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Meet the Grindr Rabbi Who Says the Gay Sex App Can Bring Jews Together

‘There are a ton of Jews of all stripes, especially people who have nothing to do with organized religion,’ he says. ‘Why not try getting to them on Grindr?’

01.31.15 10:45 AM ET

Grindr is just about the last place I’d expect to find a rabbi. I mean, sure, a rabbi would probably less likely be at, say, a brothel, too, but Grindr’s pretty high up on the list.

And yet 24-year-old Matt Green, a second year rabbinical student at New York City’s Hebrew Union College, is making a name for himself as the Grindr Rebbe.

Having returned to the United States this summer after his first year of rabbinical school in Israel, Green quirkily decided to indicate that fact in his personal Grindr profile. The response, Green recalls, was overwhelming. “People were contacting me saying are you Jewish? How was Israel? Then,” he adds, “when I mentioned I was in rabbinical school, everyone kept asking about Kashrut [Jewish dietary laws], and Judaism!”

That's how the Grindr rabbi idea was born. “It occurred to me that what happened on Grindr was speaking to a Jewish communal need. People wanted to talk about being Jewish and Jewish things,” he adds. When Green moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, at the end of the summer, the Jewish guys talking to him about Jewish topics on Grindr skyrocketed.

In early fall, when his rabbinical college issued a call for this year’s Be Wise Fellowship in Entrepreneurship grants, a program created exclusively for HUC-JIR students to creatively respond to changes in the American Jewish landscape, Green remembered his Grindr experience.

He submitted a grant proposal to the Be Wise board, led by the Fellowship director, Rabbi Peter Rubinstein, the Rabbi Emeritus at Central Synagogue who is now 92Y's Director of Jewish Community. In his proposal, Green called for using Grindr as a way to locate and gather curious or unaffiliated Jews in a certain area to bring them a Jewish experience to which they could relate. In the proposal, he explained Grindr as “an LGBTQ social network known as Grindr, which uses geolocation (GPS) technology to bring people together based on their geographic location.”

Okay, so he white washed it a little bit, but how would you have explained Grindr to a 70+ year old rabbi tasked with divvying out grant money?

The real appeal of his pitch was the geolocation element. Of all the five boroughs, Green’s home, Brooklyn, has the highest percentage of Jews between the ages of 18-44, according to the UJA’s most recent Jewish Community Study of New York. Green wanted to tap into this demographic using a new tool—Grindr. That statistic, coupled with the fact that LGBT households are less engaged in Jewish communal life suggests that Grindr could be a great place to find unaffiliated but interested Jews.

“Grindr is an untapped place for outreach potential,” Green explains, “There are a ton of Jews of all stripes, especially people who have nothing to do with organized religion. Why not try getting to them on Grindr?”

After his presentation to the board, Green received the grant. He immediately got to work.

“I started bageling,” he jokes. It was probably the first time things like “So I went to a bar mitzvah last weekend” and “The lecture I’m in is longer than my grandfather’s Passover seder,” were used as pick-up lines on Grindr. But you know, it worked for Green.

Since launching his initiative in December, the Grindr Rebbe has already seen marked success in his outreach. “Initially I was uncomfortable that I was on an app primarily used for hook ups even though I’m committed to my boyfriend,” he reveals, “but it’s my professional account...which is absurd!” he laughs.

He hosted the first Shabbat dinner for ten people last month, and the second one for twelve this past weekend. “Shabbat has largely consisted of long, hilarious, and Jewishly rich dinners,” he explains. “So many people don't have Judaism in their lives, so I said look, come over, and we’ll talk about Woody Allen and eat kugel.” The concept appealed to many people, Green says.

The dinner began with Green lighting the traditional Shabbat candles, making Kiddush, a ritual right performed over wine, and hamotzi, the blessing over challah bread. From there, the dinner attendees melded. The conversations at the dinner spoke to “relevant issues in the sphere of queer Jewish life,” Green tells me.

“I think it had a lot to do with the fact that we all had the two huge things in common already—we were all gay and Jews so there was that baseline,” said Ryan Mendías, a dinner attendee who is currently converting to Judaism.

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Green is hoping to expand his reach too.Kabbalat Shabbat services,” Friday night services, “are on the horizon,” he says. He also plans on hosting a holiday party for Purim, a Jewish holiday in March.

Rabbi Dr. Shirley Idelson, Dean of HUC, is “excited to see how Matt moves ahead with the program.” She emphasized that education is the program’s chief aim, so she is “hopeful it will thrive and he will learn a tremendous amount from the experience.”

Without knowing or realizing it, the Grindr Rebbe is ushering in a new age of religious outreach. As he explains, “I view these two dinners as successes largely because they serve as proof that Grindr is a viable means of bringing Jews together to build community.” But it’s more than that. Using geotechnology and bageling (or the equivalent) might have real potential for other faith based outreach programs and usher in a new innovative way to pursue religious education and engagement.

Until then, if you have any questions about Judaism, get on Grindr, find the Rebbe, and ask him how he likes his Manischewitz.