Judaism’s View on Same-Sex Marriage : An Orthodox Perspective

Judaism believes that all people were created in the image of G-d. (Genesis 1:27)  Because G-d takes no form, we understand that we have been created in the image of His values.  The Talmud tells us, for example, that we should strive to emulate those values.  (Tractate Sotah 14a commenting on Deuteronomy 13:5)  As He clothed the naked, providing leather garments for Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21), so we should clothe the naked.  As he visited the sick, when our Patriarch Avraham was recovering from the circumcision (Gen. 18:1), so we should visit the sick. As He visited the mourner to console him, when our Patriarch Yitzchak grieved the passing of his father, Avraham (Gen. 25:11), so we should visit and console mourners, as at a shiva home. As He attended to burying the deceased, as when Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our Teacher) died atop Mount Nevo, where G-d buried him (Deut. 34:6), so we lovingly should attend to the final needs of the deceased.
Because we are created in His image, we also have capacities to express warmth, compassion, and love, as well as hate, anger, jealousy, rage.  Some of these capacities initially seem wonderful, while others initially seem quite negative.  In fact, upon reflection, each of these emotions and capacities can be good – or not – depending on how we exercise them.  We wish, for example, that more people would hate terrorism and would be outraged at regimes that persecute innocents, as in Iran or Darfur.  It is good to be angry when we hear of criminal misdeeds.  “Those who love G-d hate evil.” (Psalms 97:10)  When we sit around, lazily wasting our years, a bit of jealousy is a good spur to action when we learn of another person’s excellent achievements and suddenly decide: “Hey, I can do that!”  Indeed, some of the greatest charitable acts have resulted from donors coveting the recognition that others have attained.
Thus, emotions are powerful forces, and G-d placed those feelings within us because they potentially are wonderful.  Few of us would doubt that the most wonderful of all experiences – when exercised for good – are love, warmth, and compassion.  G-d gave us those feelings, implanting them within us, because He loves us.  And indeed we even recite His holy name at the wedding ceremony, reciting brakhot (blessings) to Him for being the One who gives happiness to the groom and the bride. (See, e.g., Tractate Ketubot 7b-8a) We are commanded to marry, to make our spouses happy, and to try having children. (Rambam, Positive Mitzvot 212-214)  That happiness – the sounds of joy and gladness celebrated by grooms and brides in Jerusalem – even comprise the definitive signs of G-d’s return to His holy city.  (Jeremiah 33:11; cf. Isaiah 54:1 and 62:5)   His love for us, and His concomitant love for harmony and affection in marriages, even is reflected in the unusual Torah account of the laws of Sotah, in which He permits the knowing erasure of His holy name – something that always is forbidden – in order to bring harmony within a marriage and to allay strife occasioned by spousal suspicions of infidelity. (Numbers 5:23)
An accumulated body of science has brought to this generation’s perception that a small minority of individuals incline towards greater sexual passion towards someone of their own gender.  Although the Torah, expressing the Word of G-d, expresses clearly that Jewish law can accept and recognize a marriage only when it is between a man and a woman, and also negates in strong terms the act of a man lying with another man as a man lies with a woman (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13), we distinguish between orientations and actions, between thoughts and deeds.  Moreover, we do not inquire or seek to ferret out information we do not need to know.  For example, the Torah Jewish community understands that driving on the Shabbat is forbidden, but it still warmly accepts with loving welcome the many Jews who nevertheless drive to shul on Shabbat.  Naturally, there is a mutually respected understanding: one who drives to shul on Shabbat does not organize a public “Sabbath Drivers Society,” nor would he expect the shul to sponsor “Shabbat Carpools” to services.  People intuitively understand that he has driven, particularly when he lives more than two or three miles’ distance from shul, and the matter is not addressed.  No one judges.  No one asks.  And, in the best sense of holy indifference and non-judgmental acceptance, no one cares.
In much the same way, the synagogue is open to and welcomes all individuals. A person’s private sense of sexual orientation is not a matter that engages the community.  Sexuality is a private matter.  A Jew is a Jew, and the congregation is grateful for the opportunity to serve as a center for Torah learning, prayer, and spiritual growth for each and every Jew.  A person’s sexual orientation is a private matter, much as the mainstream heterosexual population of Torah congregations also is obliged to speak and act with utmost modesty, as married couples speak with modest language, minimizing external demonstrations of physical affection for each other.  Physical affection is a private matter in a Torah Jew’s lifestyle.  We simply do not discuss or manifest this private subject in public.
Thus, because the Torah teaches us that marriage is between a man and a woman, those male-female unions are the only marriages or fomal public unions one finds performed in the Torah community, from time immemorial.  Adam and Eve (the idealized pre-Judaism couple).  Abraham and Sarah.  Moses and Tzipporah.  Rabbi Meir and Bruriah.  One does not find same-sex marriages because such marriages would publicy run counter to the Torah’s explicit prohibition against the same-sex act.  Thus, on one hand, the Torah tells us G-d’s standards for the way we conduct our lives, and G-d always is watching. (Psalms 33:13-15)  Even so, what people do in private is beyond the scope of any Jewish community’s concern.  If two single fellows in a congregation buy a house or condo together, if two women rent a home together, no one raises an eyebrow or asks questions – or even thinks a question is propmpted.  If a single fellow rents-out a room to a woman, or vice-versa, that raises eyebrows and is deemed inappropriate.  Similarly, if a single fellow in his 50s who has never married is asked why he still is single, the motivation is that some innocent is considering whether to “match him up” with a lady.  No one in the Torah community assumes a same-gender orientation, and the tradition of sexual modesty that defines the lifestyle of the Torah community – from language to dress and beyond – leaves the community uninterested in discerning a person’s personal orientation.
In sum, the ideal relationship that G-d envisioned for His human creation is the embodiment of the original union of Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:8; Tractate Baba Batra 75b): a man and a woman bonding formally in love, recreating the original male-female bond of the Garden of Eden, which laid the foundation for bringing children into the world, rearing families to learn Torah and observe a kosher home and a Shabbat environment, and transmitting the Torah and its values to new generations of Jewish children.  Any person whose personal orientation differs from that norm is welcome into the shul, the Torah Jewish community, and is never asked to discuss personal orientation.  Although we do not institutionalize “Shabbat Carpools” or other actions outside Torah law, we respectfully welcome, teach, share, and invite into the Torah community all Jews.