Rabbi Benny Lau

 A religious-Zionist rabbi has decided to tackle a hot-button issue: Couples from the LGBTQ+ community raising families.

On Saturday night, Rabbi Benny Lau, formerly of the Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem. published a document — “Couplehood and Relationships for Members of the LGBTQ+ Community,” which attempts to bring order to the chaos surrounding the controversial subject.

“This overview does not seek to permit what is forbidden or forbid what is permitted. It is an attempt to pave a way for a possible life while finding a life,” writes Lau.

At the start of the document, Lau notes that he wrote it after watching the documentary film “Marry Me,” however, which he calls “shocking.” In the film, Rabbi Yuval Cherlow says that rabbis know how to say “no,” but there is no article in which they say “yes.”

“Rabbi Cherlow’s remarks touched me deeply because I knew how right he was,” writes Lau.

“There are very few who want to cut ties with a son or daughter who comes out of the closet, but the way in which it should be handled in family and community life is very unclear, and there is a need to map out a guide,” explains Lau, adding that some people want to adhere to the ideas of the Torah by ignoring reality, and those who seek to “correct” reality by giving up on the ideas of the Torah.

“But a person who wants to fully worship God in this world must get used to holding onto the ideas of the Torah as well as reality, and living with them both. This is always harder, and often leaves us without an answer, without understanding, and sometimes frightened at the gap between heaven and earth,” he writes.

Lau was previously the rabbi of the Ramban synagogue, a prominent Orthodox congregation in Jerusalem. He is the nephew of former Israeli Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and the cousin of David Lau, the current chief rabbi. His brother, Amichai Lau-Lavie, is an openly gay rabbi living in New York.

Lau starts off by suggesting how it might be possible to come out of the closet in religious society, saying that often, it is best to do so “cautiously, so the environment will be able to take in the new reality that is quite shocking. Proper preparation for coming out of the closet could lead to a welcome result of the family embracing, accepting, and accompanying [the person] throughout their lives.”

Lau then moves on to single-sex relationships. He makes it clear that it is a mistake to hide one’s sexual orientation and marry a person of the opposite sex.

“Even if people with a clear preference for their own sex try to live in a family setting as husband and wife, they have an obligation to inform their spouse about their sexual preference,” he says.

While Lau writes that it is a mistake to inform a potential partner about one’s sexual identity when first getting acquainted, the relationship must not be allowed to deepen without it being disclosed.

“If contact with or attraction to members of the other sex is completely repulsive, [a person] must not try to build a conventional family. It is very harmful to the person to whom you enter the covenant of marriage,” he writes.

In the event that a non-LGBTQ+ partner wants to marry a homosexual person, the couple must be mentored in making decisions, and informed of the reality that could lie ahead of them, “including concerns that a sexless partnership could prompt them to seek alternatives outside the home.”

Lau says that opting for a sexless partnership is a “possibility,” but unnatural.

“In any case, it is difficult to impossible to order a person while providing them emotional or spiritual support to refrain from a sex life entirely,” he writes.

For same-sex couples who decide to marry and build families, Lau recommends that they take care when it comes to informing their families.

“Just like coming out of the closet should be done carefully, the stage of establishing partnership should be [announced] in a way that is appropriate to the family’s ability to accept it. Experience teaches us that their responses to this stage are often much harsher than to the previous one [of coming out].”

Lau also addresses the issue of conversion therapy: “There are therapists who say they can ‘fix’ a person’s sexual preference. We should be very careful about that because the emotional damage can be destructive or lethal. A parent who is exposed to a son or daughter who comes out can respond with alarm, and try to ‘help’ out of love. A deeper understanding that this is generally not a choice but an inborn tendency will help parents, and the family as a whole, deal with the goals that will remain with them along the way. On the other hand — a mature person can ask a (professional and licensed) therapist to help them deal with their nature and their tendencies and must not be prevented from doing so.”

‘Care must be taken not to embarrass or hurt them’

Lau doesn’t mince words when it comes to same-sex marriage in religious Judaism. “Halachic marriage for men and women in the LGBTQ+ community does not exist in the religious world. This is a very painful absence for some LGBTQ+ women and those close to them. No solution has been found in the world of accepted Jewish law.”

While same-sex couples may not marry under Jewish law, Lau says, religious families must not turn their backs on their son’s or daughter’s relationship, and calls the desire to hold wedding ceremonies “legitimate.”

“It is wrong and impossible to ignore that need or deny it,” he writes. As far as whether religious families may participate in such non-halachic ceremonies is concerned, Lau says it is up to each individual. He writes that the same-sex couple holding a wedding ceremony should consider how difficult it will be for their parents to accept, as taking that aspect into consideration will increase the chances of the family participating in the ceremony.

“The wedding does not need to mimic the halachic marriage ceremony, and setting up an alternative ceremony can remove much of the objection,” he advises.

So a same-sex couple is now married, just not under Jewish law. Can they raise children? Lau writes that “Jewish law does not forbid men and women from the LGBTQ+ community to raise children and build a family. The ability to be parents does not characterize one community or another. LGBTQ men and women can build a family of partnership and responsibility, and their children will be part of the community in which they live.”

Lau suggests that same-sex couples interested in options involving surrogacy, conversion or sperm donors consult with a rabbi.

Religious communities must not turn their backs on LGBTQ couples, writes Lau. “Like any other member of the community, LGBTQ+ couples and their children will be involved in, and take part of, the privileges and obligations of the community. Their choice of life partners does not destabilize the [religious] community and does not threaten it. They, like all members of the community, need to behave modestly and with restraint, and not indulge in public displays of affection.”

He goes one: “The society can and should avoid judging the religious stature of people who come out of the closet, even if they live in [same-sex] couples. If they don’t violate the rule of the Torah in public and do not show contempt for the Torah, they may hold any position in the community, including holy positions of pubic leadership in prayers and mitzvot. Accepting men and women from the LGBTQ community does not destabilize the family or the community. Reality teaches us that a man or woman does not choose their sexual preference, and therefore no one should fear that acceptance will lead to a flood of confusion among young people. Like their parents, the couple’s children have not sinned and are no different from any other children. Care must be taken not to embarrass them or hurt them in any way when they are with other children.”

Groups that are part of the religious LGBTQ+ community welcomed Lau’s openness about these issues.

“As organizations active in the religious public, we witness the complexities of the presence of the LGBTQ identity in the religious community. Religious LGBTQ families have existed for at least two decades, and confront them daily. In spite of that, religious LGBTQ people feel a sense of belonging to and love for the world of religious faith, and sometimes it even grows stronger as part of the process of person strengthening their identity.

“It is time for these issues to be publicly discussed, even in a rabbinical-halachic context. A brave, empathetic, learned and sensitive discussion of the matter can ensure that more homes integrate a full and present LGBTQ+ identity with a religious lifestyle and a community life centered around the Torah. With God’s help, we will continue to work for dialogue like that among men and women rabbis, and just like we have begun reading the Torah with ‘Genesis,’ we hope that Rabbi Lau and the welcome discourse that he is promoting will be the ‘genesis’ of better and healthier religious views, of light and acceptance, about members of the gay community,” said the organizations.

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