A Place for Gays in Orthodoxy

'Commitment Ceremony' Offers Welcome to Same-Sex Couples

Commitment to Faith: Rabbi Steve Greenberg presides over an ‘commitment ceremony’ for a gay couple.
Commitment to Faith: Rabbi Steve Greenberg presides over an ‘commitment ceremony’ for a gay couple.

By Steve Greenberg

Published January 11, 2012, issue of January 13, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Not a month goes by without a young person just out of the closet — or sometimes that person’s shocked parents — contacting me in search of Orthodox leaders to respond credibly to their questions. It was this reality that was on my mind as I confronted the backlash to a same-sex commitment ceremony I performed last November. In response, 100 rabbis signed a statement censuring me. While these rabbis may prefer to foist this challenge upon me, the truth is that, as rabbis, we are all responsible for the conflict between present halachic norms and the real lives of people. We are all responsible for the gay and lesbian kids who are growing up in Orthodox communities and want a future. And I am not the only Orthodox rabbi who believes so.

Three years ago I interviewed 20 Orthodox rabbis on their pastoral experiences with gay people and their families. Those interviews were taped and transcribed, and many of them are incredibly moving. I wish I could share these and other conversations I have had over the years with Orthodox rabbis whose honesty and decency, whose humility in the face of a difficult question, are not widely known. But the interviews are secret because I promised not to share them. I can quote a few rabbis whose views were written or spoken publicly — though I am still reluctant to use their names.

When asked by a group of students what his views on homosexuality were one illustrious Modern Orthodox rabbi responded that he used to know the answer to that question. He could point to chapter and verse. Now when a gay person comes to him for counsel, his answer is, in his own words: “I don’t know. I just don’t have enough information to give a clear answer. I have 612 mitzvot that I feel I’ve got a better handle on. Come to my shul and we’ll work on those together.” Among the most human and honest responses an Orthodox rabbi has ever given to this dilemma is “I don’t know.”

Rabbis who actually have an open conversation with gay people discover that no one chooses his or her sexual orientation. Another beloved leader of Modern Orthodoxy, a rabbinic communal leader and a founder of a yeshiva, wrote with deep empathy early in his career: “How can we deny a human being the expression of his physical and psychic being? If there’s a problem with the kettle, blame the manufacturer. Is it not cruel to condemn an individual for doing that which his biological and genetic make-up demand that he do?” This Orthodox rabbi is not afraid of articulating the profound theological and moral challenge posed by Halacha as it is presently applied.

Recent rabbinical statements demand life-long celibacy from gay and lesbian Jews. But a number of rabbis have shared with me their doubts about these guidelines for the simple reason that God does not demand the impossible from people. A well-respected Orthodox author, rabbi and educator has said in a public forum: “It is not possible for the Torah to come and ask a person to do something which he is not able to do. Theoretically speaking, it would be better for the homosexual to live a life of celibacy. I just would argue one thing: It’s completely impossible. It doesn’t work. The human force of sexuality is so big it can’t be done.”

Given the unreasonable demand of life-long celibacy, it is very tempting for rabbis to believe that therapy can solve the dilemma. Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky has recently joined forces with JONAH, a Jewish “change therapy” organization, to claim that, as a matter of religious principle, since the Torah prohibits homosexual behavior the orientation must be, by necessity, a curable disease. Responding to this dangerous circular argument, another learned Orthodox rabbi and scholar, a man who has written extensively about homosexuality, has publicly said, “I am not under any compulsion to support a failed therapy in order to save myself from a distressing religious conflict.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The rose petals have settled, and Andi has made her (Jewish?) choice. We look back on the #Bachelorette finale:
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.