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Silent Transformation: Same-Sex Parenthood and the Making of Jewish Continuity

Mon, December 17, 5:00 to 6:30pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Backbay 2 Complex

Abstract

Orthodox Judaism is known for its endorsement of biomedical reproductive technologies (Irshai 2012, Kahn 2000, Lavi 2010). But these technologies are not simply kosher. Rather, rabbis put great effort into drawing boundaries between right and wrong reproductive practices while facing contestations from different directions (Ivry 2010, 2013). The formation of same-sex parenthood offers a valuable case to explore how rabbis and laypersons negotiate the norms of reproduction.
In the last decade, the Orthodox sector has seen a dramatic change as rabbis increasingly accept that lesbians and gay men have a place within Orthodox Judaism. They usually shy away, however, from publicly endorsing same-sex parenthood and there is little public discussion about the life realities of religious lesbians and gay men who have children from previous marriages or with the help of sperm donation and surrogacy. Drawing from my current ethnographic research project among religious Zionists, this paper discusses how the families of same-sex couples push the boundaries of commonly held ideas about what Jewish continuity should look like. Having stepped outside the normative framework of reproduction, they force their social environment to reconsider what values, relationships, and practices make a Jewish home. My research shows that Orthodox communities and their rabbis have found various ways to make space for same-sex couples and their children without necessarily accepting their ideas and aspirations. This process is characterized by tension and disappointment, but also allows for social transformation that occurs slowly and without making noise.

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