SWF Rabbi


It begins typically. I am sitting at the bar with some friends drinking a beer out of the bottle. I peel the soggy label off with my freshly painted nails; an odd ritual I took up back in college that has infuriated bartenders all over the world. I scope the scene out of mascaraed eyes — looking for a cute boy to flirt with. That one is too short, his friend is too stalky; the guys to their left are too young, the ones near the door are clearly focused on the silicone blonde types. I go back to my work of peeling off the label from the beer bottle and giggling with my friends.

I reach into my purse to get some lip-gloss and as I look up, I catch the glance of a man with a sweet face standing at the other end of the room. I hold the gaze for a second, offer a smile and look away. I continue to talk with the girls, and then a few minutes later, I look up again to see if he is still on my radar; he is. Another smile. He smiles back. Nice teeth, I think. Nice eyes. Definitely attractive. I look away.

This goes on for about 15 minutes. I find myself playing with my hair; a dead giveaway that I am engaged in the mating dance. I sit up straight. I check that my new shirt from Barney’s is sitting properly and that my jeans are holding my thighs in their most flattering position. I begin to wonder if he has any semblance of a brain under his well-styled hair. I start to hope that he is funny in an ironic sort of way; that he comes from a good family, that he went to a good school, that he has a stellar career. I worry that he might be narcissistic, damaged from a bad relationship, immature, or (please God, no!) cheap.

Our eyes are locking for longer periods now. The smiles are becoming more intimate. I order another beer. He starts to make his way over to me. I feel my heart beating a little faster. I try to act casual. And then he is standing in front of me. And he introduces himself and extends a soft but manly hand and I take it and we begin to converse.

It begins typically, like I said. But now things are about to get interesting. We go through the routine introductions: names, a joke or two … where we grew up, where we live now; and that’s when I know its coming: the dreaded question is well on its way. I may as well ask first. Buy myself some time. Try to figure out how I will choose to answer when it’s my turn.

“What do you do?” I ask. He’s in computer programming. Wonderful. Can’t make too much conversation out of that answer. I try my best. It lasts all of two minutes. And then it happens: he asks the same of me.

I think fast. This guy is really cute, and thus far seemingly perfect. I will take the “ease in slowly” tactic (versus the blunt and shocking method reserved for less promising suitors). The objective here is to offer ambiguous responses upon which I will only elaborate if further questioned; in this way I not only learn how interested he is, but I also give him some time to prepare for the final answer at the end of the series of queries.

“What do you do?” he asks.

I just finished grad school in New York, I say.

“In what?” he asks.

“A sort of theology program,” I say.

“Were you at NYU?”

“It’s connected with NYU,” I say.

“So, is it, like, a master’s degree?”

“Um, I got my masters a few years ago and then got another degree…. No, it’s not a Ph.D. Actually, it was kind of a program in Jewish theology.”

The questions are getting harder to dodge now.

“So, what do you do with that sort of degree?” he asks.

“I do a lot of teaching,” I say.

“Kids?”

“Yeah … and adults. And I write a lot. And I do a fair bit of counseling.”

I try to change the subject. No luck.

“Where do you work?” he asks.

This is it. I have to lay it on him now. I try to look pretty and enhance my appearance of normalcy; I look into his lovely green eyes, take a deep breath, and give it to him straight.

“I am a rabbi at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge,” I say.

And then I wait.

First there is the look of shock, but he quickly recovers. He takes a half-step back. I watch the neurons firing in his brain. “She’s a … rabbi,” he’s thinking. I can predict the conversation from this point on; please let him avoid the stupid joke at the beginning. No such luck.

“You must have shaved your beard today,” he says.

Idiot. I force up a chuckle. Here we go.

“So, you’re a rabbi? I didn’t know women could be….”

“Well, they can. … Clearly, I am a liberal Jew. … Yes, actually half of my graduating class was female.”

“So, can you get married?”

“What you mean is, can I have sex?”

He blushes. Poor guy. He’s confused. He doesn’t know where to look. It is suddenly inappropriate that he is checking out my low neckline. It is instantly incongruous that he likes my snug Diesel jeans. He tries, God bless him, to segue back into casual discussion; it lasts for seven minutes. He excuses himself, mutters something about a call he has to make and staggers away in shock.

I go back to peeling the labels off the Heineken. I take another sip of beer and turn back to my friends.

“What are you writing your sermon about for Friday?” one of them asks.

“Well,” I say, and my typical evening becomes filled with words of Torah and the faint hope that someone out there will know how to flirt with a beer-drinking, jeans-wearing, nice Jewish girl who also happens to be a rabbi.

Karen Dieth is rabbi at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge.

Same-Sex Marriage Poses Key Questions


I can’t prove that allowing same-sex marriage would be bad for society.

Of course, people terrified of global warming can’t even prove it exists, but that doesn’t stop former Vice President Al Gore from delivering a grave warning on the coldest day of the year.

If he can speculate, so can I. So why might someone oppose same-sex marriage?

My first question would be, is marriage important? Important, that is, to society. Most proponents of same-sex marriage seem to think it’s not, that it’s the grownup equivalent of going to the prom — if boy-girl couples can go, why not boy-boy or girl-girl couples?

To them, marriage is just another form of self-expression. This is evident in the overused question: How does so-and-so’s same-sex relationship threaten your marriage?

That question regards marriage as purely personal: You’ve got yours and I’ve got mine. What’s missing is any sense of marriage as a social institution.

Because if marriage isn’t important, if it’s just a way for couples to show their love to the world, then denying it to anyone would be cruel and pointless. So how do we answer the question? How do we know if marriage is important?

Because every human society, ancient or modern, religious or secular, Jewish or Christian or secular has had the institution of marriage. I guess I’m a Darwinist: If every society has evolved an institution, then I’m reluctant to tamper with it, just as even if I had no idea what the heart did, just the fact that every animal has one would make me very, very cautious about cutting into it.

A society’s evolution is for survival just as much as an organism’s is. Compare marriage to friendship, for example. Society lets us form friendship without a ceremony and dissolve it without going to court. Why? Because while my relationship with my buddy may be very important to the two of us, it’s just not all that important to society, unlike my marriage to my wife.

What does marriage do for a society? I can think of two things.

The first benefit is often discussed: Marriage seeks to provide the ideal situation for raising children, a stable household with a father and a mother. To say that two men — or two women – can raise a child just as well is to say that mothers — or fathers — are irrelevant, a dangerous message when studies suggest that boys raised without a father are more than twice as likely to end up in prison, and girls raised without a father are more than four times as likely to get pregnant as teens.

The other benefit of traditional marriage, little-discussed even by opponents of same-sex marriage, is society’s huge interest in curbing the aggressive energy of men and channeling it into productive activities. In segments of society with an overabundance of unattached men, we see crime, promiscuous sex and fatherless children.

Marriage channels male energy into things like raising children and supporting families and away from things like crime: Unmarried (heterosexual) men are more than five times as likely to end up in prison as married men.

Maybe allowing men to form marriages with other men could help society by stabilizing their relationships. But why, then, didn’t marriage evolve that way in the first place, as a union of any two people?

Because society’s idea of marriage has always been to tame men, not by hooking them up with someone but by hooking them up with women. Women bring a different energy, a different point of view to marriage, and it’s their energy that tames men, domesticates them, if you will. Without that domestication, society is in big trouble.

Finally, advocates argue that allowing same-sex marriage might not help society, but it would leave the benefits of opposite-sex marriage in place. After all, the vast majority of men will still marry women, excepting only gay men who — in this day and age — wouldn’t marry women anyway. I don’t think so.

Allowing the unimportant will dilute the important. Allowing men to marry men and women to marry women will make marriage more like simple friendship. Because of the importance or raising children and taming men, society is wounded whenever a traditional marriage breaks up. But if two married men were to divorce, society would suffer no more than when two friends call it quits.

If we allow same-sex marriage, there won’t be two sets of rules: All marriages will have to be treated the same. The traditional marriages that are so vital to society will be treated like the same-sex marriages that are not. It would become less important.

We didn’t build our society. We’re like people who have inherited a house built long before we were born, and every now and then we walk around and decide we want to change something — the décor is old-fashioned or it fails to reflect our unique style.

Right now we’re thinking about working on the wall called marriage, but before we do we should ask an important question: Are we just repainting or are we tearing down a structural wall that’s holding the building up?


Sandy Frank, a former Wall Street lawyer and Emmy-winning comedy writer, is still waiting for his invitation to join the vast right-wing conspiracy.

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