One of the UK’s most open-minded Orthodox rabbis said that the same-sex marriage was “impossible” in Jewish law and that “sometimes you have to say no”.
Reading Synagogue’s Rabbi Zvi Solomons was addressing the subject at a panel debate on the subject on the final day of the Limmud conference.
There was a “boundary within the halachic system which cannot be crossed”, he said, and non-Orthodox groups which were prepared to marry gay couples were “doing some violence to it”.
At the same time, he emphasised the need to be “compassionate” and welcome people into synagogues “from wherever they come”.
When asked whether gay or lesbian couples who wanted to join the synagogue should be treated as a married couple in terms of membership and burial rights, he said that it was “something we have to think about and consider…I don’t know how we deal with that because it hasn’t come up in my shul yet.”
Rabbi Solomons - a regular visitor to Limmud even when few of his Orthodox colleagues were ready to come there - argued that the legislation allowing same-sex marriage was “confusing”.
He added: “I’d much rather have seen civil partnership as a universal thing for all people, and allowing religious denominations to define what they mean by marriage.”
Leading American Conservative rabbi David Wolpe said that when he announced he was going to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, some Orthodox rabbis in Los Angeles had compared his decision to “the destruction of the Temple”.
But he acknowledged that he had difficulties with some attempts to justify the move by simply reinterpreting the Bible.
“I honestly think if you are going to favour same-sex marriage, you have to either assume that the halachic system has to be essentially overturned from within,” he said.
“Or you do what I do… which is to assume that the Torah is an at least largely humanly created document and a product of its time - containing eternal truths, but not everything in it is eternal truth.
“Therefore you realise there are parts of the Torah that can’t hold today because we actually know a great deal both about the world and also some things about moral principles that our predecessors did not realise or know.”
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, senior rabbi of the Reform movement – which will permit same-sex marriages when they become legal in Britain next year – saw them as “a matter of kedushah – of bringing holiness to relationships”.
One audience member congratulated Rabbi Solomons for being willing to appear on the same panel as non-Orthodox rabbis to discuss the issue.