Rabbi Dr Zev Farber, editor of TheTorah.com, presents a halachic approach to the inclusion of same-sex couples in Orthodox communities.
Orthodox Jewish homosexuals in committed relationships who wish to remain part of the community are often stuck having to leave the latter or hide the former. Many Orthodox communities are in a similar quandary, wishing to be welcoming to all Jews who participate in their core values, while worrying that to do so would be tantamount to countenancing a biblical prohibition and voiding the halachic definition of marriage.
Orthodox communities, especially suburban ones, are family oriented. Shabbat meals, youth groups, holiday events and kiddush after services all provide a cohesive social structure for people who share core values and identity markers, and who wish to make friends and bring up their children together.
In this sense, homosexual Orthodox family units are of a type with heterosexual Orthodox family units. Their homes are kosher, their kids attend Jewish day schools and they walk to shul on Shabbat and holidays. Even those who are not fully observant are likely at the same level of Jewish activity and fluency as the average member of the shul he or she attends.
But how can an Orthodox community include such a family in a way that feels authentic to Jewish tradition and halachah? After all, the raison d’être of an Orthodox Jewish community is to create a microcosm, in which Jewish laws, values, and traditions reign supreme.
In a 1974 article, Rabbi Dr Norman Lamm, the former president of Yeshiva University, suggested that we apply the principle of oness rahmana patrei, that the Merciful One exempts a person from the impossible. This talmudic principle was inspired by the case in Deuteronomy (22:25-27) of the raped woman who is not held accountable for adultery, and was applied to cases in which enemies of the Jews would force them to violate halachot under threat of death (Talmud, Avodah Zarah 54a).