Dutch Jews suspend their rabbi over homosexuality views

In a further controversy over the US 'gay cure' group JONAH, the Chief Rabbi of Amsterdam's Orthodox Ashkenazi community was suspended this week after signing a declaration that homosexuals should learn to overcome their inclinations.

New York-based Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag, who visits the Netherlands a few times a year, put his name to a declaration, signed by 180 Orthodox rabbis, educators and psychotherapists, stating that homosexuality is "not an acceptable lifestyle".

Rejecting the notion that "a homosexually inclined person cannot overcome his or her inclination and desire", it says that "the only viable course of action that is consistent with the Torah is therapy and teshuvah [return to observance]".

One of the listed signatories is Arthur Goldberg, co-director of JONAH.

Rabbi Ralbag said: "It is unheard of for a chief rabbi to express a halachic opinion or a Torah viewpoint and be suspended."

I will not resign, I will not recant

Rabbi Ralbag

But he was clear: "I am not going to resign and I am not going to recant."

On Tuesday, the community's head, Ronnie Eisenmann, said he "explicitly distanced" Dutch Jews from the declaration, apologising to "any person that might have been offended in any way".

The community regretted that Rabbi Ralbag had signed and had decided to "temporarily relieve" him of his duties until he came to Amsterdam for discussions.

In the Amsterdam community, he added, "homosexuals are welcomed and all Jewish couples are accepted as full members so long as they are recognized as 'couples' under Dutch law".

Other Orthodox rabbis have sprung to Rabbi Ralbag's defence, including the head of the Federation Beth Din in the UK, Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein. He said: "It's scandalous that a rabbi should be muzzled for expressing a religious, moral stand. "

In a strong letter to Mr Eisenmann, Dayan Lichtenstein warned that the fallout from the Amsterdam community's action would be "immense. The world rabbinate cannot sit by while a community that claims to be Orthodox acts in this fashion."

Last updated: 12:34pm, January 19 2012