Message to my St Kilda Shule community (and others):
Two days ago the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) issued a statement encouraging people to vote “no” in the upcoming postal survey on same-sex marriage. The statement caused significant distress and hurt in the community. Its President has since issued a sincere public apology for which I commend him and its Vice President has resigned in protest. Given my position as a past President of the organisation several members of the St Kilda Shule congregation and others in the community have inquired as to my involvement in the said statement.
I had no knowledge of, or involvement in, the drafting or approval of this statement. I believe the statement was ill-conceived and served no purpose in advancing the cause of Orthodox Judaism. Instead, it alienated many members of our community and caused damage which was entirely preventable. Members of my Shule and others have a right to know where I, as their rabbi, stand on this matter and I trust the above will allay their concerns. I note that at the time of writing this we are only hours away from the High Court’s ruling on the legaility of otherwise of the postal vote, but irrespective of its decision I believe the above information remains relevant.
Having regard to the above I have also been asked about the position of the federal Rabbinic body (RCANZ) over which I currently preside. Our position on traditional marriage and the exemptions we expect for religious institutions should the Marriage Act be amended was submitted to the Government in January as part of the Senate’s Exposure Draft into the Marriage Amendment Bill. It followed full consultation of all our member rabbis across Australasia and is publicly available online.
When the Government announced in August its plans for a postal vote my Executive Committee made a conscious decision that it would be unwise to issue any statement, let alone one telling the community how to vote. Our reason for remaining silent was simple – we viewed weighing into the debate in the current climate as counter-productive and I believe the events over the past two days have justified our decision.
Notwithstanding this, I have been criticized by some in the community for my silence. They have perceived this as a sign of weakness and a cowering to political correctness. I wish to state in the clearest possible terms that I catergorically reject this criticism. In the wise words of King Solomon “there is a time to speak and a time to be silent” and now is a time for the latter.
The fact is that we as rabbis choose silence over statements on a regular basis – and for good reason. There is any number of non-halachic behaviors occuring on a daily basis within the Jewish community. We witness rampant desecration of Shabbat, widespread consumption of non-kosher, soaring intermarriage rates and we can only wonder how many heterosexual couples use the Mikvah regularly before cohabitation (and as some have pointed out the current debate on same-sex marriage relates to civil law, not Halacha). Yet we don’t see Rabbinic statements, proclamations or sermons telling people how to live their lives – and the reason has nil to do with weakness or political correctness. It’s because we know instinctively that doing so will alienate the very people we’re trying to bring closer to Orthodoxy. Instead, we as rabbis focus on the positive and so it should be. I do not regret my approach to date and quite frankly I hope others will follow suit.
Wearing my St Kilda Shule hat I can only reiterate that which I’ve stated multiple times from the pulpit, in the newspapers, on the radio, on social media and in conversation, that our Shule has an open door policy for all Jews irrespective of their sexuality. I will never judge anyone for the way they live their lives and I hope others won’t judge me for the way I live mine.