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Orthodox Rabbis Confuse Themselves with Evangelical Christians

December 6, 2011 – 10:04 pm80 Comments

By Rachel Sacks-Davis
The following letter from Rabbi Dovid Freilich, the president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia, appeared in today’s edition of The Australian:

THE Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia opposes any legislation to legitimise same-sex marriage. This is not intended to show any discrimination against the gay community, but simply to uphold the sanctity and purpose of marriage, which is the union of man and woman not only to express their love for one another but also to bring future generations into the world.

The institution of marriage and family life, as defined and practised for thousands of years as between a man and a woman, a father and a mother, respectively, is far too important and essential to the bedrock of society and civilisation as we know it to be undermined by those who presume to redefine its essence. Moreover, we are deeply concerned that, should any such redefinition occur, members of traditional communities like ours will incur moral opprobrium and may risk legal sanction if they refuse to transgress their beliefs.

That prospect is unacceptable to all people of good will on both sides of this debate. We call upon Australians to stand opposed to any attempt, whether judicial, legislative or religious in nature, to bestow the sanctity of marriage upon same-sex couples.”

The letter is sure to raise ire in the Jewish community and justifiably so. First, although the name suggests that it represents all rabbis, Rabbi Freilich’s organisation of rabbis is only representative of the Orthodox variety. By choosing the name that they have and making public statements, the organisation (henceforth I will call them by their acronym, ORA) give the impression that they represent rabbis from all Jewish streams. This is a general problem with ORA and in this case they misrepresent the views of rabbis from other Jewish streams. For example, Australian Progressive Judaism has an official stance in support of same-sex marriage.

However, an even more important principle is at play here. It is broadly true that same-sex marriage does not exist within Orthodox Judaism. (There are exceptions to this but they are not the norm – for example, recently Steven Greenberg, who is an openly gay rabbi who was ordained at Yeshiva University, the major Modern Orthodox rabbinical school in New York City, conducted a same-sex marriage.) Nonetheless, even if Orthodox Judaism does not support same-sex Jewish marriage, this is no reason to oppose same-sex civil marriage.

Whilst in their letter ORA express concern that they will risk legal sanction for failing to conduct same-sex marriages, this is clearly a red herring. Orthodox rabbis do not face legal sanction for refusing to conduct interfaith marriages, and thus would not face legal sanction for refusing to conduct same sex marriages.

Judaism is not usually an evangelical religion. It is generally agreed (even or perhaps especially amongst the Orthodox) that the vast majority of Jewish laws do not pertain to non-Jews. For example, ORA would not lobby against Australian public buses running on Saturdays or restaurants serving non-kosher food. Therefore, opposing civil same-sex marriage, particularly in a country where most people are not Jewish, is not founded in Jewish law. Perhaps Australasia’s Orthodox rabbis are taking their cues, not from Jewish tradition, but rather from the American Evangelical Christians who have been doing their best to impose their beliefs and values on others for a number of years.

Unfortunately, this letter is not an isolated case. The position against same-sex marriage that Rabbi Freilich refers to in his letter was publicised earlier this year. ORA have also made a statement opposing surrogacy in Queensland. One of the reasons that they provide is that allowing surrogacy for prospective parents who are not in a heterosexual marriage normalises homosexuality. To an Australian Human Rights Commission consultation about sexual orientation and sex and/or gender identity discrimination, ORA similarly expressed views against same-sex marriage. They also expressed concern about introducing federal legislation protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sex and/or gender identity. In short, ORA have engaged in a prolonged campaign against the rights of same-sex attracted Australians.

ORA is made up mainly of congregational rabbis, and many of their congregants are ‘traditional’ Jews, who are probably unaware that their religious representatives are making political statements of any sort and typically would not support their homophobic agenda. It is time for those Jews who attend shuls whose rabbis are members of ORA and who oppose discrimination on the basis of sexuality to speak out against ORA’s homophobic campaign, and perhaps to withdraw their synagogue memberships. ORA should stop trying to interfere with the civil rights of others, and limit their political involvement to advocating for the rights of Orthodox Jews.


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