Sun, Sep 04, 2011 - Page 6 News List

FEATURE:Orthodox Jewish gays offered alternative life

AP, SHILO, West Bank

Rabbi Arele Harel offers an unconventional solution for Orthodox Jewish gay men who want to raise a conventional family — he fixes them up with Orthodox lesbians.

His matchmaking service, which has just gone online, has met criticism on opposing fronts. Orthodox Jewish rabbis say Harel should be doing more to encourage gays and lesbians to try to change their sexual orientation. Liberal religious gay groups see Harel’s approach as a ploy to suppress homosexuality.

The matchmaking presents an array of challenges. The relationship may be loveless. The partners may be tempted to seek sexual satisfaction outside the marriage and the couple may need assistance to get pregnant. Harel insists he just wants to help people have children, an important commandment of Jewish law.

“The main aspiration here is parenthood,” said Harel, 36, from his home in the Jewish West Bank settlement of Shilo. “It allows them to become parents in a way that is permitted by religious Jewish law and prevents a conflict between their religious world and their sexual world.”

Most rabbis encourage gays to suppress their attractions, abstain from gay sex or undergo therapy to try to go straight. Harel believes some gays can alter their sexual orientation through therapy and insists many do. The American Psychological Association has declared no solid evidence exists that such change is likely.

Harel said his method is meant for those who can’t change, yet want to remain observant and have children.

Harel began matching lesbians and gay men six years ago, he said, because he recognized a “deep distress” among people “facing a dead-end road.”

More recently, Kamoha, a religious gay group, began receiving inquiries from gay men and lesbian women about this approach. -Kamoha linked up with Harel and last month began publicizing the initiative on its Web site.

Harel says he has wed 12 couples, and several have had children. More than 80 people expressed an interest in the matchmaking service when it was publicized by word-of-mouth, and since it went online two weeks ago, Harel says he has received dozens of e-mails.

“Rabbi Harel introduced us and there was a good initial click,” wrote Sari and Avi, a couple Harel set up, in a testimonial on Kamoha’s site.

“It’s not love. It’s chemistry, a sense of understanding and partnership, trust and appreciation,” the couple said.

Harel said as long as both parties are aware the other is dating, it would not be adultery in such a union. He said the same would not be true for a straight couple because they are sexually compatible and have no reason to look elsewhere. Jewish law forbids adultery.

Harel contends that gay and lesbian partners learn to love each other once children arrive.

“Their love is based on parenthood. Parenthood is the glue and it’s strong,” he said.

Harel leaves it to the couple’s discretion whether to divulge their sexual identities to their children but he recommends they consult with a professional first.

Potential candidates e-mail Harel, who meets with them to assess if they are emotionally ready to be fixed up. He then picks a suitable match and introduces the parties. They are put in touch with therapists who are to assist them in their new life. Once they are married, they each pay around US$400 for Harel’s service.

Israel’s secular majority has largely embraced the Western gay rights movement that has led to six cities, among them New York, legalizing same-sex marriage.

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