Orthodox rabbis have distanced themselves from a letter they signed that warned against imposing “an alien world-view” on school children by teaching them about same-sex relationships.
The JC has learned at least seven United Synagogue rabbis - and it is understood some others - have asked for their names to be removed from the open letter from The Values Foundation for Faith and Families in Education since it was written in February.
The letter told Education Secretary Damian Hinds it was not “legitimate for the state to impose an alien world-view and value system on children against the wishes of the parents,” as his department finalised guidelines that oblige all schools acknowledge the existence of same-sex relationships at some point in the curriculum.
It was signed by more than 40 Orthodox rabbis and community activists but a senior United Synagogue rabbi told the JC many withdrew their names because they were not aware of the “extreme views” held by other signatories and grew concerned it could "compromise much of the recent progress in removing the stigma for LGBTQ+ pupils in Jewish schools".
The letter said the signatories were “extremely concerned” the rights of parents were “being compromised” by the proposed government legislation.
It added: “This legislation would require every school without exception to teach concepts and values that are completely alien to the great world religions and to the traditional inherited values of this country.”
It is understood the rabbis were concerned to see other signatories of the letter included Rabbi Aharon Bassous, an outspoken Sephardi rabbi, who has attacked the Chief Rabbi over his stance on LGBT issues, reportedly comparing resisting him to resisting the Nazis.
The letter was also signed by outspoken Charedi activist, Shraga Stern, who sparked anger by calling a leading Charedi rabbi a “Kapo” in an email sent to hundreds in the Stamford Hill community.
Rabbi Mordechai Wollenberg, senior rabbi of Woodford Forest United Synagogue, said it “became clear that the tone of the campaign through the recent open letter and the extreme views held by a number of the signatories might compromise much of the recent progress in removing the stigma for LGBTQ+ pupils in Jewish schools.”
“As soon as I became aware of this, I immediately retracted my signature,” he added.
But he stressed they “fully support the principle that Jewish schools and families must be able to educate their children about relationships in an age-appropriate way and in a manner which they consider suitable”.
The letter was originally signed by Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet of Mill Hill United Synagogue, Rabbi Yoinosson Golomb, of United Synagogue Sheffield, and Rabbi Nick Kett, of Bushey United Synagogue.
Others who have withdrawn their names include Rabbi Akiva Rosenblatt, of Woodside Park United Synagogue, Rabbi Yehuda Black, Rabbi of Kenton United Synagogue, Rabbi Ephraim Levine of Watford United Synagogue and Rabbi Alan Garber of Shenley United Jewish Community.
The letter was made public on the TVF website after it failed to place it in the Times.
Judith Nemeth, executive director of the National Association of Jewish Orthodox Schools (Najos), who was behind the letter, defended the use of the words "alien world view".
She told the JC: “I find it strange people would want to remove their name now.
“They were aware of the letter when they signed it. And it has been up on the website for weeks.
“It is not extreme to ask that Jewish families be able to educate their children about things in the way they would like.”
Since the letter was written, the new guidelines, due to come into effect in September 2020, received the overwhelming backing of MPs. They are due to be voted on by the Lords.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who published guidelines on how to treat LGBT pupils in schools under his aegis last year, has said he saw no contradiction between government policy and Torah values.
Rabbi Wollenberg added: “The Chief Rabbi's recent guide, which has been well received by our schools, represents a huge step in ensuring that no pupil is ever bullied.”