Rabbi Steven Greenberg: My Struggle With Religion and Sexuality

September 6, 2011


Swope lectureship brings religious leader to campus Tuesday, Sept. 13

TACOMA, Wash. – Rabbi Steven Greenberg has an interesting view of things—he is openly gay, and is also an Orthodox rabbi. He says most people he meets are supportive. As for those who are not, he merely observes, “I despised myself for being gay for quite a while, so I'm patient with straight people for whom it takes time to understand.” (The Guardian, U.K.)

Greenberg will speak about his personal journey and give his interpretation of Jewish law in a free lecture at University of Puget Sound on Tuesday, Sept. 13, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The talk, “Wrestling with God and Men: Constructing a Queer Orthodox Faith,” will take place in Schneebeck Concert Hall. Thanks to the Swope Endowed Lectureship on Ethics, Religion, Faith, and Values, it is free and open to the public. Tickets are required, however. They can be obtained as explained below.

In his talk Greenberg will reveal the conflicts he faced personally and explore master stories from the Bible that have influenced our culture’s assumptions about sexuality. He will examine four traditional rationales for the prohibition of sex between members of the same gender, and reconsider how the laws of the Torah (the Jewish holy book) have been and could be applied to each.

Greenberg argues that Judaism’s historical record is diverse, and Jewish law is open to modern reconsideration. He pursues the issue doggedly in the belief that the spiritual and moral integrity of religions, in addition to the well-being of gay people, are at stake.

Since “coming out” in 1999, Greenberg has turned his scholarship and talents to encouraging community dialogue on the subject of homosexuality and the Jewish tradition. He is the author of Wrestling with God & Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition, and he was a recipient of the Koret Book Award for Philosophy and Thought, one of the most prestigious awards in Jewish writing. Greenberg was featured in the acclaimed 2001 film Trembling Before G-d, about Orthodox gay Jews. The film was screened to 2,000 educators in Israel’s religious school system.

Greenberg was raised in Columbus, Ohio. Although his family was not particularly observant, he turned to the local Orthodox synagogue as a teenager, regarding this as a non-conformist “choice for meaning” and a rejection of banal middle-class life.

He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from Yeshiva University in Israel and his rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. During the course of his studies, he gradually began to question his sexual orientation. However, he continued to date women throughout his 20s, even becoming engaged to one. He says he kept hoping for change—but it proved impossible.

Today Greenberg is a senior teaching fellow at the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a think tank and leadership training institute in New York City. He is a founder of Jerusalem Open House, a LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community center in Israel’s Holy City. He helped organize the first Orthodox Mental Health Conference on homosexuality, and has worked with numerous families in reconciliation.   

Greenberg’s lecture is sponsored by the Swope Endowed Lectureship on Ethics, Religion, Faith, and Values. The Swope was established at Puget Sound through a gift from Major Ianthe Swope in honor of her mother, Jane Hammer Swope. It is intended to promote discussion, critical thinking, and ethical inquiry about matters of religion, including its role in public life and contemporary ethics.

Tickets for the free, public lecture will be available from Monday, Aug. 29. They can be ordered at the information desk in Wheelock Information Center, online at www.ups.universitytickets.com, or by calling 253.879.3419. Advance ordering is highly recommended. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door. The doors open at 7 p.m. for the 7:30 p.m. lecture. A reception will be held following the lecture in Rasmussen Rotunda in Wheelock Student Center.

For directions and a map of the campus: www.pugetsound.edu/directions.xml

Photos of Rabbi Steven Greenberg can be downloaded from: www.pugetsound.edu/pressphotos

Photo top right: Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Eugene Delacroix (Fresco detail)

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