Jewish Journal

Gay shul’s blessing for anonymous sex *

by Brad A. Greenberg

September 18, 2008 | 1:55 pm

Oh my. JTA has a shocking feature about a new blessing a gay synagogue in San Francisco has developed for anonymous sex:

Among the most innovative—and controversial—aspects of the siddur soon to be released by San Francisco’s main gay synagogue is a prayer for “unexpected intimacy.”

The new prayer is meant to be recited after engaging in anonymous sex, though those involved in the project say it could also be said for other meaningful encounters with strangers.

It is featured in the forthcoming siddur created by Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, a 31-year-old synagogue in San Francisco affiliated with the Reform movement.

“In the dark, in a strange place, our father Jacob encountered a stranger with whom he grappled all night,” the prayer begins, referring to the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with the angel. “He never knew the stranger’s name, yet their encounter was a blessing, which turned Jacob into Israel and made him realize, I have seen God face-to-face.”

The prayer, titled “Kavannah for Unexpected Intimacy,” goes on to ask God—“who created passion and wove it throughout creation”—to permit the encounter to be a blessing “that allows us to both touch and see the Divine.”

Proponents of the siddur see the prayer—included in a section of innovative blessings meant to enhance life-cycle moments—as an effort to elevate a practice that, in some quarters, is viewed as integral to gay culture. But even among Jewish leaders that the gay community regards as allies, the prayer is seen as crossing a line, sanctifying an activity that Judaism reviles.

That is the most outrageous reading I’ve ever heard of Jacob and the stranger. So that’s why they “wrestled” all night. Right ...

Casting unquestioning acceptance aside—but not reaching for stones—this is a bastardization of Israel’s story and a poor attempt to get God’s approval for visiting bathhouses. Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a sage among American Jewish thinkers and a co-author of an opinion permitting same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay rabbis in the Conservative movement, doesn’t mince words:

“A one-night stand is officially an act of prostitution in the Jewish tradition,” Dorff told JTA’s Ben Harris. “It’s not just that it’s not ideal, it’s that it really is seen as being something that a Jew ought not to engage in.”

*Updated: I just spoke with the shul’s Rabbi Camille Angel, who is upset with Harris’ article. She wouldn’t provide details but said, “We are in conversations with JTA about retracting the story based on both inaccuracies and the harmful representation that the story is generating.”

I’ll give you more as I get it.

(Hat tip: Jeffrey Weiss at the DMN religion blog)

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