On Thursday night at Washington DC’s “Historic 6th and I Synagogue,” Greenberg stood under the chupah, a traditional Jewish wedding canopy, as newlyweds Yoni Bock and Ron Kaplan tied the knot before some two-hundred guests. Recognizing the unique – and controversial – moment, Greenberg’s voice notably cracked when near the end he stated, “By the power invested in me by the District of Columbia, I now pronounce you married.”
-by Roee Ruttenberg
“Orthodox rabbi marries gay couple in historic wedding in Washington, DC”
You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. –Leviticus 18:22
Warning. If this is a topic that pushes all your buttons, makes you see red, or otherwise causes you to lose all control of your emotions because you think homosexuality is a worse sin than murder, rape, bank robbery, embezzlement, and stealing from a five-year old’s piggy bank all rolled into one, then you should stop reading right now and either close your web browser or just move on to a different, more politically correct (religiously correct?) blog. End of disclaimer.
I probably shouldn’t do this. I probably shouldn’t write a blog on this topic. People tend to become horribly polarized about this sort of thing and it will most likely end up in a verbal bloodbath. On the other hand, I’m still trying to figure out how an Orthodox Rabbi could marry a same-sex couple. No, that’s not right. I know why, or at least part of “why”. The news story says so.
Greenberg is no stranger to controversy. He publicly admitted his sexuality following his ordination from an Orthodox rabbinical school, making him the first openly gay practicing Orthodox rabbi.
Greenberg gained notoriety following his role in the 2001 documentary by an American filmmaker, “Trembling Before G-d,” which portrayed the conflicts of gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews trying to reconcile their religious convictions and sexual orientations. After the films successful release, Greenberg traveled with director Sandi Simcha Dubowski, screening the film globally.
What I’m wondering is how Orthodox Judaism even remotely “fits” with homosexuality and same-sex marriage. If a Christian man had been ordained as a Fundamentalist Pastor and then announced that he was gay, I can only imagine his ordination would be yanked out from under him faster than he could blink. More than that, if he continued in his role of Pastor in a fundamentalist Christian church, I can’t possibly imagine he’d have much of a following, at least much of a traditionally conservative fundamentalist Christian following.
Shifting the context back to Orthodox Judaism, Rabbi Greenberg doesn’t seem to be having any of these problems. Well, not exactly.
While he (Greenberg) was warmly received by many (after publicly announcing that he was gay), his book, “Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition,” led him to be shunned by some in the Orthodox community and even by some gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews who felt his views did not align with Orthodox readings of Jewish law. His participation in Thursday’s ceremony will be viewed by some as a step that crosses a line of no return.
While a number of same-sex couples – many of them Jewish – have now married in US areas that recently legalized gay and lesbian unions, none were officiated by a rabbi who holds Orthodox ordination. The movement maintains a strict interpretation of Jewish law, including the biblical verse found in Leviticus 18 which refers to a man lying with another man as an abomination.
To be fair, this isn’t the first time Orthodox Judaism and same-sex marriage issues have appeared in the news. In a news item published at advocate.com, the Orthodox community pushed back against support of two men getting married, which is kind of what I’d expect to happen. Why didn’t it happen this time when Rabbi Greenberg married a same-sex couple in D.C.?
Perhaps there is some fallout yet to come from Rabbi Greenberg’s role in marrying Yoni Bock and Ron Kaplan. After all, this just happened last Thursday. But Greenberg has apparently been an Orthodox Rabbi and openly gay for years and as far as the source article goes, there doesn’t seem to be much of a problem.
I didn’t write this blog to bash gays or to bash the Orthodox or to bash anyone. I wrote it to try and understand how this apparent dissonance can not only occur but subsist over time. I know that Rabbinic interpretation of Torah can reveal details that are not readily apparent on the surface, but how do you, especially in an Orthodox context, reconcile Leviticus 18:22 with performing a ceremony joining two men in a Jewish marriage?
OK, this would not be such as head-scratcher if the wedding ceremony were officiated by a Reform, Reconstructionist, and even (lately) Conservative Rabbi, but an Orthodox Rabbi and one who is openly gay?
I don’t get it.
I’m tempted to think it’s an application of the following, but somehow, I don’t think it’s true.
Intolerance lies at the core of evil. Not the intolerance that results from any threat or danger. Not the intolerance that arises from negative experience. Just intolerance of another being who dares to exist, who dares to diminish the space in the universe left for you. Intolerance without cause.
It is so deep within us, because every human being secretly desires the entire universe to himself. Our only way out is to learn compassion without cause. To care for each other simply because that ’other’ exists.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
I don’t think that gay marriage or intolerance of homosexuality in the Orthodox community is what Rabbi Freeman was writing about. I don’t think (but who am I to know) that the Rebbe would have supported an Orthodox Rabbi being openly gay and performing a same-sex wedding ceremony. The mixing of Orthodox Judaism and free acceptance of gay marriage just does not compute.
On the other hand, I’ve spent a lot of blogging time trying to figure out how or if the very significant differences between Christianity and Judaism can be reconciled and made to live peacefully and even productively with each other. Can these two situations somehow be compared? If the relationship between Christianity and Judaism can flex over time, is it possible that Orthodox Judaism’s viewpoint of Leviticus 18:22 can flex, too?
Before someone says it in a comment, I know the classic response to these questions is to say that there is no question. Sin is sin and Rabbi Greenberg is sinning, both by being gay and by using the authority of his Rabbinic standing to marry two men. I also know someone is (probably) going to say that they “hate the sin but love the sinner.” I realize these are the answers we’ve been taught to produce, but it doesn’t actually address what you do with human beings. When you meet a gay person, do you automatically start shaking your finger at him or her and cry “Sinner, repent” in their face? If your brother or nephew, or daughter has a friend and you all go out to dinner together, when it pops out that the friend is gay (you can have a friend who is gay and just be friends), how do you respond?
I’m know I’m asking a lot questions. Stereotypes and gut reactions aside, when you are face to face with a gay person, as a person of faith, how do you deal with that? When you hear about or meet someone who apparently is deeply religious and loves God but lives a lifestyle that, in one single dimension, goes against everything you’ve been taught is right, true, and holy, what do you do with it? Whoever administers the ordination for Rabbi Greenberg hasn’t stopped him from practicing as an Orthodox Rabbi. There are gay people who, even knowing exactly how Orthodox Judaism thinks and feels about homosexuality, nevertheless, choose to practice and adhere to (except for that one dimension) Orthodox halacha rather than shifting to a more liberal form of religious Judaism.
This isn’t a matter of gays in a liberal synagogue or a liberal church. This is, or perhaps just seems to be, the start of acceptance of human beings into Orthodox Judaism who previously would have been shunned. Is the world just disintegrating morally or are we at the intersection of our faith and the realization that gay people are also people?
I don’t know what to do with this. The comments section is now open. Please be polite or at least civil, but what do you think?