A revolutionary halachic ruling that will allow religious homosexual men to marry women and have children with them is currently being discussed at one of the most prestigious Orthodox institutes in Israel.
Rabbi Menachem Burstein is founder and head of the PUAH Institute, recognised in Orthodox circles as the leading organisation on matters of fertility and Jewish law. He confirmed this week that he has “been dealing with this subject for quite some time”.
According to Rabbi Burstein, the initiative came from a number of individuals and groups of religious homosexuals who requested a halachic solution that would enable them to have children.
“I explained to them that one thing I, or any other rabbi, could never do was to alter the prohibition on mishkav zachar (penetrative sexual relations between men), as it is from the Torah. When they accepted that, and clarified that they wanted a solution within halachah, we could go forward.”
The ruling currently being discussed in the institute envisages a homosexual marrying a woman who is fully aware that her prospective husband is not physically attracted to women and retains a relationship with another man.
“Although this is certainly not an ideal marriage,” explains Rabbi Burstein, “if both sides are prepared, then it does not really matter if they conceive through artificial insemination or relations that are aimed solely at conception.”
In order to receive a rabbinical approval for the marriage, the man must undertake not to engage in sexual relations with other men, though he is allowed to remain in a non-sexual relationship with another man. He must also receive counselling at Atzat Nefesh, a group of religious psychologists who specialise in counselling men and women with homosexual tendencies in the religious community.
“There is nothing wrong with two men having a close relationship without intimate relations and we should not penalise people who are not attracted to members of the other sex,” says Rabbi Burstein. “Having homosexual tendencies is in itself not a sin. Giving in to them is.”
Rabbi Burstein insists that he is not legitimising homosexuality within the religious community.
“Of course we believe it is a problem and that the solution should be therapy, but there are always going to be a certain number of religious homosexuals who have tried and failed to change. What about them?”
While it is identified with the national-religious community in Israel, PUAH also receives halachic guidance from many of the senior Charedi rabbis, including Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Ovadia Yossef. Rabbi Burstein consulted with both on the homosexual issue.
After receiving the rabbis’ authorisation, the next step is to consult with a number of leading children’s psychologists in order to ascertain that children born into such a framework can grow up happily and normally.
Rabbi Ron Yossef, who leads Hod, a support group for religious homosexuals, says that such marriages already exist.
“It is done with complete transparency. Both partners are fully aware of everything and the objective is to have and raise children according to halachah.”
He says that in most of the cases, the wife is an older woman who has failed to find a partner, and so is willing to enter such a marriage in order to have a child. In a minority of the cases the wife is a lesbian.