By Eli Davis
The words “gay” and “Orthodox Jew” have not historically meshed. However, Rabbi Steven Greenberg has found a way to make it work.
In front of a crowd of about 160 people, Greenberg spoke on the topic of homosexuality in Judaism, specifically the Orthodox community.
Greenberg, who is considered to be the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi, grew up in a conservative family, but became Orthodox around the age of 15 when he began studying with an Orthodox rabbi.
At the age of 20, while he was studying at a yeshiva in Israel, he became attracted to another male student. He spoke to a rabbi who explained to him, “you have twice the power of love, use it carefully.” Greenberg was satisfied with the rabbi’s answer, but had mistaken himself to be bisexual for the next 15 years.
He was under the impression he would go on to marry a woman, but still be attracted to men, just like men are attracted to other women they are not married to, Greenberg explained.
“The reason it took me 15 years to say ‘I am gay’ is because those words would have put me on the edge of a cliff,” he said.
He began to feel depressed and felt distant from God. “My inner life was in such disarray around faith and around God,” he said.
Greenberg eventually came out in an article published in an Israeli newspaper in 1999 when he was 42.
Since being open about his sexuality, many colleagues have discouraged him talking about the issue, claiming he is biased, according to Greenberg.
He compares the issue to women gaining suffrage in the U.S. and says it will take time to gain full support. “The community needs to be prepared for the challenge,” he said. “When you decide you will not tolerate sending your kids to school where gay parents cannot send their kids, that’s when things will change.”
“The Orthodox community is the one with the largest issue,” said freshman Gidon Feen, an international affairs and Middle Eastern studies major at George Washington University.
Feen was surprised about how many Orthodox students were in attendance. “Other events are more like-minded people,” he said.
Monica Azhdam, a sophomore enrolled in Letters and Sciences at the University of Maryland, agreed with Feen. “I did not expect that many students from the more Orthodox community to come,” she said. “The orthodox community sees the issue as black and white but, it depends on how you interpret the text.”
Greenberg recognizes that how he relates to God may be different than traditional Judaism, but offers a more progressive way of understanding text.
“If you are gay, you need to know what God thinks about you,” Greenberg said. “If I don’t offer gay people a credible read of Torah…why would I believe they should stay?”