Sunday, January 29, 2012

Amsterdam chief rabbi's remarks on gays cause outrage

THE CHIEF Rabbi of Amsterdam, who is based in New York, says he believes his life will be in danger if he visits the Netherlands, following his suspension last week for signing a declaration which describes homosexuality as “an illness” and “an unacceptable lifestyle choice”.

Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag was suspended by Amsterdam’s orthodox community after he signed a public statement supported by 185 rabbis, mental health professionals and Jewish community leaders, maintaining that homosexuality is an aberrant behaviour which can be “modified and healed”.

The Declaration on the Torah Approach to Homosexuality caused outrage among liberal Jews when it stated: “We emphatically reject the notion that a homosexually inclined person cannot overcome his or her inclination or desire. Such behaviours are changeable.”

However, it was the fact that Rabbi Ralbag – who usually visits the Netherlands once or twice a year to issue legal rulings – signed the declaration using his official title of Chief Rabbi of Amsterdam which angered the city’s orthodox community.

“Rabbi Ralbag’s signature may give the impression that the orthodox Jewish community of Amsterdam shares his views. That is absolutely untrue,” said a statement by the community’s board. 

“Homosexuals are welcomed by Amsterdam’s Jewish community.”

The orthodox community’s board announced the rabbi’s suspension and demanded a face-to-face meeting to discuss his views.

Such a meeting looks unlikely to happen any time soon. 

On Monday the rabbi announced that he and his wife believed their “lives would be in danger” if they visited the Netherlands. 

He declined to give details of any specific threat, but said he had reason to take his concerns “extremely seriously”.

The transatlantic row continued to escalate, with fears of a schism between the more liberal and less liberal wings.

In Jerusalem, the deputy director of the Dutch Israel Centre, Esther Voet, called on Rabbi Ralbag to resign. “We need a chief rabbi in Amsterdam who is aware of our traditions – and that is not someone who flies in twice a year.”

However, the Conference of European Rabbis criticised the Amsterdam organisation for suspending Rabbi Ralbag, saying he had “done no more than restate what the Torah says about homosexuality”.

In the US, New Jersey rabbi Steven Pruzansky blamed Dutch tolerance for the clash.

“Dutch society is so tolerant, with legal prostitution and a sharp reduction in fidelity in marriage, that it is impossible for Jews to embrace the moral message of the Torah. They are in spiritual shock.”