On Monday September 4 2017 the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) issued a statement advising citizens to vote No in the upcoming federal government postal survey on marriage equality. A backlash to this statement ensued, with no less than Rabbi Daniel Rabin, President of the council that issued the statement, and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry distancing themselves from the aforementioned statement.
On Wednesday the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) issued a statement calling for “a respectful debate in the lead up to the same sex marriage survey”.
Also on Wednesday Rabbi Yaakov Glasman, Senior Rabbi of the St Kilda Hebrew Congregation and President of the Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand, issued a statement explaining his rationale for participating in a position of silence on the postal survey.
On Thursday Rabbi Daniel Mirvis, Senior Rabbi of the Mizrachi Centre, issued a statement saying of the upcoming postal survey: “I plan on remaining silent on the matter”.
On Friday Rabbi James Kennard, Principal of Mount Scopus Memorial College issued a statement urging “all who choose not to remain silent to ensure that all comments, on all sides, are made with respect, sensitivity and understanding”.
By calling for a “respectful debate” the underlying message being sent is that debate must be respectful over whether the Marriage Act should continue to exclude same-sex and other non-heterosexual couples. Ultimately this amounts to insisting on a polite conversation on the merit of legalised discrimination.
Engaging in silence on a matter of discrimination amounts to tacit endorsement of the status quo.
But what if the topic of conversation were not Marriage Equality, but instead the banning of non-medical circumcision, the banning of religious slaughter of animals, government support for BDS, or the removal of religious and racial protections?
Would it still be acceptable to have a debate, or maintain silence, on any of these topics, respecting the underlying premise of each issue?
Would Jewish community leaders stand around and silently tolerate the wider community respectfully debating the merits of these topics, with a laissez-faire approach to the conversations?
Yet it’s acceptable for some senior Jewish Community leaders to insist on tolerating a “respectful debate” or maintaining a silence over whether the government can continue to enshrine discrimination in the law against a marginalised and highly vulnerable minority group for no good reason.
And this isn’t double standards? Where is the respect in that?