Gay rights organizations demanded Tuesday that one of Jerusalem’s two chief rabbis take back remarks he made declaring that homosexuals cannot be religious and that homosexuality is uncontrolled lust that can be conquered by belief in God.
Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the Sephardic chief rabbi of the capital, made the comments during a sermon last weekend in Ashdod. A short video of his remarks was published by the Kan public broadcaster on Monday evening.
The incident came after earlier this month Education Minister Rafi Peretz, also an ordained rabbi, caused uproar by indicating his support for gay conversion therapy, a controversial process that purports to make gay people heterosexual.
Amar, a former chief rabbi of Israel, has also caused controversy in the past by saying that homosexuality is an “abomination.”
“There are people who call themselves religious who also fell into that trap,” Amar told the audience last week in reference to gay people. “They aren’t religious. It would be better if they cast off their kippah and Shabbat [observance] and show their true faces.
“With their bodies they sin against the Jewish people,” he said, using a Talmudic phrase meaning they are irreligious.
“God knows that it is a lust, a wild lust that needs to be overcome and it can be overcome,” Amar continued.
Referring to conversion therapy, Amar said, “Everyone can overcome. There’s no need for understanding or a psychologist or any nonsense. All they need is to be God-fearing — just belief in God to overcome.”
Three gay religious support groups, Bat-Kol, Havruta, and the Gay Religious Community, issued a joint statement Tuesday questioning by what authority Amar could decide their commitment to religion.
“As religious men and women it is not clear to us from where the rabbi draws the power to push us out of Judaism. How does he dare to ask us to give up Shabbat observance and so give up on our religious identity?”
“Rabbi Amar, with your harsh comments you called on our families to vomit us out of our homes and from our communities.”
Eran Globus, director of the Jerusalem Open House, the capital’s leading gay organization, called on Amar to contemplate the damaging effect of his comments.
“Rabbi, we are those whom you meet at the ceremonies and in the yeshivas, in the city streets and in the synagogues,” Globus said in a statement. “Try to think of these thousands of young faces you have seen, looking at you with respect and awe, so that you can begin to grasp the unbearable price they are paying for your irresponsible words.
“We call on you to retract your harsh remarks,” Globus said.
Blue and White MK Eitan Ginzburg, who served in Ra’anana as Israel’s first gay mayor, called for Amar to be removed from his post.
“Shlomo Amar is an embarrassment to the religious establishment and to the rabbinate,” Ginzburg tweeted. “It would be better for him to cast off the mantle of chief rabbi. He is not suitable to be the chief rabbi of Jerusalem.”
Fellow Blue and White lawmaker MK Yael German advised Amar to follow the example of Pope Francis in his moves to accept the homosexual community.
Ronen Lubitch, president of Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, a liberal modern Orthodox movement, said in a statement that the issue of homosexuality “has changed from a disagreement to an unhealthy obsession.”
“Leaders and rabbis cannot continue to bury their heads in the sand and think that they will succeed in resolving the matter through condemnation,” he said, calling on rabbis to instead “increase love and peace, inclusion and respect.”
Avi Buskila, a former head of Peace Now who recently joined the fledgling Israel Democratic Party, warned that Amar’s outburst could lead to bloodshed.
“An incredible and painful display of incitement, especially when it comes from the chief rabbi of Jerusalem,” he tweeted. “This is calling open season. It creates abominable murderers like Yishai Schlissel, who murdered Shira Banki during the gay pride parade in the city.”
Schlissel stabbed Banki, 16, to death during the pride parade in the capital in 2015, just three weeks after being released from prison, where he had served eight years for a stabbing attack at the Jerusalem parade in 2005.
In 2016 Amar said he declined to attend a memorial service for Banki after her family refused to read aloud a condemnation of homosexuality he included in a condolence missive he sent to them. Amar told the Israel Hayom newspaper at the time that he had written to the parents, saying that “if you want to exalt her soul to the heavens, to repent from your evil ways.”
During an interview with the newspaper, Amar said that homosexuality was “a cult.”
“It’s a cult of abominations, it is obvious. It’s an abomination,” Amar 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.”
Earlier this month Peretz, the education minister, said in a television interview that that he had referred students to therapy treatment and saw it was “possible” to change their sexual orientation.
His remarks to Channel 12 drew widespread condemnation from the public and lawmakers across the political spectrum, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. LGBTQ rights activists, educators, lawmakers and others demanded his immediate resignation.
Peretz later walked back his comments, saying he had “never” recommended so-called conversion therapy to homosexuals, stressing that he “utterly” opposes the “wrong and grave” practice.