Six years ago, Areleh Harel, an Orthodox rabbi from the West Bank, devised a plan to help an Orthodox Jewish gay man fulfill his dream of becoming a husband and father while keeping him in good standing with Jewish law and his community of believers. The solution: marry him to a lesbian.
Through a friend, Harel found an Orthodox lesbian who also wanted a traditional family. Within a year, the couple married. They now have two children. No one suspects they are gay. Since that first arrangement, Harel has matched 13 gay-lesbian couples. (See why gay marriage still isn’t marriage for the religious.)
Until this spring, only a handful of people knew of his matchmaking project. Then Harel mentioned it during a panel discussion in Jerusalem on gay rights. A local reporter wrote about it, and the news went viral.
Many gay leaders criticized the marriages, calling them deceitful and repressive. But several prominent rabbis supported Harel, calling his work a mitzvah, or good deed. As the news spread, Harel’s phone began ringing. Orthodox gay men were calling to ask: Could this be right for me?
Harel, 37, says the number of gay people seeking these matches sparked his decision to take his project to the next level — the Internet. By September, he plans to unveil an online matchmaking service for Orthodox gay people. “This is the best solution we can offer people who want to live within the halacha [Jewish law],” Harel says. “This may not be a perfect solution, but it’s kind of a solution.” (See pictures of same-sex couples getting married in New York.)
The matchmaking project comes at a time when Orthodox gay and lesbian groups are pressuring rabbis for acceptance. Prior to 2007, there were no Orthodox gay organizations in Israel. Now there are five, including one based in Jerusalem. In many ways, Israel is ground zero for gay rights for Orthodox Jewish people. Advocates say that if rabbis in the Holy Land become more accepting of gay people, that tolerance will reverberate outward into Orthodox communities throughout the world, which often take their cues from Israel.
The online matchmaking service will be fully operational by the end of the year, Harel says. He’s in the process of training five matchmakers, all of whom are heterosexual. Harel will stay on as a consultant but will limit his involvement to spend more time with his wife and four children. Harel is working with a closeted gay man who uses the pseudonym Amit and runs an Orthodox-gay organization called Kamoha, which is Hebrew for “Like us.” Their plan is to set up the online service through Kamoha’s website. Subscribers would pay a fee of about $42 and fill out a survey explaining what they want in a mate. A matchmaker would then arrange meetings between potential couples. If a match is made, the bride and groom would each pay 1,500 shekels ($430). Harel and Amit plan to call the service Ánu, Hebrew for “We.”
Amit, who is 28, has no interest in marrying a lesbian. He says that after years of therapy, he has come to realize he is “100% gay.” But he says he knows other gay men who are “less gay” and enjoy sex with a woman. “We’re not pushing this on people,” says Amit. “This is for people who want this because Jewish law says this is the normal way and because it’s the easiest way to have children.”