Rabbi Arele Harel, a resident of the Jewish West Bank settlement of Shilo (roughly 40 miles north of Jerusalem), has devised an unconventional, and to some a controversial, solution for gay orthodox Jewish men who want to raise a family as their religion dictates: a matchmaking service to so they can meet Orthodox lesbians facing the same family problems. Despite criticism on several fronts, Harel’s solution would give religious gay men a chance to have children while remaining observant. Homosexuality is viewed by traditional Jewish law, or Halacha, as a sin and a violation of that law.
While on one hand, some Orthodox Jewish rabbis feel that Harel should spend his energies trying to encourage gays and lesbians to change their sexual orientation, other liberal gay religious groups see Harel’s efforts as an attempt to suppress homosexuality altogether. The rabbi himself says the primary object of his matchmaking is to help his clients have children, an important commandment in Jewish law.
While acknowledging difficulties–a potentially loveless marriage, assistance in achieving pregnancy, and possible affairs outside marriage, Harel, 36, was quoted as saying, “The main aspiration here is parenthood. It allows them to become parents in a way that is permitted by religious Jewish law and prevents a conflict between their religious world and their sexual world.”
Counter to current findings of the American Psychological Association, Harel even acknowledges that some gays can change their sexual orientation, but says that his service is for those who cannot, and who nevertheless want to remain observant and to have children. Harel has been bringing couples together for six years, having recognized a “deep distress” among people “facing a dead end road.” He has wed 12 couples, and several have had children.
Recently, Kamoha, a religious gay group, began receiving inquiries from gay men and lesbian women about this approach and linked up with Harel last month to publicize the initiative on its Web site (www.kamoha.org.il)
How would this plan fit with our own religious far right’s definition for family? If two mommies or two daddies don’t constitute a family, how will they view Rabbi Harel’s ingenious solution? What further requirements will they try to impose on their legally married, “one man, one woman” definition? Watch this spot.