On Same-Sex Marriage

In our generation, many countries and states have legalized marriages between members of the same sex. Gay men may marry other gay men, lesbians may marry other lesbians. The acceptance of these marriages are recognized by a majority of governments.
Israel does not recognize these marriages and gay men and lesbian women must travel to Cyprus in order to be officially married.

I, in former times, looked at gay marriage disapprovingly. I never objected to homosexual relationships, living together as loving partners and companions. It was the act of marriage that concerned me.

But when I examined the legal ramifications, my mind was changed. When one of a loving gay couple is ill or hospitalized, the partner was denied all information regarding the patient and his/her treatment. A partner in a gay relationship was denied inheritance following the death of a partner. I believe that such a position discriminates and denies what should be legitimate rights of both partners.

Rabbi Nachum Amsel has written a very lengthy treatise on “Homosexuality in Orthodox Judaism”. He refers to homosexuality in the Tanach, Mishna and other Talmudic sources. He does not deny that homosexuality was practiced among early Hebrews and cites the example of the drunken Noah who engaged in a sexual act with his grandson.

According to Rav, a statement which is widely accepted by most non-Orthodox Jewish sources, Potiphar bought 17-year-old Joseph from the slave market for homosexual purposes which were current and accepted in Egyptian society. It is known that Joseph was an effeminate boy, despised by his brothers. He was accustomed to painting his eyebrows and curling his hair. His later refusal to accept the advances of Potiphar’s wife was due to his lack of attraction to women.

In the Tanach there are two proposed instances of homosexuality. Rather, it should be called bi-sexuality. David and Jonathan are the classic examples. Both were married men with a strong attraction to one another. Upon Jonathan’s death, his lover David wept and cried “Jonathan, Jonathan, my love for you surpassed the love of women”.
Some Christian theologians point to a lesbian relationship between Naomi and Ruth. I disregard that example as seeing no evidence to support it.

In the Talmud there is a mention of a very handsome rabbi who was bathing naked in a river. Another young man passed by, saw him and removed his clothes and jumped into the river beside him.

It is very important to note, according to the Orthodox Rabbi Amsel that “Judaism abhors the sin but NOT the sinner”.

There is a problem today in Orthodoxy relating to homosexual activities. A former Chief Rabbi in Israel, a married man with several children, was known to frequent the toilets of the mens’ bathroom in the Jerusalem central bus station and to have made advances to young soldiers.

Too many Orthodox rabbis in Israel, America, and European countries, all married with many children, have been arrested and charged with sexually molesting young yeshiva boys. The Orthodox rabbinate attempts to hush it up, deny the accusations, and take little or no action relative to their accused colleagues.

Homosexuality has existed since the earliest days of history. In some ancient civilizations such as Greece, Persia and Egypt the practice was widely accepted. Alexander the Great, upon conquering the Persians, took a young boy for his lover.

According to sociologists, the estimate of homosexuals is given at 10 percent of the population of any country. If that were indeed the case, the Israeli population of 8 million three hundred twenty four thousand would amount to some 83,240 male and female homosexuals. There are openly gay members of the Israeli Knesset. There are closeted distinguished medical and political commentators on our television channels. And there are many of our favorite actors, actresses, singers and entertainers who openly advocate their homosexuality or trans-gender.

In the American population of 327 million people, the estimates of sociologists would list approximately 33 million homosexuals.

The numbers mean nothing, only reflections upon sociology and those who do the estimates.

Recently, in February, I met a young Conservative rabbi who told me that he officiates at same-sex marriages. I was astounded to hear it because I could not believe that it had been sanctioned by the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement. But then, I read the official manual of the RA which listed the conditions under which same-sex marriages could be performed by Conservative rabbis.

The first requirement was that both of the couples had to be recognized members of the Jewish faith. The agreement was based upon a December 6, 2006 responsum entitled “Homosexuality, Dignity and Halakhah”. Its purpose was to legitimize the existence of homosexual and lesbian rabbis in the Conservative movement. In 2011 some colleagues preferred that the marriage ceremony should resemble the chuppah ceremony. Other colleagues recommended a different kind of ceremony. Wine is blessed, rings are exchanged, and the ketubah is replaced by a “document of covenant” which is read aloud and legally witnessed.

Such marriage ceremonies are not called “kiddushin”. The marriage covenant is called “Brit Ahuvim/Ahuvot”. If the marriage takes place under a chuppah , the Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings) are recited and at the end, a glass is broken.

As the song goes “The times they are a-changin’”. Perhaps Conservative or Reform rabbis in Israel would agree to officiate at same-sex marriages, thus eliminating the need for the couples to travel to Cyprus or to the United States. In all events, these marriages, wherever they take place, will never be officially recognized by the Orthodox rabbinate. But they will bring comfort and satisfaction to the two partners.

In preparing to write this article, I interviewed six Orthodox Jews, six non-Orthodox Jews and 6 Christians. The results were not astonishing. All of the Orthodox Jews were opposed to same-sex marriage. All of the non-Orthodox Jews approved it. Of the six Christians, three Roman Catholics opposed it while two of three Protestants approved it.

Same-sex marriages will continue to be widely discussed and consecrated. Since Judaism regards the sin as “toaiva”, abomination, at least it does not recognize the participants as sinners.

We can only wish them mazal-tov and a life together of love, caring and sharing.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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