With a delay customary for the religious world, slowly but surely the religious family is also turning into a new, different, and alternative family. We can show our displeasure, make a face at the synagogue, or turn a cold shoulder at school, but they are here: The new religious families, and particularly the special-different-alternative families; the debate over their legitimacy or definition has been irrelevant for a while now.
What used to be impossible (can you believe that up until a few years ago, there were no divorces “among us”?) is today still a complex challenge, but tomorrow nobody will remember that once upon a time there used to be a religious problem to create a single parent or same sex family. This is the way of the world. And the opposite is true as well. Once upon a time a man could get along with four legal wives; today, we barely have men who can get along with one…
Just like in the legal-secular world, and as opposed to common perception, social norms are not created by Jewish law, but rather, the opposite is true (or at the very least, two trends coexist simultaneously while constantly affecting each other.) The history of Jewish law is replete with developments and changes forced upon it by the world in which it exists. And just like in any other walk of life, the same will happen in the area of family life as well. Reality will change, and Jewish law will change – you should have no doubt about that.
Many would like to think that what is natural is also what’s right, and that it is the only way to manage proper family life (not to mention family life based on Jewish law) yet reality proves that this is not always the case. For example, those who give birth should naturally be raising their children…yet we have become accustomed to viewing adoption as an acceptable way for creating a family. Jewish law also deals with this possibility, of course. The natural way is perhaps the desirable way, but it is certainly not the only way that exists in practice, and Jewish law, just like society, must deal with reality even when it comes to difficult matters.
Reality has changedIt isn’t hard to translate Jewish laws pertaining to family life (respecting one’s parents, relations between the couple, the obligations of parents to their children) to any type of new family. Respect is still respect, love is still love, intimate relations are still intimate relations, and education and livelihood are no different for a child regardless of which family he belongs to.
In less than a generation, we will no longer remember the pathetic talkbacks such as “there is no such thing as a religious homosexual.” Each one of my grandchildren will have friends in class whose parents are religious and something else…after all, “religious” is also a fluid term.
Our challenge, as a religious society, as parents, as educators, and as human beings, is to adapt to this reality. Not to be scared of it, not to try and scare our children, not to utilize our automatic negative judgment, and mostly not to lower God to primitive resolutions such as “if God had wanted single parent or same sex families, he would not enable only a man and a woman to create a child together.”
Reality has changed. Modern medicine, changing society, advanced civil laws, and the daring of modern-day individuals who demand happiness in a new and suitable family unit have all penetrated religious society a long time ago.