Rabbi Areleh Harel, a Yeshiva teacher in the West Bank, is matching up traditionally observant gay men with lesbians so that they can marry and remain in their Orthodox communities.
Interviewed by TIME, he says that it’s “healthier if both spouses are in on the secret.” Both spouses come to Harel of their own free will, to be matched with someone from whom they don’t have to hide their sexuality.
I get that. In trying to see it from his side, I do see a few benefits. It is better than lying to your new spouse about who you are. It allows people to stay within the home communities they love.
So it is a step in the right direction; Harel has not tried to “de-gay” or vilify anyone. It also gives me hope that he is a teacher, and perhaps when the subject of homosexuality comes up with his students, he would speak up against the more hateful lies about the characters of gay people that often come up, because he doesn’t appear to believe them, from what we can see in the interview.
It is still encouraging people to live unhappy lives. They are in communities they love, but not with whom they love. To state the obvious, if you are not in a relationship with someone whom you truly love – romantically – you are not setting a very strong foundation for your marriage, an important institution within Orthodox life. Of course there is more to a marriage than sex. But a strong marriage relationship also builds from that kind of connection.
People are driven by what the heart wants. Sure, other factors are important, too – of course – but by saying that a marriage can work between a gay man and lesbian who are not interested in one another, we are setting them up for failure, for cheating, and for being a terrible relationship model for their children.
Harel marries them with the expectation that the couple will be monogamous, but also acknowledging the likelihood of cheating. Which is high.
About a year ago, a group of Orthodox rabbis issued their “Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community,” which proclaimed that everyone is to be treated with respect, and that queer Jews should be welcomed as full members of the community. I think what Harel is doing both follows the proclamation, and also does not.
By not encouraging and supporting the people and organizations of the Orthodox LGBTQ community in open and honest ways, we say, “Sure, we want you, but only if you’re not really you.”
Eshel is an organization in the US that works “to build understanding and support for lesbians and gays in traditional Jewish communities,” which includes a much-loved Shabbaton weekend program. Their partner organizations join to provide an effective model for those who want to live both honestly and traditionally.
Plus, I’m guessing that the Eshel programs are probably going to be a more compelling “matchmaking service” than the one Harel is opening up next month…