By Tzvi Lev/TPS
Jerusalem (TPS) – While controversy has been brewing over several prominent rabbis’ comments on homosexuality and the Jerusalem gay pride parade, a well known religious-Zionist rabbi has been quietly setting up Orthodox gay men with lesbian women to be married, an idea that is considered revolutionary in the religious-Zionist world.
The Anachnu (“we” in Hebrew) organization is an NGO founded in 2011 by Rabbi Areleh Harel and is associated with Kamoha, a support organization for religious homosexuals who wish to have a conventional marriage.
As a resident of Shiloh and a teacher at the Elon Moreh Yeshiva, which is commonly associated with the ultra-Orthodox stream of religious-Zionism, Rabbi Harel does not seem a likely candidate to run a matchmaking service for homosexuals yet he began taking interest in the matter 12 years ago.
“Women were coming to me and telling me that after 10 or 15 years of marriage, they realized that their husband was gay and was seeing other men,” he said. “I understood the tremendous pain felt by many religious homosexuals and I felt that I had to do something.”
“A religious homosexual is stuck,” he continued. “I don’t have any way to solve this problem. Perhaps one tried to change and failed, but the question is what do we do now? If a gay man and a lesbian woman can marry each other without expecting love and sexuality, they can still build a traditional family.”
After six years of independently setting up religious gays and lesbians, Rabbi Harel was approached by Kamoha with an offer to formally expand his activities.
“Our NGO received many requests from gay men asking to be set up with lesbian women,” said Amit, the spokesman for Kamoha, who preferred not to disclose his full name. “Since so many people have turned to us, we decided to set up an initiative to match gays with lesbians. All of the rabbis we spoke to sent us to Rabbi Harel who had already been doing it privately and we decided to turn it into something official as part of our NGO, which became Anachnu.”
Anachnu recommends using their services only after having already seen a therapist and having accepted that a change to one’s sexual orientation would be impossible. “Those suitable for this project are those who are not in the process of trying out a new sexual orientation, but rather for those who have accepted themselves as being gay or lesbian,” states their website.
Amit claims that Anachnu is not being used exclusively by religious Jews. “The majority are religious,” he admits. “However, there have also been traditional people and even secular people who have reached out to us. All of them are closeted.”
Kamoha’s efforts are not without controversy within the religious community. Chavruta is an organization that supports religious homosexuals and is often considered a more liberal alternative to Kamoha. Daniel Jonas, a Chavruta spokesperson, offered lukewarm praise for the initiative. “We think that everyone has a right to choose their own path,” he said. “It makes no difference whether that means to live in the closet while married to a woman and pretending everything is normal or to live as you are.”
He warned against using groups like Anachnu to further hurt the LGBT community. “We reject any initiative that tells us ‘this is how you need to be’. If a person chooses to marry a woman and build a house with her, that is fine and there is a place for them. However, we in no way, shape, or form accept someone saying that this is the only solution and that this is what everyone needs to do.”