An Orthodox rabbi from the West Bank has a solution for gay men and women who want traditional families: let them get married...to each other. After marrying 12 couples made up of individuals who found him through word of mouth, Rabbi Arele Harel launched Anachnu (Hebrew for "us"), an online matchmaking service that will help him expand his project. Single applicants will pay the equivalent of $42 to create a profile and meet with Harel to determine suitability and $430 if they are successfully matched with a partner.
Orthodox Judaism rejects homosexuality as it violates Jewish law. Many -- including Harel, who reserve his service for those who know they can never change--believe that conversion to heterosexuality is possible. That's not to say that everyone is on the same page; since 2007, 5 Orthodox pro-gay organizations have been formed. More than half of Israeli Jews belong to progressive branches of Judiasm who don't share Orthodoxy's literal adherence to the Torah. Tel Aviv is known as a gay capital and while it's true that gay marriage is not legal, there is, in fact, no civil (secular) marriage at all -- gay or straight -- and plenty of couples flaunt the law and go on to adopt each other's children.
As you can imagine in a place with such a large discrepancy in beliefs, Harel's organization isn't without its critics. More conservative rabbis think he's giving in and that he should instead focus on conversion. Liberal groups believe that he's looking for a way to hide homosexuality so that the culture doesn't have to address it. Cindy Rodriguez of Time spoke to Harel and his opponents earlier this year.
What seems to be missing from her report is a female perspective. While both men and women can have a family, the burden of actually producing that family falls largely on the female body. It seems to me that having children requires a large degree of vulnerability and trust and I'm interested in how gay women see those things play out in a twist on a sham marriage.
While Harel believes that these marriages are preferable because "all of the cards are open, and without the lies, half-truths, and 'mistakes,' because both participants know very well the nature of the prospective spouse's orientation," it's clear that his vision doesn't always play out. So far 1 of the 12 couples has split and an interview with a man who was married by Harel reveals that he's cheated 3 times in the past year and a half. Interestingly, Harel doesn't see this as entirely wrong. "As long as both parties are aware the other is dating, it would not be adultery in such a union. [The] same would not be true for a straight couple because they are sexually compatible and have no reason to look elsewhere." Despite Harel's views on the nature of homosexuality, he's certainly got a different perspective than the majority of the Orthodox community on this.
The man who cheated said he didn't tell his wife and that his affair was with a man married to a straight woman -- someone who could have benefited from one of Harel's marriages, or so it's implied. (The other implication is that he could have REALLY benefited from actual marriage equality.) Dishonesty comes from dishonesty -- as long as gay people are forced into straight roles, there will continue to be suffering. Again, we're forced to speculate at how women experience extra-marital affairs. Do they also have relationships on the side or are they bound by social customs that afford men more freedom than women? There are a lot of unanswered questions, but with the online launch of Harel's service, I'm confident that this isn't the last we'll hear about this story.