Australian orthodox rabbis interfering in civil marriage (again)!

A little over three years ago, in April 2012, orthodox rabbis in Sydney and Melbourne submitted letters to a Senate enquiry, opposing marriage equality.

As reported in yesterday’s The Australian (June 9 2015), rabbis are among 38 signatories to a letter (PDF) addressed to the Prime Minister opposing marriage equality.  The three Orthodox rabbis, one from Melbourne and two from Sydney, are:

Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick
President Rabbinical Council of Victoria
Senior Dayan – Melbourne Beth Din (Jewish Ecclesiastical Court)

Rabbi Moshe D Gutnick
Senior Dayan – Sydney Beth Din

Rabbi Yehoram Ulman
President Rabbinical Council of NSW
Senior Dayan – Sydney Beth Din

Aleph Melbourne notes that any proposed changes to the Marriage Act to broaden the definition of marriage from “one man and one woman” to wording similar to “two people” will safeguard ministers of religion and not require them to perform marriages between two people of the same-sex.

As it stands, ministers of religion are authorised to refuse to marry any two people, a protection that would carry through with proposed marriage equality amendments.

Exactly why these rabbis are opposing changes to the Marriage Act is incomprehensible in terms of their religious obligations, as any such changes will have no impact on their professional responsibilities.  Therefore is would seem that these rabbis are commenting on matters of civil law beyond their purview, which begs the question: why?

Rabbis say “No” to same sex marriage | J-Wire

Rabbis say “No” to same sex marriage

October 30, 2013 by J-Wire Staff

The Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia , The Rabbinical Council of NSW and The Rabbinical Council of Victoria have given support to ACT Rabbi Shmueli Feldman who joins the  Federal Government in opposing ACT in legislating for same sex marriage.

The statement was signed by Rabbi Moshe Gutnick representing ORA, Rabbi Yehoram Ullman representing the Rabbinical Council of NSW and Rabbi Meir S Kluwgant representing the Rabbinical Council of Victoria.

The statement reads: “While every human is created in the image of G-d and must accordingly be granted respect and indeed love, and no person may be discriminated against under any circumstances , the unequivocal teaching, divinely ordained in our Holy Torah and expressed in the Codes of Jewish Law, is that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Judaism considers this to be a divine imperative incumbent upon all humanity.

As it was in the Garden of Eden between Adam and Eve , and  again taught at the time G-d revealed himself to our people at Mount Sinai and gave the world the ten commandments; from then until this very day , the holy covenant of marriage is and will only ever be, the divinely blessed union between a man and a woman. The word and law of our Lord shall endure for all eternity.”

AJN Letters: Marriage Equality – a response to Rabbi Gutnick, another from Rabbi Ingram – November 2 2012

2 November 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition

Letters to the editor should be no more than 250 words and may be edited for length and content. Only letters sent to will be considered for publication. Please supply an address and daytime phone number for verification.

Time to update view on marriage

IN response to the opinion piece by Rabbi Moshe Gutnick in The AJN (26/10), I find it remarkably ironic that he should enjoy the freedoms and rights that come with the laws of Australia, and yet he lectures on what marriage should and should not be, based on reasoning that originated elsewhere and from a very different historical and time context.

It is time that people like him updated their views, aligned themselves with basic human rights and embraced the idea of a fair go for all, as is the supposed Australian ideal.  As usual, gay rights are being misconstrued and twisted into taking away from or devaluing heterosexual rights, when in fact we simply want what our parents, siblings and friends enjoy – the right to get married, the right to have a fabulous party and the right to be left alone and not dictated to by some stranger who thinks their values can somehow inform what I may or may not do.

Brisbane, QLD

Standing up to political correctness

THE predictable flood of emotive and irrational invective (AJN 26/10) against my sober refutation based on Torah outlook (19/10) of Justice Rothman’s views on homosexual marriage (12/10) graphically illustrates why the courageous public stand against the rising tide of political correctness of 150 prominent Australian doctors opposing same-sex marriage speaks far more loudly than the fact that 1000 other doctors endorsed it.

After all, it isn’t everybody in professional life who wants to take an unpopular public stance on an issue and risk insult, vitriol and ostracism from a vociferous interest group, as well as from those preferring to espouse the popular “wisdom” of the day.

Of the five letters published, not one dealt with the points I raised.  Three were rude and insulting and one expressed the intolerant desire to silence me as well as all those who disagree with them.  Sadly, they reveal more about their authors than the subject of their criticism.  But thank God free speech is still alive and well in The Australian Jewish News.

Bondi Junction, NSW

Match made on Earth: a reply to Rabbi Gutnick by Troy Simpson

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Gutnick Reads From Different Rule Book

In “A Match Made In Heaven” (AJN 26/10), Rabbi Moshe Gutnick does not understand that Australia is secular. Whatever Gutnick’s objections to same-sex marriage, and however genuinely he holds them, those objections are based on the Rabbi’s particular form of Judaism. But the laws of Judaism and the laws of marriage are separate. Marriage, in its incredibly diverse forms, predates Judaism; marriage predates “God”. For much of its history, marriage has had little to do with religion, and more to do with control, power, and property. Some of the ways that the Rabbi impermissibly superimposes his brand of Judaism on to Australia’s secular system of law and government are outlined below.

First, Gutnick says “Judaism unequivocally recognises marriage as being only between a man and a woman.” But Australian law, namely the Marriage Act, only “unequivocally” recognised marriage as being between a man and a woman in 2004, when the Howard government explicitly inserted that definition into the Act. Federal Parliament can easily change the legislative definition of marriage again to allow same-sex marriage (subject to the Constitution as interpreted by the High Court). The federal definition of marriage might be unequivocal now, but that definition may not be unequivocal for much longer.

The term “marriage” in the Constitution is itself equivocal. The meaning of marriage will likely be tested in the High Court, either when a State passes its own marriage equality legislation or when a new Commonwealth Parliament passes a federal law on same-sex marriage. Many constitutional experts believe that the term “marriage” in section 51 is not unequivocally fixed to its meaning in 1901 but rather is flexible enough to support same-sex marriage. Even if the Commonwealth cannot legislate on same-sex marriage, then the States can. (The States might even refer their powers to the Commonwealth if needed, or the people can confer the requisite power at a referendum). So while “marriage” might be unequivocal in Gutnick’s rule book, under Australian law, “marriage” is equivocal and changeable.

Second, Gutnick says the Torah “irrevocably forbids homosexual relationships and overt homosexual behaviour.” Again, although Gutnick’s view of the Torah might irrevocably forbid homosexual relationships and homosexual behaviour, modern Australian law does not. The laws decriminalising homosexual conduct in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s further prove that what might be unequivocal or irrevocable for the Rabbi is equivocal and revocable under Australian civil law.

Third, Gutnick mentions “Parliament begins its deliberations with a prayer to the God of all mankind”. In fact, Parliament inserted the prayers with a particular kind of God in mind: a distinctly Protestant Christian God. According to constitutional law expert Anne Twomey, “Parliament did not introduce prayers because of ‘our Judeo-Christian heritage’. It introduced prayers in response to lobbying from churches.”  The first Standing Orders adopted by the Senate did not even provide for the offering of a prayer. Some delegates who helped frame our Constitution called the practice a “farce” and a “matter of indifference”. The Standing Orders to which the Rabbi refers can be easily changed.

Fourth, Gutnick says “all who stand in our court” swear “their oath on a Bible”. Here, the Rabbi is plain wrong. Australia’s Evidence Acts now give people a choice to take whatever oath their religion allows or dictates (on a Bible, the Koran, etc) or they can “affirm” without any religious text at all. This procedure proves further that Australia is secular.

Fifth, Gutnick says the Marriage Act recognises the religious nature of marriage. Again, the Rabbi is factually wrong. On the contrary, the Marriage Act recognises the secular nature of marriage. You can choose to have your marriage solemnised by a religious minister or not to have your marriage solemnised by a religious minister. So, under Australian marriage law, the State is separate from religion and not exclusively allied to any particular religion. This is the very meaning of “secular”.

Sixth, Gutnick concludes: “Our democratic principles are not those that espouse freedom from religion but freedom of religion”. Enough has been written above to show Gutnick’s conclusion is inaccurate. Australia’s democratic principles, as reflected by the laws and procedures listed above (and by section 116 of the Constitution), in fact rest on the freedom of all Australians to adhere to any religion of their choosing — or to none. Australian law will not be allowed to unduly interfere with Gutnick’s particular religious beliefs; but neither will the Rabbi’s particular religious beliefs, or anyone else’s, be allowed to unduly interfere with Australian law.

Troy Simpson can be contacted on Facebook here.

A match made in heaven | AJN

October 26, 2012 – page 25
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition

A match made in heaven

Marriage isn’t a right for all.  It’s between men and women and, civil or not, its roots are in religion.

Rabbi Moshe Gutnick

Judaism unequivocally recognises marriage as being only between a man and woman. However, while the Torah irrevocably forbids homosexual relationships and overt homosexual behaviour, it adopts the distinction found in numerous rabbinical texts, between the person and his or her behaviour. Tolerance and love must be shown to all.

However, while such tolerance is consistent with the core values of Judaism, there is a great difference between tolerance for an individual, and recognition of a movement which wishes to turn something clearly prohibited by Judaeo-Christian teaching into something not only tolerated, but recognised and solemnised through the institution of marriage.

There is no doubt that society must protect all citizens from discrimination, including from discrimination on the basis of sexual preference, but this can be done in other ways, without granting a homosexual union the sanctity of marriage.

It is indeed a complex debate as to the degree with which Judaeo-Christian ethical positions should be translated into public policy in a pluralistic democratic society. However, one thing is clear, at this point in Australian history, our great Commonwealth still bases itself on those values taught to mankind through the great religions of Judaism and Christianity.

Our Parliament begins its deliberations with a prayer to the God of all mankind: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name … Thy Will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven.” Parliamentarians swear their oath on a Bible, as do all who stand in our courts. Our constitution acknowledges the blessings of God.  While indeed we make provision for all, including those who do not believe in God, and that indeed is an essential part of our democracy, the overwhelming majority of our citizens build their lives, indeed not necessarily around organised religion, but around belief in a Creator.

Indeed, as Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks convincingly argues, it is only democracies that have at their foundations belief in a Supreme Being and subservience to a higher morality that indeed ensure the rights of all their citizens precisely because they are “created in the image of God”.  Without God, human government becomes supreme and the arbiter of morality.  Inevitably the rights of their citizens become subservient to the needs of the state, and as we have seen with the Third Reich and the Soviet Union, the results are catastrophic.

Gay people can be protected from discrimination without tampering with marriage.

Justice Rothman (AJN 12/10) argues that it is hypocritical for the rabbinate in our democracy to argue on the one hand against same-sex marriage while on the other hand insist on the right to brit milah (circumcision).  The argument, with respect to His Honour, is flawed.

It is indeed a universal human right to be able to freely practice religion, including the practice of brit milah.  However, there is no such universal human right for all persons to be able to marry.

As late as March 2012, the European Court of Human Rights found that same sex marriage is not a human right under the European Convention on Human Rights.  Marriage indeed is not a right, but in our society it is the voluntary union of  man and a woman as uniquely defined in the Judaeo-Christian ethic.

Indeed, the Marriage Act recognises the essentially religious nature of marriage.  No other act of Parliament includes in it outcomes achieved by a minister of religion.  In some other parts of the world, the recording of a marriage is purely a civil matter totally unrelated to the performance of a ceremony by a minister of religion; the certificate of marriage does not mention religion at all.

However, in our Marriage Act, marriage can be performed by a minister of religion; this and the fact that the marriage was performed according to the rites of that religion are all recorded on the certificate of marriage.  Indeed, we do provide for a civil celebrant to perform a civil marriage, but that does not take away from its essential Judaeo-Christian, and indeed biblical, foundation.

If there was a universal right to “marriage”, as Justice Rothman suggests, and marriage was just the conferring and acceptance of certain mutual legal rights and obligations, why would that not have to extend to allowing a (consenting adult) brother and sister to marry?  Or for that matter a man to marry two women or a woman to marry two men, as indeed does take place in other cultures and other parts of the world?  Should a minority of our citizens wish to have such unions, would Justice Rothman seriously suggest we are denying them their rights?

Gay people can be protected from discrimination without tampering with marriage.  Maintaining the definition of marriage, in accordance with the Judaeo-Christian ethic, is not a denial of rights nor an act of homophobia; it is simply the maintaining of a definition, and with it the sanctity of marriage.  Our democratic principles are not those that espouse freedom from religion but freedom of religion.  And indeed it would appear, by the recent overwhelming vote in the House of Representatives against changes to the Marriage Act, that the vast majority of our elected representatives agree.

Rabbi Moshe D Gutnick is president of the
Orthodox Rabbis of Australasia and a dayan
on the Sydney Beth Din.

AJN Letters: Marriage Equality – Responses to Rabbis Gutnick & Ingram – November 9 2012

9 November 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition

Letters to the editor should be no more than 250 words and may be edited for length and content. Only letters sent to will be considered for publication. Please supply an address and daytime phone number for verification.

We should not impose our laws on society

I WAS displayed by Rabbi Moshe Gutnick’s column about same-sex marriage (AJN 26/11).  He raises and then dismisses the key point that civil, non-religiously affiliated celebrants can perform legally recognised marriages in Australia.

Contrary to his claim, this is indeed an indication that the civil status of marriage is not based on a “Judeo-Christian, and indeed biblical, foundation”.

Speaking of a biblical foundation, I find it especially interesting that Rabbi Gutnick then raises a “slippery slope” argument that approving same-sex marriage would lead to the permitting of a marriage between a man and two women because in the recent parshah, Vayetze, Yaakov enters into that exact relationship with Rachel and Leah!

Australia prides itself on multiculturalism, and one of its most attractive features is the lack of religious influence in its civic life. I’m sure it would not occur to Rabbi Gutnick to insist that other marriages forbidden to Orthodox Jews, such as marriage between a Cohen and a divorcee, should be forbidden by civil law in Australia.  Similarly, Jewish law regarding marriages and homosexuality should not be imposed on the larger Australian community.

South Yarra, VIC

Australia not beholden to the Jewish view

Rabbis Moshe Gutnick (AJN 26/10) And Chaim Ingram (AJN 19/10) have very different approaches, but each does not deal with the fundamental issue.  Rabbi Gutnick’s comment on the place of Judeo-Christian ethic in Australia is misplaced.  The only mention of God in relation to the Australian Constitution is in the preamble to the Imperial (UK) Act, not in any operative provision of that Constitution, and the mention is that the people were “humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God”.  So am I.

Australian democracy is quite different to most.  Firstly, voting is compulsory.  The majority in Australia is not silent; it votes.  Secondly, voting is preferential.  The person elected represents a consensus of the majority in the electorate.

The combination of the two factors forces political parties to the centre; to appeal to the majority are not sectarian interests, who will then turn out to vote on one or more issues of concern.

Thirdly, Australia, despite its history of bigotry, particularly to blacks, gays and new immigrant groups, is extremely tolerant; laissez-faire, not moralistic.  It allows people to do what they like as long as it doesn’t interfere with them.

The best example is the Australian reaction to the AIDS epidemic. We did not suffer at the hands of religious bigotry.  We educated and provided needle exchange; and Australia was the only major western country in which the incidents of AIDS fell in the gay community and was never an epidemic in the heterosexual community.

Australia owes much to the Judeo-Christian ethic, but only indirectly, and we have significantly departed from it: e.g. stem cell research (inconsistent with Christian, but not Jewish, ethos); abortion; and same gender relationships.  Democracy is not a product of the Judeo-Christian ethic.

Rabbi Gutnick threatens polygamy and incest as the possible result if marriage is broadened.  He must have read the parshah: Abraham had three wives and married his niece!  Each act would be illegal in Australia.

The Judeo-Christian ethic (what Rabbi Ingram calls the conduct of Abraham, being over 6000 years old) allowed and encouraged polygamy (at least one male with more than one wife); it allowed slavery (up to six years); and it permitted Abraham to marry his niece, Issac his cousin, Esau his first cousin, Jacob his first two cousins (through both his mother and father).

Australia has determined that same gender relationships should be legal – they can be recognised as de facto couples. If the Judeo-Christian ethos prevailed, as Rabbi Gutnick suggests, this would not have occurred.

Perhaps same-gender marriages are not, in the Jewish view, made in heaven.  But the Jewish view does not prevail in Australia.  We do not live, thank God, in a theocracy; we live in a democracy.

The only issue is whether a couple legally living together (or who want to) should have the choice of marriage.  This change does not affect Orthodox Judaism, but it does effect true tolerance to those who are currently suffering discriminatory treatment.

And in the end, it’s about treating others as we would want to be treated (or not doing to them that which we would find hateful); everything else is just commentary.

Bondi Junction, NSW

Exceptions to the rights to marry

DICTIONARY definitions of marriage recognise “mutual relation of husband and wife” being “a special kind of social and legal dependence for the purpose of founding and maintaining a family”.

Justice Stephen Rothman (AJN 12/10) regards marriage as a universal rite with rights for all; however, Rabbi Gutnick (AJN 26/10) surely has debunked that assertion by reminding us that incestuous or polygamist marriages are not acceptable so rites and rights have some exceptions.  Why?  Because that is our Judaic tradition.

Respect, love the one’s fellow man, tolerance, diversity, compassion for weaknesses within us all and equal standing before our creator is a sine qua non also contained within our Judaic traditions.  For millennia, during times of upheaval, confusion and bedlam, we have been a light unto the nations and therefore let us not change widely understood definitions of marriage or the teachings of Torah that form the basis of civilised society and family in order to satisfy a vocal interest group.

Bondi Junction, NSW

Differing views on marriage inquiry | AJN

30 Mar 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition

Differing views on marriage inquiry

COMMUNAL organisations representing Orthodox and Progressive Jews are at odds in their submissions to a parliamentary inquiry into gay marriage.

Christopher Whitmont-Stein and Scott WhitmontChristopher Whitmont-Stein and Scott Whitmont were the first same-sex couple in Australia to have a commitment ceremony in a shul. In its submission, the Union for Progressive Judaism (UPJ) has called for same-sex marriage to be introduced in Australia.

The UPJ quoted biblical references in support of a universal right to marriage, which it believes the Senate probe should adopt.

But a submission to be made by the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia (ORA), representing Orthodox Jewry, will oppose amendment of the Marriage Act.

Invoking the Book of Genesis, the UPJ submission, made to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee Inquiry into the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010, stated that “all people are made b’tselem Elohim, in the image of God, and each person should be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.

“The UPJ therefore condemns all forms of homophobia and discrimination based on sexual orientation. There is no justification for such abuse and disrespect and it is essential that all perpetrators of homophobia are prosecuted and held responsible for such offensive comments, both in the eyes of society and before the law.”

The UPJ submission claimed legislative changes made in recent years to acknowledge same-sex partnerships have already helped to decrease discrimination in Australia’s legal system, but “these changes must be part of larger changes to make same-sex partnerships the equal of heterosexual partnerships”.

However, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, president of ORA, told The AJN his organisation opposed the changes because they seek to alter the definition of marriage, and this will form the basis of ORA’S submission, to be made in the next few days.

“Judaism is against discrimination in all forms, including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However, the position of Judaism, and indeed all Abrahamic faiths, on marriage is clear.

“The institution of marriage is fundamental in that it shapes the entire human race, and it is divinely mandated as being only between a man and a woman. It is an institution that dare not be tampered with. The invocation of biblical verses in support of same-sex marriage is simply a shameless distortion of biblical teaching and tradition,” Rabbi Gutnick said.

The Senate last month launched its inquiry into marriage equality after Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-young introduced a private senator’s bill to amend the 1961 Marriage Act to embrace same-sex marriages.

The Senate inquiry will take submissions until April 2 and will report on its findings in June this year.

AJN Letters: Homophobia, Bullying & Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen – March 2 2012

2 Mar 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition

Letters to the editor should be no more than 250 words and may be edited for length and content. Only letters sent to will be considered for publication. Please supply an address and daytime phone number for verification.

My norms are not your norms

AS A proud gay Jew, who follows the Orthodox practices, I found little comfort in last week’s article “Tackling homophobia in the schoolyard” (AJN 24/02). They may preach against judgment, but that gives them no right to belittle us. “Universal norms” is not a “heterosexual union” Rabbi Cowen; that is your norm, in the same way that my norm is to be with someone of the same gender.

As for Rabbi Gutnick, your suggestion of submitting to celibacy is something to be ashamed of. It’s extremely narrow to perceive sexual diversity as purely physical and then to suggest that they deprive themselves of the same pleasures as everyone else. We don’t just need to be treated as equals, but we need to be recognised as equals. As with you, I too was created in God’s image – don’t ever forget that!

There is an Orthodox medium: accept and live. I pray that others of sexual diversity find the same strength to look beyond the community’s “tolerance” and seek those who accept: and most importantly, that they accept themselves.

Caulfield, Vic

Sexual orientation and the dignity of difference

THE AJN should be congratulated for publishing a plurality of rabbinic and other views about schools programs to combat bullying.

Bullying and vilification on the basis of sexual orientation is as much a scourge as is bullying and vilification on grounds of faith, race or ethnic origin.

Teaching high-school students that some people happen to be homosexual (or happen to be Jewish or black or from a minority ethnic group) celebrates only that they should enjoy the dignity of difference, a phrase that hails from the most hallowed halls of Orthodoxy.

Coogee, NSW

Rabbis opinions should not be silenced

RABBI Fred Morgan’s criticism of Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen’s attitude to homosexuality in “The realities of the human condition” (AJN 24/02) is based on relativism. But if no behaviour is “normative”, is anything normal? And is it not a rabbi’s and ethicist’s task to give guidance?

Our homosexual brothers and sisters, treated with love and respect, should celebrate their acceptance. Instead, some demand that their sexuality be celebrated. And some ridicule religion, but demand the utmost respect.

The Safe Schools Coalition Victoria website reveals a homosexuality-promoting group ensconced in a university, with programs even for kindergarten children. Sensitivity programs are fine, but the indoctrination of a minority ideal isn’t.

A society that values tolerance and prizes free speech must respect the right of Rabbi Dr Cowen to air his views. Those who disagree with his views should debate them, instead of trying to silence him, as though he was a blasphemer.

Chatswood, NSW

The right way to tackle the scourge of bullying

A WORLD that is threatened by terrorism and is exposed to violence and immorality in the media is a breeding ground for anti-social functioning among both children and their adult role models. It is no surprise that bullying in schools and through social networking sites is on the rise. We need strong remedies to address the problem of bullying.

Do I want my Jewish children in school today to have their moral and ethical education regarding bullying initiated by our present day government answerable to every lobby group?

Even if some of what they propose to teach is on track in their “Safe Schools Coalition”, I know with a mother’s love that some of the methods they espouse are far from appropriate for any school age child.

We should be most grateful to Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen who has courageously spoken out in these challenging times against a “politically correct” but dangerously flawed approach to bullying.

Inspired by the greatness of his own father who helped to bring healing and peace wherever his work took him, Rabbi Cowen’s writings show us how to return to the universal values, the moral and ethical absolutes of Torah and the Noahide Laws.

The Torah absolutes simplify everything. Our children learn that God is greatly good and that we are all made in His image therefore we all have great goodness.

A child with good self-esteem who feels loved and wanted at home and who is modelled good behaviours will not become a bully.

St Kilda East, Vic

Halacha is out-of-date on homosexuality

AS a heterosexual atheistic Jew I would like to address the GLBT issue featured last week. I am one of the very large number of Jews in Melbourne who do not believe in God, the divinity of the Torah or any other supernatural phenomenon.

I have learnt much ethical wisdom from many Jewish sources, but I believe they are all ultimately human in origin. There are however numerous aspects of halachic law I see as archaic, immoral and tragic. Some have fortunately been relegated to a status of inactive irrelevance by rabbis of previous centuries. These include the laws permitting slavery and polygamy. I see the biblical prohibitions against homosexuality as now crying out to be similarly shelved in the backwaters of Jewish history. Halacha actually recommends capital punishment for homosexuals in certain situations.

Jews more than most should have learnt from history that it is evil to persecute minorities and threaten them with execution.

I believe homophobia is as offensive as anti-semitism, and homophobic attitudes within the Jewish community must be challenged by every rational and responsible Jew.

To ignore homophobia is to condone it. I encourage those who are committed to orthodoxy to challenge their rabbis to be courageous on this issue.

Caulfield, Vic

Why the rabbi has got it wrong

IN an article recently published in the Australian Family Association journal, Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen writes that the real goal of the homosexual “anti-bullying” program for schools is “the teaching and validation of homosexual behaviour at the early stages of child education”. He further argues that homosexual behaviour is a moral wrong.

Rabbi Cowen is essentially claiming that the homosexual “anti-bullying” program for schools has an agenda hidden behind the overt purpose of eliminating bullying behaviour.

This claim deserves condemnation for two reasons:

Firstly, because it seeks to discredit a program aimed at protecting vulnerable young people in our community.

Secondly, because it validates the discriminatory attitudes on which the bullying behaviour overtly relies for its justification.

Even accepting that Rabbi Cowen himself agrees it is unmistakeably clear to “all good and reasonable” people that “the bullying of a child on any grounds is reprehensible and must be stopped”, arguing that homosexuality is abnormal behaviour undermines any anti-discriminatory message.

Writing from his religious perspective Rabbi Cowen reflects the attitude of religious authorities down the ages when he says that “however common or strong homosexual impulses may be in certain individuals, that will not make homosexual practice permissible”.

That position has ever been used by some to justify the vile persecution of those who are different to the majority.

We stand alongside those Jews and others who firmly believe that we need to be accepting of the wide variety of sexualities that are manifest in our community.

Bullying and exclusion – whether by schoolchildren or by rabbis, or indeed by anyone else – needs to be combated. Regardless of traditionalist religious interpretations, it is vital that the Jewish community, and the wider community, become places of inclusivity and belonging.

Australian Jewish Democratic Society

Tackling homophobia in the schoolyard | AJN

24 Feb 2012
The Australian Jewish News Sydney edition

Tackling homophobia in the schoolyard

In an article published in a journal of the Australian Family Association, Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen, founding director of The Institute for Judaism and Civilisation, expressed his concerns about programs to tackle homophobic bullying in schools.  In the wake of the controversy, Rabbi Cowen explains his position, while Rabbi Fred Morgan, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick and Dr Jonathan Barnett share their opinions on the issue.