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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Israeli rabbis launch initiative to marry gay men to lesbian women

Rabbi Areleh Harel
Rabbi Areleh Harel.
By Yair Ettinger -

Rabbis from the religious Zionist community have launched an initiative to marry gay men to lesbian women - with some surprising successes.
So far, 11 marriages have been performed. Haaretz conducted an email interview with one such couple, Etti and Roni (not their real names ).
Etti and Roni, both religious, were married five years ago. Though they were honest with each other about their sexual orientations from their first meeting, to the outside world, they portray themselves as a normal heterosexual couple. Today, they have two children, and are thrilled with the results.
"It's incredible," they wrote. "Six years ago, we didn't think we would ever be this happy. We thought everything was black, that we'd lost our chance of a normal life. But today, things are good for us. There are gaps, but that's true in every case. And we fill them with the great love we give to and receive from our children, and also enjoy the simple human love we give each other, such as any two people can give and receive."
All the matches were arranged by Rabbi Areleh Harel of the West Bank settlement of Shilo. He teaches at a yeshiva in Elon Moreh and has a name in religious circles as the go-to rabbi for homosexuals.
Harel said all his couples receive close support from a team of psychologists, marriage counselors and social workers. They also consult frequently with rabbis, including Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein of the Har Etzion Yeshiva, Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan Yaakov Ariel, and especially Rabbi Menachem Burstein, head of the Puah Institute, which specializes in halakhic solutions to fertility problems.
His 12th couple has just announced their engagement, Harel said, and he has a list of another 30 gays and 20 lesbians seeking matches. They don't deny their sexual identity, he stressed, but "they want to establish a home, whether for the sake of becoming parents or for the social recognition. A family isn't just sex and love. It's an instrumental partnership, though not just a technical one."
As a result, he and his colleagues have now decided to institutionalize the venture, including working with a well-known religious matchmaking organization.
Gay-lesbian marriages have long been practiced among the ultra-Orthodox, but the current initiative is different in that it stems not from an effort to sweep the issue under the carpet, but from a growing acknowledgment of homosexuality, prompted in part by four organizations for religious homosexuals: Havruta, Bat Kol, Hod and Kamocha.
Harel explained that while secular homosexuals see gay marriage as the solution, religious homosexuals are often unwilling to violate the halakhic prohibition on homosexual sex, and are thus seeking other solutions.
"Most of the couples agree not to have relationships with members of their own sex, but if there are 'lapses' once every few years, they don't see this as a betrayal," he said. "Generally, it's between them and their Creator."
He said each couple decides for itself how its marriage should work, and he is not involved in that decision. Rather, he deals mainly with halakhic issues like artificial insemination.
Roni, 35, owns a business; Etti, 30, is a paramedic. Roni tried conversion therapy to change his sexual orientation, with no success. He said he also had relationships with various other men, "until I decided this isn't for me; I want a family and children."
Etti said her family still doesn't know she's a lesbian. She had one "serious" lesbian relationship, but "realized it was more important to me to raise children and live in a normal family."
Both said that upholding the religious prohibition on homosexual sex was "very important" to them, as was their desire for "more or less normal parenthood," and both factors had influenced their decision.
Harel introduced them, and as the first of his gay-lesbian couples, they term themselves "guinea pigs." They are careful to keep up normal appearances before the children and the outside world, even sleeping in the same room, though they don't sleep together. Their children were born through artificial insemination.
"Most of the time, it's good for us together, like business partners. Of course we have quarrels and tensions, but who doesn't? ... Like good friends, we have a great deal of mutual respect and a great deal of platonic love."
It isn't like that for everyone, of course. Two of the couples Harel married are now in the process of divorce. And he said he is very worried about whether the children of these experimental marriages will end up suffering.
Nor does everyone approve. While Havruta has not officially taken a stand on these marriages, its spokesman, Daniel Yunes, said he personally opposes the idea.
"If you accept the definition of a family as partnership and trust and love ... then this doesn't provide an answer," he said, adding that his organization also believes being open about one's sexual identity ultimately leads to more happiness than living a lie.
But Roni and Etti feel they've benefited greatly, gaining "two wonderful children" and also "a good social life."
And what have they lost? "Nothing, because in any case we wouldn't have had spousal relationships, because it's [halakhically] forbidden. Yes, there are difficult moments of crisis. But they're nothing in comparison to the majority of the time, when it's good."



  1. this is just so messed up. very sad day for the Israeli gay and lesbian community. And shame on those individuals involving themselves in these twisted concoctions of marital arrangements.

  2. GLBT, I think that your criticism is more rightly pointed at the broader, pre-existing context, which prevents these people from having same-sex unions. However, if you accept that these are people whose religion is actually most salient and meaningful in their identity (certainly valid personal choice) and that the religion that they value proscribes homosexual intimacy, then these men and women have only 2 options, live lonely and unfulfilled lives or marry an unsuspecting member of the opposite sex because that's what's expected, and likely ruin their own life and those of their spouses and children on one way or another. Against that backdrop, I think it is understandable how to a rabbi who does not want to renounce his faith, but is genuinely troubled by the unthinkble choice these men and women face, this is at least something.

  3. It seems a much healthier tact, for everyone involved, including potential spouses and children, to council these unfulfilled souls to renounce their religion rather than their sexuality. As catholicism has so pointedly established, celibacy warps one's soul. This approach crams two very ill-fitting pieces together in some warped attempt to fill an established equation for family.

  4. GLBT and PsyJew: I believe that you both may be working with an incorrect presupposition that living single is doomed to loneliness and unfulfillment. There are many singles who live very content lives of fulfillment, rich in intimate relationships; while there are many who are in relationships or marriages who are lonely and unfulfilled. I've realized that it's not a human relationship that brings relationship. It's definitely something else. Sure one can find fulfillment in a relationship. But do some find fulfillment and others don't?

  5. ...I've realized that it's not a human relationship that brings *fulfillment*... But *why* do some find... (sorry for the typos! gotta proof read before I post!)

  6. I'm not arguing the point at all, what I was trying to say was trying to squeeze square pegs into round holes is never a good idea. 2 gay men are in all likelihood a much healthier equation than a man and woman pretending to be a couple while their sexual interests lie elsewhere. We have a contributor here who is a brilliant example of how outstanding a single Dad can be at raising kids.

  7. GLBT and Friends:

    Okay. But I believe what you're saying is based upon another premise, namely that relationships of couples must be based upon sexual interests solely or is necessary for happiness/success.

    I know of many couples who have been together for decades, and their sexual interests lies elsewhere. So to me, the success of relationships is not upon sexual interest, but upon commitment and love (which I do not believe love equals sex).

    I also don't think they are being dishonest to each other since they both know what they are both getting into. This is much different than a person who is closeted and doesn't let his/her spouse know about their sexuality...which I don't agree with and know you don't either! :)

    I don't disagree that single moms/dads can be wonderful parents.

  8. Oh, I just read your 2nd post and said:

    "celibacy warps one's soul"

    That's why I said what you said about singleness/celibacy in my first post to you. I don't agree at all that celibacy warps one's soul. I can't make a generalization but what could have added to the problem in those instances with Catholic priests was that they were not open about their sexuality, kept it a secret and did not have people guard them when with minors.

    But we should never fall into the fallacy of applying the part to the whole and make generalizations.

  9. Because I know of many celibate people who are not warped.

  10. "It seems a much healthier tact, for everyone involved, including potential spouses and children, to council these unfulfilled souls to renounce their religion rather than their sexuality."

    Is sexuality that preeminent in life? Is life meaningless without sexual relationships? I don't think so. The meaning that people derive from their faith is deep and generally precludes all other worldly interests. Marriage with a faith foundation and healthy sex is wonderful. I know that from personal experience. But for these couples, they can only have one of those. They desire family. I say let them do it this way.

    And I agree that singleness and celibacy are not a doomed, unfulfilled way of living. I know a number of folks who can testify to just the opposite.

  11. Man is born a sexual being, religion is taught and can be untaught. suppressing your sexual expressions has been shown to be harmful. People renounce their religions all the time, with little consequence.