The hypocrisy within the Jewish community of calling for a “respectful” debate (or silence) on Marriage Equality

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?

Probably not.

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?

Rabbi Yaakov Glasman responds to the Rabbinical Council of Victoria’s statement against marriage equality

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.

We Call Out Homophobic Clerics, But What About The Rabbis? | New Matilda

Mark Cherny reports on “I’m Gay and I’m Jewish. Do I still belong?”

Mark Cherny Pride March 2012

Mark Cherny attended the recent Shavuot event “I’m Gay and I’m Jewish. Do I still belong?”.  Here is his report on the evening:

Shavuot is a celebration of the revelation of knowledge.

I experienced a revelation this Shavuot by attending a forum held by the Young Jewish Professionals at the home of Rabbi Moshe Kahn, director of Chabad Youth. To find members of the Orthodox Community constructively discussing the issue of homosexuality in our community was indeed a refreshing revelation.

More than 100 mainly young and Orthodox members of the community listened intently and respectfully to the three man panel discussing the issue of being Jewish and homosexual.

Philip Searle discussed his experience of coming out in the Jewish community. His gratitude to his family, friends, and Rabbi for their support and concern was strongly evident in the moving words of this eloquent young communal leader.

Former JCCV president and family law expert Michael Lipshutz highlighted the legal changes that have transpired in Australia, and felt that he has seen the attitudes of the Jewish community mature in parallel. As an example, he felt that the barriers that once prevented a Jewish gay support group from joining the JCCV probably no longer exist.

Rabbi Yaakov Glasman, the Vice President of Orthodox Rabbis Australia, talked of his practice of offering Aliyot to the Torah to gay people, and of his fervent defence of this practice when challenged by congregants who are less tolerant of diversity. He highlighted his inability to reconcile God’s love for His people, with the plight of Jewish gay people who are forbidden by the Torah from acting on their biological inclinations. When pushed, however, he conceded that it is often said that “where there is a Rabbinic will, there is a Halachic way”, and that he could not rule out the possibility that in the future rabbinic leaders might find a way to overcome the problem of such prohibitions, whilst still maintaining the paramount integrity of the Torah as they see it.

As a board member of Keshet Australia, working to build sensitivity, acceptance and care in all sectors of our community, it was extremely gratifying for me to see the leadership that Rabbis Kahn, Glasman have taken in facilitating such a forums. All involved are to be congratulated.

Future discussions may gain additional perspectives by including mental health professionals who might give insights into the serious risks including youth suicide that GLBTI Jews still face due to family and communal attitudes.
As a community we are taking steps in the right direction, but there is still much to be done.

Keshet is committed to educating the Australian Jewish community about GLBTIQ Jews. We look forward to seeing more events promoting the Jewish value of Ve’ahvta L’riecha Kamocha in the future.

Mark Cherny, Keshet Treasurer

“I’m Gay and I’m Jewish. Do I still belong?”

Young Jewish Professionals – Melbourne presents panel event I’m Gay and I’m Jewish. Do I still belong? as part of their Shavuot night “A Night To Ignite”:

DaMinyan - A night to ignite

Facebook event here.

Disclaimer: In posting this event Aleph Melbourne does not necessarily endorse the views of the organisation hosting this event or that of the speakers presenting at it.  Aleph Melbourne also advises that there are multiple ‘Torah perspectives’ on homosexuality, such as that of Masorti and Progressive Judaism, which offer a more inclusive and accepting perspective to that of Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Judaism.

Limmud Oz 2012 – June 9-11: The Queer Sessions

Limmud Oz - Festival of Jewish Learning & Culture

Full programme (PDF)


Time Description
5:30pm – 6:30pm A Progressive Alternative to Halakhic Deliberation
Social issues
The founding philosopher of the Reconstructionist movement Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan was fond of saying, “The past has a vote, not a veto.” Progressive Jews have often given the past a veto instead because we lack alternative tools for analysing religious and ritual problems from a contemporary perspective. This workshop will provide an introduction to Value-Based Decision Making and apply its teachings to the hot-button contemporary question of Jewish weddings for gay and lesbian couples.
Shoshana Kaminsky


Time Description
10:45am – 11:45am Pride and Tolerance in Jerusalem
Jerusalem is the most religious city in the world with an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender) centre. Learn more about the struggle for equality of the Jerusalem Open House, the LGBT center in Jerusalem – a small organization that withstood unprecedented attack by Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders.
Noa Sattath
9:30am – 10:30am
Homosexuality and Judaism
Social issues
Throughout history, bigotry cloaked in religious idealism has been at the heart of campaigns against minority groups of all backgrounds including gay people, and sexual orientation continues to be one of the most contentious issues facing society even a decade into the 21st century. But is there an authentic view supported by Judaism? Join Rabbi Yaakov Glasman as he sensitively addresses this most important question facing our community today.
Yaakov Glasman

St Kilda Synagogue: Homosexuality in Judaism

St Kilda Synagogue: Homosexuality in Judaism.

Throughout history, bigotry cloaked in religious idealism has been at the heart of campaigns against minority groups of all backgrounds, and sexual orientation continues to be one of the most contentious issues facing society even a decade into the 21st century. But is there an authentic view supported by Judaism? Join Rabbi Glasman as he sensitively addresses this most important question facing our community today.

Tuesday, 24th January 2012
Danglow Centre at 8pm