Each one opened his heart to us and told us his difficult story – how he discovered that he was homosexual, how he dealt with himself and with religion, how he went to or did not go to a rabbi, whether he underwent psychological treatment to try and change his sexual orientation or other treatment, how his parents reacted and how he came out of the closet, if indeed he did so. It was impossible not to be impressed by the desire of these men to continue to be part of the religious community.
Food for thought at Shabbat meal
'The sweet little boy who sat in between his mother and father who are co-parenting him isn’t three yet and he already knows part of the Sh’ma by heart. His ponytail is swinging behind him and the synagogue has accepted him with love.'
Rivkah Lubitch • Ynet
Recently I was the guest of an Orthodox Jewish community that makes a point of being open and accepting to homosexuals and lesbians. In spite of the fact that the issue is familiar to me on a theoretical level, the encounter during one Shabbat with so many religious people with various sexual orientations, and with families that operate in such different ways from what I am accustomed to, gives me a lot of food for thought.
We were invited to Shabbat dinner with about 14 lovely young men, all of whom are openly gay and religious, or formerly religious (there were two women in the group whose sexual orientation was unknown to me).
The men who sat around the table made Kiddush, performed the ritual hand-washing, ate chicken soup and the rest of the traditional menu, sang Shabbat zemirot and recited the blessing after meals. They are from the finest religious communities, from cities and settlements all over Israel, and some have studied at the best of the religious Zionist yeshivot.
During the meal, which went on for hours, each one opened his heart to us and told us his difficult story – how he discovered that he was homosexual, how he dealt with himself and with religion, how he went to or did not go to a rabbi, whether he underwent psychological treatment to try and change his sexual orientation or other treatment, how his parents reacted and how he came out of the closet, if indeed he did so. It was impossible not to hold back the tears, and it was impossible not to be impressed by the desire of these men to continue to be part of the religious community. The experience was very powerful.
Over the Shabbat I met single men and women who were clearly searching for themselves and their way in the bramble of Jewish law and religious life. I met families of single mothers who gave birth through artificial insemination and I met families in which both parents were women or both were men. Clearly, none of them is in a simple situation. They’re all challenged in one way or another.
Affection, peace and friendship
But I’d like to share with the readers a description of a family of another type that made a very strong impression on me. A man who knows he is a gay, but insists that this will not prevent him from being a parent, teams up with a woman who for reasons of her own (perhaps she’s straight but at a relatively late age hadn’t married or perhaps she herself is a lesbian - it really doesn’t matter), and the two decide to establish a family of a different kind and together bring children into the world through artificial insemination. The two go out on dates, check if they’re compatible, find out if each of them is interested in the other being a parent to his/her children and then they formalize the arrangement in a contract.
In the two cases that I saw, the people were completely devoted to the idea of establishing a Jewish family and bringing children into the world. This is essentially an arrangement of "co- parenting." The beauty of this arrangement is that the children have a "father and a mother (unlike the case of single-parent families or families in which both parents are of the same sex), and that both parents are also the biological parents of the children (there are also advantages to this).
There is an expectation that such a family will be very stable since the parents are not asked to live in a relationship of love for the next 50 years, but instead are satisfied with relationships of affection, peace and friendship, and, of course, support. In fact, each of the parents will, it seems, live his or her sexual life outside of the framework of their contractual relation – and the stability of the children will be maintained.
The sweet little boy who sat on Friday night next to his mother and father who are “co-parenting” him isn’t three yet and he already knows how to say some of the Sh’ma and his ponytail is swinging around. While his mother was taking care of a small infant, she reminded his father that he shouldn’t give him anything to eat until he recited a blessing, because he’s already big enough and knows how to do it.
The synagogue that hosted us and accepts these families with love is located a few streets away from a rabbinic court in a well-known city in Israel. The guest apartment provided to us for Shabbat was a few doors away from the court on one side. We ate Shabbat dinner and seuda shlishit in an apartment located around two houses from the court, on the other side. We ate Shabbat lunch with a family that lives across the street from the court.
While I was occupied with thoughts regarding the future face of Judaism, about Orthodoxy, about Jewish law that is developing in the wake of these new social realities, I found myself, time after time, passing by the rabbinic courts and leaving them far behind.
Rivkah Lubitch is a rabbinic court pleader who works at The Center for Women’s Justice, tel. 02-5664390.