WRITING for the Jewish Standard last year, Avram Mlotek, above, a New York rabbi affiliated with a progressive wing of Orthodox Judaism, said ‘I understand that Jewish law views kiddushin, the ritual ceremony of marriage, as a legal structure between a man and a woman. I know and respect this.’
But I also believe that the Torah does not want human beings to live alone, and supports a covenantal relationship between parties as they build a faithful Jewish home. I know that Judaism has, for thousands of years, had a rich understanding of the diversity of gender identities. I know that the Torah affirms the God-endowed dignity of all human beings.
He went on to point out that his own rabbinical school, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, “a beacon of progressive traditionalism”, recently informed its students and alumni that one of its fourth-year students, an openly gay man, would not be receiving ordination a few months shy of graduation after years of study at the seminary. This, he said, was:
A painful reminder that LGBTQ Jews still lack the ability to fully participate as equals in all facets of Orthodox life.
He than vowed that he would, in the future, conduct LGBT ceremonies.
He fulfilled his promise last Sunday when he conducted a marriage ceremony for Nadiv Schorer and Ariel Meiri. The rabbi said in a Facebook post:
A wedding day should be a joyous day for loving companions, as liturgy connotes, regardless of their sexual orientation. If the couple is choosing to live Jewish lives, build a Jewish home and raise Jewish children, our traditional rabbinate must seize the opportunity to welcome and work with these families at their most precious life-cycle moments. If we don’t, we risk further alienation and falling into an abyss of religious irrelevance by denying these couples their rightful place of belonging.
In many ways, it was like any other simcha I’ve officiated: joyous, Jewish, spiritual, full of love. What made it different was that they were two men who joined in sacred, covenantal relationship.
Same-sex marriages are permitted in most American Jewish denominations, but Mlotek’s decision placed him well outside the Orthodox mainstream, where same-sex marriage is both forbidden and, according to some analysts, among the reasons why Orthodox Jews have aligned themselves with the Republican Party.
Mlotek was ordained at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, which was founded two decades ago to advance an “Open Orthodox” approach that emerged in part as a response to that rightward shift. The school has dropped the Open Orthodox affiliation, but rabbis trained there still tend to look for ways to include women and others while maintaining fidelity to Jewish law, known as halacha.
Mlotek’s Facebook post and others about the ceremony drew some comments from people who lamented what they said was a departure from traditional Jewish values. But his action was also praised by others who said that Orthodox Judaism too often fails to grapple with the human costs of halachic fidelity.
• This report was cross-posted from The Pink Triangle Trust, a UK LGBT charity.