health insurance is not a punishment to be imposed on ‘outlaws.’ Rather it is estimated that 4 million people every year will choose to pay the IRS rather than buy insurance and that those people are acting reasonably and lawfully—they are not wrongdoers being punished.”

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist organization, had filed an amicus curriae brief in the case on behalf of its 330,000 members. The following statement is from Marcie Natan, National President of Hadassah:

“Central to Hadassah’s mission is the commitment to enhance the health of people worldwide through the organization’s support of medical care and research at the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem.  Hadassah is devoted to strengthening the healthcare system in the United States and has a long history of advocating for comprehensive healthcare reform.  As a fervent supporter of economic security for women and families, Hadassah recognizes that lack of coverage compromises the health and economic well-being of millions of uninsured individuals, as well as our nation as a whole.

Hadassah maintains its support for healthcare access and will continue to advocate for policies that ensure affordable coverage and improve the quality of care for every American.”

The Rabbinical Assembly, the international body of Conservative rabbis, affirmed health care as a Jewish moral
imperative and applauded the Court decision.

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the RA’s executive vice president, and Rabbi Gerry Skolnik, RA president, released the following statement:

President Obama entered office on a message of hope for all Americans, modeled most clearly in the vision of affordable health care.  Americans without access to affordable health care cannot sustain hope for themselves nor for their families.  The President’s vision is consistent with Jewish tradition, which is unambiguous about the requirement of a just and decent society to provide a basic level of health care.  We are gratified to see that American society, whose values we also cherish, also lives up to this standard.

As an international community of 1,600 Conservative rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly has been continuously supportive of universal health care.  The 16th-century compilation of Jewish law, the Shulhan Arukh, states that where doctors reducing fees to care for the poor is not sufficient, the community must provide a fund.  Consistent with this and many other related dicta in Jewish tradition, the Rabbinical Assembly passed resolutions on health care in 2002, 2008 and 2011, in support of the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

All people deserve access to affordable and equitable healthcare coverage, and we join other people of faith in their staunch desire for a U.S health care system that offers health, wholeness and human dignity for all.  Today’s decision brings us significantly forward on that moral path, and the members of the Rabbinical Assembly will continue to promote a system of health care that is inclusive, affordable, accessible and accountable.”

HEALTH CARE DECISION — Jews react: Jewish Family Service CEO


Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles CEO Paul Castro lauded the announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision this morning to uphold President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, saying it will benefit JFS’s target population.

“For our clients, who are on the poorer end, we’re hoping that there is going to be greater accessibility to health coverage,” Castro said.  “We see many clients who have no coverage, and they come to us because they need help trying to get coverage.”

In fact, some of the law’s provisions already are in place in California, he said. “California has already been ahead of the game in terms of state opportunities for coverage, through programs for children and others, and our hope is this will allow it to expand beyond children, to adults who don’t have access to health insurance.”

JFS is already part of the process of moving forward on initiatives spawned by Obama’s health care act, Castro said. The act includes funding for innovations in streamlining care, a process California has already begun.

“With the support of the Federal government, the state has been moving folks out of siloed programs into a more integrated system through Medi-Cal managed care,” Castro said. JFS can help in figuring out how to make that transition in a way that does not outstrip the levels of Federal reimbursement, and has already been working with the managed care plans in Los Angeles County charged with making the transition.

“These are high utilizers of medical care, and if not appropriately managed in the transition to a new system, it can be a large cost item. Not only does JFS know the business, but we know these clients and we know what keeps them out of higher levels of care,” Castro said.

But, he added, “Our major concern is that, in the effort to get streamlined and integrated, our most frail and vulnerable clients are not the casualty of an attempt at efficiency.”

Given that Federal funding and state programs are intricately linked, Castro said he worries about the permanence of the state budget Governor Brown signed this weekPu. JFS programs that serve vulnerable populations –people who are poor, elderly, abused, mentally ill and disabled – were left intact in this budget. But, the new budget relies on voters passing a tax increase in the November elections – an initiative JFS supports.

“If that initiative doesn’t pass, there is immediately an additional hole in the budget, in which case I would suspect the governor would then put the legislature into emergency session and there will be large cuts across the board,” Castro said.

At the same time, he is not fully rejoicing over the Supreme Court’s decision.

“I can already see the opposition lining up with talking points about it being a tax, so I can see how energy is going to coalesce around opposition and an effort in congress to if not repeal it, minimize things that they see as onerous.”

Still, he believes the court’s decision keeps the topic on the table.

“I’m happy the decision was upheld because it keep the whole conversation about having affordable heath care open. We can debate about whether it’s enough, or if it’s too much, but the court has said ‘we’re out of it now,’ and this is your conversation.”

HEALTH CARE DECISION — Jews react: Los Angeles Jewish Home CEO & President


Molly Forrest, CEO and president of the Los Angeles Jewish Home, had surgery to alleviate arthritis in her neck in December 2010.

Stuck in bed for 35 days, she read the entire Affordable Care Act – all 2,080 pages of it. She has since read it again so she knows it well, and she takes it personally.

“If I were unemployed now, I would not be able to get insurance, and I’m not old enough for Medicare,” Forrest remembers thinking after her surgery.

The Supreme Court’s decision today to uphold the law “settles a 100 year debate about whether access to health care is a right that each American has,” Forrest said.

The 1,000 elderly clients who live at the Jewish Home in Reseda, as well as the 1,500 non-residents it serves and the employees the organization insures all will benefit from the law as implementation goes forward, she said.

“Seventy-five percent of our clients rely on welfare programs to support whatever care they receive, and so anything that threatens or affects Medicaid or Medi-Cal dollars is of enormous concern and importance to us,” Forrest said.

Forrest said she supports the one adjustment to the law the court made—prohibiting the Federal government from withholding Medicaid funds from states that do not comply with the Affordable Care Act.

“We already face such enormous challenges with funding programs for the needy in this state, that for us the decisions of the Supreme Court at least removes the threat that the Federal government could penalize the state in any way for not fully complying with the Affordable Care Act,” Forrest said.

Forrest sees many benefits in the law.

Not only will those with preexisting conditions not be denied coverage now, she said, but the law prohibits insurers from charging highly elevated premiums to those with complicated conditions. This will help many disabled adults get private insurance, she said, since previously their pre-existing conditions either shut them out of insurance or made it entirely unaffordable.

She also sees much benefit in removing insurers’ lifetime cap and the annual cap, and in allowing children to stay on parents’ plans through age 26.

“I think there are a lot of good things here,” she said. “I know there is a lot of controversy around this, but this is America, and I think in the end this will work out and American will be better for it. I know the health of American will be better for it.”

HEALTH CARE DECISION — Jews React: One LA community organizer


Skip Koenig, a Temple Judea congregant and co-chair of the community organizing group One LA’s health strategy team. Koenig said he is “thrilled” and “excited” about the court’s decision to uphold the mandate that requires all Americans to buy health insurance.

But “I’m not quite sure what the full impact is going to be on the …part of the decision where they said states could not be compelled to participate in the Medicaid expansion,” he said.  “That’s one of the things that One LA will be working closely with our elected officials [on],” he said.

HEALTH CARE DECISION — Jews React: Beverly Hills cardiologist and internist


Beverly Hills cardiologist and internist Dr. Reed Wilson – a former member of the Republican Jewish Coalition who helped found its Los Angeles chapter – called the mandate “an amazing breach of the American trust.” Moreover, he said, the law’s finer print contains “rules and regulations” pertaining to doctor reimbursement rates that will threaten physicians’ private practices and health care quality.

“I want to be able to take care of my patients in a way that I think is wise medicine, is good quality medicine. I don’t want to be subjected to rules that I think are detrimental to my patients,” Wilson said.

But “the Supreme Court decision is one we are going to have to live with,” he added.

The Republican Jewish Coalition released a statement shortly after the decision came down, expressing disappointment: “The serious negative effects this law will have on the economy, on jobs, on medical research and development and on the quality of health care in America are very troubling.”