Steve Greenberg is the first gay Orthodox rabbi, which seemed reason enough for us to want to talk to him. Read on to hear about his challenging journey to become a rabbi, father, and activist in the gay Orthodox community.
Did you always want to be an Orthodox rabbi, ever since you were a little boy?
Well, I can’t say when I wanted to become a rabbi but it was probably a growing interest from my late teens. I became “frum” (religiously observant) when I was 15. I accidentally met an Orthodox rabbi who invited me to his house for lunch and he invited me to study with him every Shabbat, “over tea and oranges.” I was charmed and said yes. I was totally enraptured by the Jewish learning and became a valued member of his community in a year. I was probably thinking about becoming a rabbi when I chose to attend Yeshiva University following high school. But my first clear memories are when I was learning in Israel at a Hesder Yeshiva and spoke to Rabbi Amital about the idea. By that time I was 20 years old.
How did you and your husband go about having a daughter?
We thought about it for a long time, but weren’t sure how to make it happen. There seemed to be many obstacles. Three years ago we began to explore adoption and following that surrogacy, and a friend in Israel encouraged us to look into an Indian Reproductive Clinic, Rotunda. We decided on this route and couldn’t be happier.
Amalia is now 16 months, just walking and starting to talk. She’s a joy to be with, funny and happy… and smart (of course). We are as annoyingly doting as parents can be and she is teaching us daily what it means to raise her. It was the best decision I made in my life.
What is the most challenging aspect of being gay in the Orthodox Jewish community?
Staying calm and resiliant in the face of the gross misinformation and fear in the Orthodox community that cause all of the rejection and exclusion.
What is your daughter’s name and how did you choose it?
Her name is Amalia Dvora Chen Greenberg Goldstein. A mouthful. Her middle name, Dvora is after my partner, Steve Goldstein’s dad, Dov Ber, who died when Steve was 13 years old. As well, it was his maternal grandmother’s name and it is the name of a powerful and fearless female leader and judge of the Jewish people.
You and your husband are both named Steve! Any awkward moments ever stem from that?
Only when people call on the phone and ask, “Is Steve there?”
Rabbi Steven Greenberg is a Senior Teaching Fellow at CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership and the Director of the CLAL Diversity Project. He is the author of Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition, which won the Koret Jewish Book Award for Philosophy and Thought. He is a co-director of Eshel, an organization that works for greater understanding of LGBT people in Orthodox communities. Steve lives in New York City with his partner of seven years, Steven Goldstein.