The Chief Rabbi on gay marriage: silence not an option

By Simon Rocker
July 6, 2012

The Chief Rabbi has come under fire for his opposition to civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples (see our front-page story this week).

Since there is no question of the government forcing religious groups to carry out same-sex weddings, his critics say that Chief Rabbi simply should have kept shtum rather than plunge into a contentious and divisive issue.

However, they overlook an important point. It is true that the commandments of the Torah are binding only on Jews. However, according to Orthodox theology, there are basic standards of morality which apply to all humanity known as the Seven Noahide Laws.

One of the Noahide prohibitions is sexual immorality. Needless to say, rabbis differ over precisely what falls within the bracket of the Noahide commandments: some take it to mean the arayot, the set of forbidden sexual relationships detailed in Leviticus, including of course that against male homosexual unions.

As Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein, head of the Federation Beth Din, has observed, the Talmud says that one of the things for which the nations of the world were praised was that they did not write a ketubah – marriage contract – for two males: in other words, they did not legitimise gay marriage.

The last Lubavitcher Rebbe was among those who encouraged Noahide observance. It arose from an understanding that when Jews have the opportunity to influence the values of wider society, they should take it.

This was hardly possible when our forebears were confined behind ghetto walls. But the situation in a modern Western democracy is entirely different, especially when there are several minyans-worth of Jewish peers in the House of Lords, among them the Chief Rabbi. If one of the country’s most prominent religious figures had not said anything – in contrast to the Church leaders – people would have wondered why.

There is a countervailing view in Jewish tradition: you don’t offer moral guidance when it will fall on deaf ears and even more so when it might risk a backlash (in this instance from secular atheists against what they see as illiberal religion).

But even if the Chief Rabbi and the United Synagogue had decided not to take a public position, he would still have had to explain the rationale behind his decision – in particular to those within the Orthodox world who would have expected him to speak out. Saying nothing was not an option.



Mon, 07/09/2012 - 11:43

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So your conclusion is that he made his statements in order to save face politically, because of pressure from within the community?

Bigotry disguised as virtue is still bigotry.


Mon, 07/09/2012 - 14:01

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And an am ha'aretz bleibt an am ha'aretz.

The bigotry is all yours Troy by denying another the right to have a different view of morality than your own. No one is forcing you to keep the Torah commandments but you decry as bigotry the refusal of something which a good proportion of today's Jewry hold as sacrosanct.

The Chief Rabbi was perfectly entitled to voice his opposition to a proposal which goes against the tenets of Orthodox Judaisim. Unlike Mr Rocker I believe the Chief Rabbi did it out of his own strongly held convinctions. I have no doubt that Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations et al would not have batted an eyelid had he remained silent.


Mon, 07/09/2012 - 15:06

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Advis3r: I don't think I am bigotted in my opinion of Lord Sacks, that would require me to display intolerance and animosity towards him or the UOHC. I am not intolerant of their opinion, as I previously stated I have no problem with their interpretation of Torah nor with their practice of it in whatever fashion they so choose.

I do object to his attempt to impose that view on all others within the UK. I am not a member of the UOHC. I think that Judaism should celebrate all relationships and that such a restriction is archaic and causes misery to those trapped in communities where they can not be true to themselves.

Please note that I do not reserve my sadness and irritation for Jewish respondents, the responses provided by the church of england and catholic groups are equally abhorent.

Please find below my earlier comments as to the issues raised by Lord Sacks and the UOHC in their consultation response.

I'd add one more comment to it though, to tackle the hallachic side of things. If people are so concerned about Leviticus why isn't Lord Sacks in trouble for “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.”? (Leviticus 17-26) If you feel capable of picking and choosing which laws to follow, surely your choices must therefore reflect your own morality and prejudices.

From Matthew Harris's Blog:

Advi3r: I am happy to be corrected if I am wrong, but so far as I know the right of religions to discriminate against minority groups is alive and kicking.

As private associations congregations can opt to refuse membership to anyone, on any basis and would not be subject to the EHRC.

The arguement that Gay Orthodox Jews are going to be battering down the doors of Rabbis to get married is pretty laughable. While the official line may well be mercy and pity, the community does not seem very accepting of alternate lifestyles.

The high profile cases of discrimination before the ECHR have been in relation to companies or persons providing services to the general public, who have discriminated against people.

The premise is that if you are providing a public service then any member of the public should be able to walk in and be treated in the same way. You have the right to deny service because someone smells like a gutter, but not because they are a Jew or a lady.

If the orthodox movement truely had something to fear from equality legislation then why are there no prospective lady rabbis before the ECHR?


Tue, 07/10/2012 - 16:38

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Troy I fail to see how you could possibly equate the cutting of ones beard with same sex marriage. Unfortunately once again you prove the addage that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

No one is choosing laws except you. Basically what you want is for Jewish law to be subordinated to sexual orientation.

Halachically one is permitted to cut ones beard if it is done in a manner permitted by Halachah. But obviously you do not know this otherwise you would not have written as you have.

On the other hand the Torah prohibition against same sex marriage is inviolate. This is not discrimination but an adherence to a principle of faith which holds that the Torah is unchangeable. If someone wants to take part in such a ceremony that's up to them but do not expect that it will take place in an Orthodox Jewish synagogue or be celebrated by an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi.

In those circumstances how do you expect the Orthodox Jewish community to react to something which the Torah teaches is an anthema as it has been throughout the ages? Halacha has not changed however lifestyles may have changed but not in way the Jewish Religion is obliged to recognise or accept.

You say "that such a restriction is archaic and causes misery to those trapped in communities where they can not be true to themselves" The Jewish religion is not archaic is was given for all time if you do not understand that then you do not understand what true Judaism is.

Gay Orthodox Jews are not trapped at all if they do believe that sexual orientation and the freedom to follow a lifestyle not recognised (and even forbidden by the Jewish religion) trumps all other considerations then let them form their own communities.

I will leave you with something to ponder. If euthanasia became a legal way of ending a person's life and the trend is certainly moving that way what would be your answer to a Chief Rabbi who came out against it on Halachic grounds? Following an archaic law?


Tue, 07/10/2012 - 18:22

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I equate the cutting of beard and hair with same sex marriage because the condemnation of both comes from Leviticus, one has been reinterpreted to be effectively meaningless and the other has not. I do not pretend more knowledge than I have, but I do find the views on which rules should be asiduously followed inconsistent. I am prepared to learn why if you would take the time to explain it to me.

I would argue that Halakha represents developments in thought and opinion on law and its interpretation. Plainly it is not immutable or there would not be a variety of differing interpretations, some of which fly completely in the face of the stated law. Such as the halakhic interpretation that it is permitted to cut ones beard and hair when “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.”? (Leviticus 17-26)seems pretty clear.

The Torah prohibition against same sex marriage is not inviolate, there is simply no agreement across all jewish denominations as to whether it is acceptable or not. While one congregation of Jews views it as acceptable then it is a matter of interpretation.

I do not want any congregation to be forced to accept anything that does not accord with their beliefs. It is entirely their right to live their lives as they choose and I support their right to choose. But they do not support my right to choose that same sex marriage is acceptable to my view of jewish life. The only purpose of objecting to the proposed legislation is to stop other congregations from exercising their freedom to choose.

I did not call Judaism archaic, but halakha is supposed to be a living mutable process, subject to opinion and change. If the Sages are capable of deciding that a rebelious child should not be stones to death then the content of Leviticus are subject to complete revision.

The answer that Gay Orthodox Jews can simply leave their communities is cruel. Leaving behind all they know and love, family and friends, work and pleasures? I can not imagine how intolerable that would be for anyone.

If euthanasia became legal then I would expect that Lord Sacks and his congregants would view it as contrary to Jewish Law. But so long as they did not try to oppose the legislation I would support their right to their interpretation.

In turn I will ask you to ponder my previous question. If the orthodox movement truely had something to fear from equality legislation then why are there no prospective lady rabbis before the ECHR? Some of the orthodox ladies that I had met are absolutely as intelligent and capable as some of their best Rabbis, let alone the least capable orthodox Rabbis, they lack only the opportunity and training.


Thu, 07/12/2012 - 11:34

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If you would like to take the discussion elsewhere Advi3r, then please let me know, I'm rather aware that non-isreal topics tend to get fairly lackluster responses or debate here. I would welcome a plurality of opinion.


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