'Shame'-sex marriage? Rabbis clash over Bill

Baroness Neuberger (Photo: John Rifkin)

Baroness Neuberger (Photo: John Rifkin)

The Federation of Synagogues this week launched a blistering attack on Board of Deputies president Vivian Wineman for failing to back his interfaith adviser in opposing same-sex marriage.

Federation Beth Din head Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein said that “in his burning desire to represent all strands of Judaism, Mr Wineman winds up representing no one and has only brought shame to the Jewish community”.

On Monday Mr Wineman dissociated the Board from a letter, co-signed by its interfaith adviser Rabbi Natan Levy, which called on the government to halt legislation to approve same-sex weddings.

Rabbi Levy, the former minister of Shenley United Synagogue, was the only Jewish figure to put his name to the letter to the Daily Telegraph, which was signed by more than 50 people, predominantly Christian or Muslim.

They wrote that it had been “wrongly assumed that opposition to the redefinition of marriage is confined to a small number of Christians”.

Mr Wineman said that Rabbi Levy had signed the letter “in a personal capacity” and, while entitled to his views, they “do not represent those of the Board”.

The Board was “cross-communal”, Mr Wineman said, “and has worked with civil servants and ministers to ensure that the final legislation works to allow each denomination of Judaism to practise their chosen beliefs as they best see fit and to ensure that no-one is obliged to act contrary to his own beliefs.”

Other signatories of the letter included the Anglican Bishop of Bristol Michael Hill, Sheikh Abdul Qayum of the East London Mosque and controversial preacher Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad.

Dayan Lichtenstein said that it was “a sad day” when "the rabbi’s attempt to publicise the Torah view on this matter was quashed by a lay leader of Anglo-Jewry.

“The Torah view on homosexuality is clear. It is a forbidden relationship and the Talmud praises those non-Jews who refuse to legitimise it.”

While the Board prided itself on defending such Jewish institutions as shechitah and brit milah, he said that “to protest against legitimising homosexual relationships was no less important from a Torah view”.

He added: “And yet when the board’s rabbi on interfaith matters, Rabbi Natan Levy, courageously states the Torah’s view, instead of being applauded, the president of the Board of Deputies rushes to assure everyone that Rabbi Levy did not speak on behalf of the Board.”

Dayan Lichtentstein queried whether the Board had consulted its ecclesiastical authorities, including Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, whose view, he maintained, was “well-known”.

Suggesting that Mr Wineman’s position reflected a wish “not to upset some of the non-Orthodox movements”, he remarked: “It sadly appears that Orthodoxy cannot rely on the Board of Deputies.”

Lord Sacks did not attend this week’s debate when the Lords voted by a massive majority to allow the same-sex legislation to proceed.

Jewish peers voted by six to one against an amendment attempting to block it.

Speaking in favour of the government’s Bill, Baroness Neuberger said that at her West London Synagogue, there were around 30 gay couples, most in civil partnerships, who were “waiting for the day when they can marry under the chuppah, the wedding canopy, with their parents under that canopy, witnessing them make their vows.”

The legislation was about “righting a wrong”, she said.

“I expect the first days after it becomes law, as I hope it does, to consist of marriage after marriage in my synagogue, bringing joy, equality and renewed commitment to people who, until this point, have been denied it.”

Two weeks ago, Lord Sacks publicly denied that he had “come out strongly” against the Bill and said that, while Judaism had clear sexual ethics, “religions should never seek to impose their view on society as a whole”.

His comments struck a different tone from the response of his own rabbinical court, the London Beth Din, to a government consultation on same-sex marriage last year. Opposing legislation for both civil and religious marriage for same-sex couples, the Beth Din – of which Lord Sacks is the titular head – said that this would undermine the concept of marriage.

Karen Newman, spokesman for the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group, commenting on Lord Sacks’s recent comments, said; “Given the raucous voices with which he is surrounded urging him to be stridently opposed, I think his commitment to acknowledging, whether tacitly or overtly, the diversity within the present Anglo-Jewish community is truly impressive, choosing, wherever possible, not to align himself with the views of those comfortable with upholding discrimination.”

She also welcomed the Board’s move to distance itself from the views of its interfaith adviser.

Welcoming the vote, the co-chairman of Liberal Judaism’s rabbinic conference, Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, said: “We are now looking forward to celebrating the first fully legal and fully Jewish marriage under a Liberal chupah”.

Under the proposed law, religious organisations who are opposed to same-sex ceremonies will remain exempt from having to perform them.

Last updated: 3:45pm, June 6 2013