Fabulously Observant: Coming soon: SawYouAtSodom.com

How religious Jewish dating sites should handle potential gay-rights lawsuits.

David Benkoff 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
David Benkoff 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The results of a recent gay-rights lawsuit endanger the continued survival of a number of vital dating and marriage Web sites that serve the Orthodox community. These include: • SawYouAtSinai.com, a religious dating Web site that uses matchmakers to arrange dates. The name comes from the midrash that says that all of us met our besherts (intended spouses) at Mt. Sinai when God gave the Torah, and getting married is just a reunion. In less than five years, SawYouAtSinai has been responsible for more than 500 engagements. • Frumster.com, another Orthodox dating site. The name is a play on Friendster.com, a social networking service. Frumster boasts an average of five weddings every week from matches made on the site. • OnlySimchas.com, a Web site used almost exclusively by the Orthodox community where Jewish engagements, marriages, bar mitzvas and other celebrations are described - and friends and family can leave congratulatory notes. But last November, the on-line dating service eHarmony.com was forced to settle (because it realized it was losing) a 2005 New Jersey lawsuit that alleged that its policies discriminated against gay men and lesbians. Now, eHarmony is run by religious Christians who surely believe homosexuality is immoral. Nonetheless, they have agreed to create within a few months a new Web site called "Compatible Partners" for men seeking men and women seeking women. The settlement no doubt dismays Dr. Neil Clark Warren, the founder of eHarmony.com, who is the former dean of the traditionalist Fuller Theological Seminary and who has ties to the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family. But I imagine eHarmony decided it was better to start a new gay service, however distasteful, than to stop all the wonderful work they've done in matching opposite-sex couples. (More than 200 eHarmony couples, on average, marry every day.) I DON'T SEE any reason why - with the eHarmony precedent - the Orthodox Jewish dating and marriage sites cannot be sued in New Jersey and forced to shut down, pay massive damages or create a similar gay Jewish service. All three options are of course anathema to the owners of these Web sites and, I hope, to the Jewish community. Even pro-gay Jews should realize that court cases forcing Jewish business owners to violate their consciences are not "good for the Jews." So what should the Jewish sites do if sued? I'd like to suggest that they go ahead and form Jewish gay dating Web sites, but then use their freedom of speech to make clear what Torah Judaism thinks of gay dating. First of all, the names of the sites can reflect Jewish attitudes toward the whole situation. Two possibilities are SawYouAtSodom.com and OnlyToevas (abominations) .com. Second, there can be banner ads sprinkled heavily throughout the sites quoting Jewish sources - not all of which are necessarily Jewish law today - condemning same-sex relations. These can include biblical verses: "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: They shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them" (Leviticus 20:13). Rabbinic texts can also appear: "It is forbidden for women to enmesh [play around] with one another... It is appropriate to subject such women to disciplinary lashes since they committed a prohibited act" (Shulhan Aruch, Even Haezer 20:2). Finally, the site can include quotes from great rabbis showing Judaism's aversion to gay relations: "Evildoers... lust for this repugnant indulgence, which is one of the greatest abominations. Even the nations of the world consider that homosexual conduct is unparalleled in its loathsomeness" (Rav Moshe Feinstein). Third, there can be links to yeshivot, seminaries and Jewish outreach organizations like Chabad and Aish Hatorah, encouraging the Jewish gay and lesbian site users to return to a more traditional Jewish lifestyle. There could also be some links to responsible (read: not "ex-gay") Orthodox literature specifically discussing homosexuality, like Rabbi Chaim Rapoport's book Judaism and Homosexuality: An Authentic Orthodox View and my pamphlet, isjudaismhomophobic.com. Now, of course the gay plaintiffs are unlikely to be happy with SawYouAtSodom.com. But have gay-rights laws gone so far that not only have businesses lost their right to serve customers using their values instead of those of the gay community, but they have also lost their free-speech rights? Are Orthodox Jews required not only to accommodate activities they consider immoral, but to celebrate them as well? DavidBenkof@aol.com