Steven Greenberg (rabbi)

Rabbi Steven Greenberg

Rabbi Steven Greenberg (May 2014)
Personal details
Born (1956-06-19) June 19, 1956
Nationality American
Residence Boston, Massachusetts
Children one daughter
Occupation Senior Teaching Fellow and Director of Diversity Project at CLAL – the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and author
Alma mater Yeshiva University
(BA in philosophy)
Semicha Yeshiva University (RIETS)

Steven Greenberg (born June 19, 1956) is an American rabbi with a rabbinic ordination from the Orthodox rabbinical seminary of Yeshiva University (RIETS). He is described as the first openly gay Orthodox Jewish rabbi, since he publicly disclosed he was gay in an article in the Israeli newspaper Maariv in 1999 and participated in a 2001 documentary film about homosexual men and women raised in the Orthodox Jewish world.[1]

Greenberg is a Senior Teaching Fellow and Director of Diversity Project at CLAL – the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and the author of the book Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition which received the Koret Jewish Book Award for Philosophy and Thought in 2005.[2]

He was listed number 44 in the 2012 The Daily Beast and Newsweek list of “America’s Top 50 Rabbis for 2012”.[3]

Life and career

Early life and education

Greenberg, the son of Conservative Jewish parents, was raised in Columbus, Ohio.[4] When he was about 15, he began studying with an Orthodox rabbi. He attended Yeshiva University in New York as an undergraduate and then as a rabbinical student. When he was 20, he went to study at the Yeshivat Har Etzion, a hesder yeshiva in Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion near Jerusalem.[5] He received his BA in philosophy from Yeshiva University, and his rabbinic ordination from the rabbinical seminary of Yeshiva University (RIETS) in 1983.[6]

While at Yeshivat Har Etzion, he was attracted to a fellow student and concluded that he was bisexual. He went to consult with rabbi Yosef Sholom Eliashiv, a respected old rabbi in Jerusalem, telling him: “Master, I am attracted to both men and women. What shall I do?” And the rabbi replied according to Greenberg: “My dear one, my friend, then you have twice the power of love. Use it carefully.” Greenberg remembers that he left with the trust that it would all work out.[7] However, he realised that the rabbi wasn't permitting him to have sex with men, but was telling him that his desire was not ugly in and of itself.[5]

Greenberg did not acknowledge he was gay until he was 28, and even afterwards continued to date women for another seven years.[5] In 1993 he wrote the article “Gayness and God”, admitting he was gay, and published it under the pseudonym “Yaakov Levado” (meaning Jacob alone) in Tikkun magazine,[8] but only came out six years later in an article titled “In the name of partnership” published in the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv on March 5, 1999.[9]:12


Early in his career, Greenberg held an Orthodox pulpit on Roosevelt Island in New York City.[9]:22 Since 1985, he has been a Senior Teaching Fellow and Director of the Diversity Project at CLAL – the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, an interdenominational Jewish think tank, leadership training institute, and resource center.He is a founder and director of Eshel, a support, education and advocacy organization for Orthodox LGBT Jews.[10] He is also on the faculty of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, a project of the Shalom Hartman Center.

From 1996 to 1998 he spent two years as a Jerusalem Fellow with the Mandel Institute,[9]:11 studying educational policy issues and researching rabbinic attitudes toward homosexuality.[2] Greenberg participated in the critically acclaimed 2001 documentary film Trembling Before G-d, featured at the Sundance Festival.[7] The film about gay men and women raised in the Orthodox Jewish world helped break the silence around homosexuality in religious Jewish circles, and ignited protests among ultra-Orthodox Jews.[11]

On November 10, 2011, Greenberg officiated at what is believed to be the first same-sex marriage in the United States performed by an ordained Orthodox rabbi, marrying two Jewish men in a legal marriage according to the laws of the District of Columbia at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, D.C.[12]

Personal life

Greenberg currently lives in Boston with his partner Steven Goldstein and their daughter, born in 2010.[13]


Greenberg has been a frequent commentator for the media and has published several articles on Jewish law and church and state issues.

In a 2001 article “Between Intermarriage and Conversion: Finding a Middle Way” published in CLAL, Greenberg proposes using the rabbinic concept of ger toshav, (resident alien), to provide an accepted place for non-Jewish partners of intermarried couples, allowing them to experience “the joys of living in a Jewish home without insisting on conversion”. As a marriage of a Jew and a ger toshav would not be legitimate under halachic law, Greenberg suggests using “cultural creativity” to find “new rituals that partake of Jewish resources and speak honestly about what is actually happening”, the same as for gay couples, where in his opinion “kiddushin, the traditional ritual for the Jewish wedding, simply doesn’t apply”.[14]

In 2004 Greenberg's book, Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition was published, meeting with critical acclaim. In particular it addressed permitted and forbidden sexual behaviour: “While the common understanding of the verse ‘Thou shall not lie with a male as one lies with a woman’ [Leviticus 18:22] has been taken to refer to both active and passive partners ... it would appear that the verse directly refers only to the active partner engulfing his penis in the body of another man. According to this analysis the verse prohibits one, and only one, sexual practice between men, namely, anal intercourse, and speaks specifically to the active partner. There is no mention of any other behavior that this verse would prohibit.”[9]:81 In Greenberg′s reading “the verse prohibits the kind of sex between men that is designed to effect the power and mastery of the penetrator. Sex for the conquest, for shoring up the ego, for selfaggrandizement, or worse, for the perverse pleasure of demeaning another man is prohibited,” and he adds that reading Leviticus 18:22 “as a law against sexual domination and appropriation ... offers gay people a way to reconnect to God, Torah, and the Jewish people”.[9]:206 Greenberg says that he interprets the passage in this way “because it offers me a way of coming back to Judaism. It’s a radical reading, but if you believe that God hates what you are, why would you go to such a temple?”[15]

In addition to it, Greenberg′s interpretation of Leviticus 18:22, “the very verse that was for centuries read as requiring the ongoing demotion of women through the marking of intercourse as humiliation and thus femininity as degraded could be read as a full-fledged critique of the maledominated social hierarchy! The only way to redeem intercourse from its inevitable dominations is to press for gender equality on the deepest of emotional planes, to work formally toward ending the gender hierarchy, and to heal the ugly misogyny at its foundation”.[9]:209

Wrestling with God and Men received the 2005 Koret Jewish Book Award for Philosophy and Thought,[16] considered one of the highest honors for authors writing prose on Jewish themes,[17] and was a finalist for the 17th Annual Lambda Literary Awards.[18]

Controversy and criticism

Some Orthodox Jews, including other rabbis, dispute his being an Orthodox rabbi.[19] After Greenberg′s coming out, Rabbi Moshe Tendler, Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University stated: “Being an Orthodox Rabbi and actively gay is an oxymoron ... [It is] the exact same as if he said, ‘I'm an Orthodox rabbi and I eat ham sandwiches on Yom Kippur’. In Tendler′s opinion “it is very sad that an individual who attended our yeshiva sunk to the depths of what we consider a depraved society” and called Greenberg “a Reform rabbi”.[20]

Commenting on Greenberg's role in "Trembling before God", Rabbi Avi Shafran, a leader of Agudath Israel of America who scolded the movie for not showing Orthodox Jews who have undergone conversion therapy to change their sexual inclinations,[7] wrote: “Rabbi Steve Greenberg, billed as ‘the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi’[, a]ddressing the Torah's strong prohibition of male homosexual acts, ... suggests to the camera, without elaboration: ‘There are other ways of reading the Torah’. What Rabbi Greenberg apparently believes is that elements of the Jewish religious tradition are negotiable, that the Torah, like a Hollywood script, can be sent back for a rewrite. That approach can be called many things, but ‘Orthodox’ is not among them.”[21]

In his review of Wrestling with God and Men for the Edah Journal, Rabbi Asher Lopatin rejects the book as a valid Orthodox Jewish treatment of homosexuality. While Lopatin affirms Greenberg′s “importance as a voice within the Orthodox community”, and calls him “a brilliant, thoughtful and courageous rabbi” and his book “a brilliant work of creativity and research”, he writes that “Wrestling with God and Man [sic], and Rabbi Greenberg’s voice in this book fall outside the bounds of Orthodoxy” for three reasons: Because Greenberg “is not committing himself fully to Orthodoxy”, because he “does not follow Orthodox methodology”, and because he “is not sufficiently halakhically creative”, not having “combined — in a novel way to be sure — [his] commitment to his homosexual identity and way of life with the binding nature of halakhah”. At the same time, Lopatin is confident, that “Greenberg can write the Orthodox book that will show us that he is committed to staying the long and difficult course of persuasion that Orthodoxy demands”.[22]

Greenberg′s officiating at what is considered the first marriage between two Orthodox men in the United States presided over by an Orthodox rabbi,[12] first reported by +972 Magazine on November 11, 2011,[23] and subsequently widely reported and discussed in the Jewish press, attracted controversy and was rejected by most within the Orthodox Jewish community, including some of Greenberg′s friends and colleagues who thought that he had performed a Jewish wedding (kiddushin). In a post on the Morethodoxy-blog, one of them, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky stated: “This wedding ceremony raises a serious question for the part of the Modern Orthodox community in which I live. The question is not about whether we should recognize the ceremony as being religiously significant. We obviously do not and cannot. The formal religious partnering of two men or two women is unalterably contrary to both the law and the spirit of the Torah and the Halacha, and an Orthodox gay marriage ceremony is as hopeless a misnomer as an Orthodox intermarriage is.”[24] Rabbi Josh Yuter, a modern Orthodox New York rabbi who was acknowledged by the National Jewish Outreach Program as one of the Top Ten Jewish Influencers in social media, published a response to the ceremony in his blog, coming to the conclusion that “the formal recognition of a homosexual marriage – male or female – would in fact be condoning a halakhicaly prohibited union, regardless of the private behaviors of the individuals. It would therefore follow that Rabbis who are committed to halakha should therefore not officiate or participate in these ceremonies, nor should halakhic communities formally recognize the couple as such, as they would with any other union prohibited by Jewish law.”[25]

Greenberg described the wedding as a “same-sex commitment ceremony”,[26] commenting that “while it was a wedding according to the laws of the District of Columbia, it was not a kiddushin,” adding “my position was and still is that kiddushin is not appropriate for same-sex couples.”[27] Two weeks later, he wrote in an article in the Jewish Week, “I did not conduct a ‘gay Orthodox wedding’. I officiated at a ceremony that celebrated the decision of two men to commit to each other in love and to do so in binding fashion before family and friends. Though it was a legal marriage according to the laws of the District of Columbia, as far as Orthodox Jewish law (halacha) is concerned, there was no kiddushin (Jewish wedding ceremony) performed.”[28]

On December 5, 2011, in response to the ceremony, more than 100 Orthodox rabbis signed a statement calling gay marriage a “desecration of Torah values”, saying: “We, as rabbis from a broad spectrum of the Orthodox community around the world, wish to correct the false impression that an Orthodox-approved same-gender wedding took place. By definition, a union that is not sanctioned by Torah law is not an Orthodox wedding, and by definition a person who conducts such a ceremony is not an Orthodox rabbi.”[19]

See also


  1. Goodstein, Laurie (September 11, 2004). "Bishop Says Conflict on Gays Distracts From Vital Issues". The New York Times. Retrieved November 18, 2011.
    Rocker, Simon (February 26, 2005). "Judaism and the gay dilemma". The Guardian. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
    Neroulias, Nicole (July 7, 2010). "An Interview With Rabbi Steven Greenberg: Orthodox And Gay". Huffington Post. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
    Merwin, Ted (July 19, 2011). "Gay And Orthodox, According To Jon Marans". The Jewish Week. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  2. 1 2 "Rabbi Steven Greenberg, JCRC Board Member". Jewish Federation of Cincinnati. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  3. Pogrebin, Abigail (April 2, 2012). "America's Top 50 Rabbis for 2012". The Daily Beast. Retrieved April 10, 2012.
  4. Teitman, Ryan (May 10, 2007). "Gay Rabbi Relates Long Journey to Acceptance". Jewish Exponent. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  5. 1 2 3 Gruenbaum Fax, Julie (May 20, 1999). "Rabbi, I'm gay". Jewish Journal. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  6. "Rabbi Steve Greenberg". The Jewish Federations of North America. May 20, 1999. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  7. 1 2 3 Mogul, Fred (April 28, 2002). "Openly gay Orthodox rabbi to speak at colloquium". The Inquirer. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  8. Neroulias, Nicole (July 7, 2010). "An Interview With Rabbi Steven Greenberg: Orthodox And Gay". Huffington Post. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Greenberg, Steven (2004). Wrestling with God and men homosexuality in the Jewish tradition. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 9780299190934. Retrieved May 13, 2015.
  10. Gruenbaum Fax, Julie (November 14, 2011). "Rabbi marries Orthodox gay couple". Jewish Journal. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  11. Spence, Rebecca (September 5, 2007). "Trembling Toward Icon Status". The Jewish Daily Forward. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  12. 1 2 "Orthodox rabbi officiates at same sex-wedding in D.C.". Jewish Telegraphic Agency JTA. November 14, 2011. Retrieved March 26, 2013.
  13. O'Reilly, David (January 27, 2011). "Orthodox rabbi teaches what it's like to be gay". The Inquirer. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  14. Greenberg, Steve (2001). "Between Intermarriage and Conversion: Finding a Middle Way". CLAL. Spirit and Story. Retrieved January 9, 2012.
  15. Loiederman, Roberto (November 20, 2012). "Orthodox Rabbi Steven Greenberg talks to Pasadena shul about homosexuality, welcoming the stranger". Jewish Journal. Retrieved March 26, 2013.
  16. "Rabbi Steve Greenberg". CLAL Faculty. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  17. Rappaport, Scott (April 4, 2005). "Jewish studies to host lecture by winner of 2005 Koret history book prize". UC Santa Cruz. Currents. Retrieved November 17, 2011.
  18. "17th Annual Lambda Literary Awards". July 9, 2005. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  19. 1 2 "100 Orthodox Rabbis Issue Same Sex Marriage Declaration". The Algemeiner Journal. December 5, 2011. Retrieved January 9, 2012.
  20. "Rabbi Ordained by Yeshiva University Says He is Gay". IsraelWire. May 20, 1999. Retrieved November 17, 2011.
  21. Shafran, Avi. "Dissembling Before G-d – The Agudath Israel Reponse (sic)". Retrieved November 17, 2011.
  22. Lopatin, Asher (2004). "What Makes a Book Orthodox? Wrestling With God and Men by Steve Greenberg" (PDF). The Edah Journal 4:2. Retrieved January 9, 2012.
  23. Ruttenberg, Roee (November 11, 2011). "Orthodox rabbi marries gay couple in historic wedding in DC". +972 Magazine. Retrieved March 26, 2013.
  24. Kanefsky, Yosef (November 18, 2011). "An Orthodox Gay Wedding?". Morethodoxy. Retrieved January 9, 2012.
  25. Yanover, Yori (May 9, 2012). "Obama Endorses Same-Sex Marriage; Rabbis Debate Homosexuality". The Jewish Press. Retrieved March 26, 2013.
  26. Greenberg, Steve (January 8, 2012). "A Place for Gays in Orthodoxy". The Jewish Daily Forward. Retrieved January 9, 2012.
  27. Greenberg, Steve (November 18, 2011). "An Orthodox Gay Wedding?". Morethodoxy. Retrieved January 9, 2012.
  28. Greenberg, Steve (December 6, 2011). "The Case for Companionship". The Jewish Week. Retrieved January 9, 2012.

External links

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