Jerusalem’s chief rabbi lashed out at Israel’s gay community in an interview released Friday, calling homosexuality an “abomination” and earning himself a police complaint for incitement.
Shlomo Amar, who previously served as the country’s Sephardi chief rabbi, told Israel Hayom newspaper that homosexuality is an “abomination,” and that Jewish law advocates the death penalty for those who choose to engage in same sex relationships.
“I call it a cult. It’s a cult of abominations, it is obvious. It’s an abomination,” he said. “The Torah says it is punishable by death. It is in the first rank of severe offenses… They say ‘leaning,’ ‘perversion’ – this is nonsense. There is lust, and a person can overcome it if they want to, like all lusts. This is among the most forbidden lusts, the most severe. ”
Amar said he declined to attend a memorial service for a teenage girl stabbed to death by an ultra-Orthodox zealot during last year’s Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem, after her family declined to read aloud his condemnation of homosexuality.
“When Shira Banki was killed, they commemorated the thirtieth day of her death. They asked me to attend, and I would not. I wrote to them a letter expressing great sadness and opposition in the strongest terms to the deeds” of her killer, Yishai Schlissel,” he said.
“On the other hand,” he said he wrote to Banki’s family, “‘I call on you, if you want to elate her soul to the heavens, to repent from your evil ways. It is forbidden by the Torah.\ I gave them a condition that they read my letter in full [and then I would attend]. They wanted to read half. I did not agree [to attend].”
Amar said that his attendance would have “blasphemed the name of God.”
He also came out against rabbis trying to build bridges with the LGBTQ community: “There is no such thing, to show understanding or tolerance for this. A simple truth needs to be stated – there is a severe prohibition, and there is no allowance for it.”
The rabbi emphasized he would not budge on his position, even at the price of estranging secular Jews from religious life.
Amar’s comments were met with fury by members of the LGBTQ community and champions of civil liberties in Israel.
Oded Fried, a gay rights activist and former head of the Israeli LGBT Taskforce, filed a complaint with Israel Police, saying Amar’s comments constituted incitement to bigotry.
Meretz MK Michal Rozin, co-chair of the Knesset’s Gay Caucus, wrote to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked following the interview, calling for her to take action against Amar.
“Statements such as these fuel and strengthen violent attacks against the LGBTQ community and the pluralist Judaism community, especially when made by municipal rabbis. In light of these comments, I ask that you consider disciplining the rabbi, according to your jurisdiction to do so, following his comments,” Rozin wrote.
Rabbi Noa Satat, manager of the Reform Center for Religion and State, accused Amar of “unjustified hatred” that harmed the very people whose taxes pay his salary.
“Rabbi Amar proves once again that he is unworthy of the title of chief rabbi of the city of Jerusalem,” she said. “His comments, which constitute nothing more than unjustified hatred seasoned with ignorance, hurt Israeli men and women, Jewish men and women who finance his salary, paid for by public funds. Rabbi Amar is cursing just before Shabbat, his comments push more and more people from the medieval Judaism he represents.”
Amar also took aim at Reform Judaism, telling the newspaper that there was only a small number of Reform Jews in Israel and saying that “in recent years, they have been importing it, this culture.”
He accused Reform Jews of “inciting” against the Torah for political gain and vowed to resist any moves to include the stream in Israeli Jewish life.
“It’s not a matter of personal distress, it is politics. I will not agree to change what the Torah says,” Amar said. “I say what is written in verses such as ‘Move back from the tents of these wicked men.'”
He also said unequivocally that public transportation could not be allowed on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, and said he was against civil marriage for Jews in the State of Israel.