Rabbi Offers Lavender Marriage Service for Orthodox Gays

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.


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Laura

Laura is a tiny girl who wishes she were a superhero. She likes talking to her grandma on the phone and making things with her hands. Strengths include an impressive knowledge of Harry Potter, the ability to apply sociology to everything under the sun, and a knack for haggling for groceries in Spanish. Weaknesses: Chick-fil-a, her triceps, girls in glasses, and the subjunctive mood. Follow the vagabond adventures of Laura and her bike on twitter [@laurrrrita].

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18 Comments

  1. This is no where close to a solution, but given the reality of Orthodox Jews rejecting same-sex unions, I’m impressed that someone is willing to think outside the box. And that he rejects ‘conversion to heterosexuality’.
    baby steps …

  2. This happens a lot in China also. Not taking into account the complexities of accepting homosexuality in conservative cultures and ones ability to push through those barriers, if two people want to get married to hide their gayness because they can just not seem to find the ability to be openly homosexual, why not? As suggested in the article, they may still may have preferred partners, but will have this marriage cloak. Okay, saying it out-loud does sound fucked up. BUT if people just can’t seem to be openly gay, this is a tragic but useful service.

  3. I don’t believe that anyone should have to hide their sexuality in a loveless marriage if they don’t want to. But if they want to belong religiously to the community so much, or their desire to engage the religious lifestyle is so great that without it they can not be happy, then I believe this approach can be helpful for them, as long as they do not go into it under pressure from those around them. I would probably also suggest a required therapy/consultation session so these individuals will have an oportunity to really discuss what this would mean for them, etc.

    This also raises the question of it it can ever be okay to support a system that maintains such prejudice that people are forced into such situations? At which point do we need to say that the problem is less about some people wanting to be part of a unique group with certain requirements and when the problem is a systematic one that is not accepting of homosexuality and needs to change?

  4. I guess if all parties enter into the marriage knowing the score and having discussed all aspects of the agreement including their willingness to agree to extra marital affaires or not, then if that’s they way they want to live their lives then so be it. And if they live in countries or communities where they feel they cannot be open this is a way of living which might be more barable than other options.

    It’s better than marrying a straight person in order to be in the closet but having no intention of telling them but cheating all the time anyway.
    I suppose I do give the Rabbi credit for thinking outside the “Pray the Gay Away” box, even if I think it is likely to lead to longterm misery in many cases, especially if/when children become involved.

    However surely this also potentially leads to a mockery of “marriage as a sacred bond between a man and a woman”. The fact that many of these people will intend to lead double lives from their community, family and children surely weakens the institution of marriage far more than two committed same sex people getting married in all good faith.

    *[The] same would not be true for a straight couple because they are sexually compatible and have no reason to look elsewhere.*

    And yet “not sexually compatible anymore so need to look elsewhere” is something many hetrosexual married people have given as an excuse for cheating.

  5. hey! i asked people about this a while ago in asschat just to see what straddlers reactions would be, and i think the general consensus then was “that’s weird/sad/shouldn’t be happening but i don’t live that reality.”

    so. for people who don’t live the reality of being a gay orthodox jew, i get that it’s hard to understand. but i think that if one decides to live according to halacha (torah law), and that’s their bottom line, their perspective is how to live their lives the best they can in this accordance – not to try to advance more same-sex orthodox couples. orthodox judaism understands gay and lesbian desire explicitly, but does say acting upon it is wrong. a couple such as the ones rabbi harel set up agrees with this view, and therefor judgement of their lavender marriage decision shouldn’t be thrust upon them as self-hating gay individuals who are perpetuating “suffering,” etc. judge them for their religious beliefs that homosexuality shouldn’t be acted upon. that’s a valid problem. but wanting more gay couples to be visible in orthodoxy when those people don’t believe in even BEING part of a gay couple is asking them to be social martyrs for a cause they don’t believe in.

    also last thing – whether gay or straight, if someone has sex outside their marriage when that’s an acceptable part of their marriage, it doesn’t mean that their marriage has failed, and using the word “cheating” to describe it isn’t truthful. i feel like AS talks about open relationships and polyamory enough to know that. this isn’t the same thing as polyamory, obviously, but it’s not cheating either.

    • if it’s agreed upon that extramarital affairs are okay, then clearly it’s not cheating. but this man said his wife didn’t know and that he felt guilty about doing it. that doesn’t really sound like an open marriage to me.

      and i see where you’re going with people having the right to live as they want to, but the difference between “people living how they want to” and “people living a certain way because their culture doesn’t allow for variation” isn’t always clear. just like it can be hard to know where to draw the line between between “being imperialistic” and “but people are people and we all deserve respect.” i honestly don’t know where to put that sometimes.

      • i hear you, i just think based on my knowledge of orthodox judaism and also israeli society, the 24 people that decided to do this so far decided for themselves that this culture – which, i agree, doesn’t allow for variation – is a culture they believe in and respect. they are choosing to be a part of this culture, and it’s not for lack of choices – as mentioned in the clip, there are quite a few orthodox pro-LGB organizations in both israel and other places are the world.

        i guess i also don’t want this article to confuse people: it’s not about shame. even through hagel talks about their “ability to lead a normal, social life”, it’s not about the “shame” of being gay that these people have to hide. it’s the fact that they believe their homosexuality shouldn’t be acted upon based on their understanding of a religious text they live by, and want to live the way they think is true.

  6. So for a long time I had joked about setting up a website called lavendarmarriages.com for people from SUUUUPER conservative families. And gayboys and gaygirls would marry each other just so that they had someone appropriate to bring to company parties and family gatherings and it would let me make mad use of my southern-girl-brought-up-to-be-a-homemaker-is-all-the-life-skills-i’ve-got skills and then both people in the marriage would know that the other one had a little something something on the side AND IT WAS A JOKE. And this–this is an even more horrible idea. Didn’t think that was possible.

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