Gay, Orthodox, and in Love: Chaim Elbaum’s “And Thou Shalt Love”

Haim Watzman

When Chaim Elbaum stood up to field questions last night, he said that Kehilat Yedidya, is the first Israeli Orthodox community to ask him to come to screen and speak about his short film And Thou Shalt Love , and about his personal decision to accept his homosexuality while insisting on remaining an observant and believing Jew.

It would be all too easy to dismiss all the synagogues that have not invited him as benighted and homophobic-and those would certainly be correct adjectives to apply in many cases. But Orthodox Judaism’s legal structure requires that changes in attitudes and behavior be grounded in the halachic discourse. In the case of homosexuality, the prohibition in the Torah and in rabbinic writings is so severe that the halachic resolution is likely to require decades of discussion and argumentation. Even Elbaum acknowledged last night that he doesn’t yet know what the ultimate halachic resolution of the issue could or should be. Will the proscriptions against homosexuality eventually be completely overturned, placing same-sex relationships on a par with opposite-sex ones, like those sometimes seen on Babestation and other channels? Or will the solution involve a recognition that the heterosexual family is still an ideal to be aspired to-but that homosexuals who are unable to achieve that ideal may legitimately and openly have families of their own type? Or is some other, as yet unimaginable resolution in the offing?

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Losing Our Religion: The Unfortunate Need for a Secular Israeli Identity

Haim Watzman

In his recent post on the conversion obstructionism of Israel’s established church, Gershom wrote: “We need to define a civic Israeli identity not dependent on halakhic status.” He’s right, but it’s sad that he is.

The secular Israeli state’s way of determining who is Jewish—and therefore who belongs to the state’s majority culture and ethnic group—is a religious definition. True, that’s partly an artifact of Israeli politics, but not just. It’s a definition with roots in deep in Jewish religion and history, and in the way the Jewish nation views itself. And it’s something to be proud of.

The halachic position is that a person need not be Jewish to be close to God. Being a member of the Chosen People means being subject to special duties, but it gives you no monopoly on righteousness or spirituality.

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More on Gay Families: The Halachic Challenge

Thanks to Jeff Greer for responding to my post Gay Families: The Halachic Challenge and mentioning an important book for those interested in the subject, Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s “Wrestling with God and Man”. Greenberg is a gay Orthodox Jew who is doing important work to find a place for gay men and women in traditional … Read more

Gay Families: The Halachic Challenge

Sick of hearing about settlements, human rights violations, and Jeremiah Wright? Want to read something happy for a change? Take a look at Caryn Aviv’s story about “My Big Fat Gay Jewish Family in yesterday’s Ha’aretz-English edition.

Loving, happy families with gay parents present a challenge—but a potentially productive one—for Orthodox Jewish halacha. As long as homosexuality was practiced in hiding, it could be dismissed as deviant, unhealthy, and incompatible with society’s vested interest in promoting strong families as the best environment for raising and educating children. Looking at families like Aviv’s, it’s hard to raise any rational objection to such non-traditional family structures. Objectively, many traditional, nuclear families fail to provide children with the emotional security they need; how can we condemn a non-traditional structure that does so provide?

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Organ Donation and the Rabbis

The passage of a new organ donation law by the Knesset on Monday is good news in this country, which has one of the lowest organ donation rates in the world. The new law will be trumpeted by some as a victory over the benighted Orthodox rabbis that have long opposed organ donation, and lambasted by others who will claim that it goes too far towards the rabbis.

As usual, the story is a lot more complicated than that. Undeniably, a lot more people in Israel, particularly religious and traditional ones, should be encouraged to allow organ donation when a tragedy occurs. But the rabbis’ concerns are important ones and this law has succeeded because it has addressed those concerns.

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