600 US, Canadian rabbis urge retraction of Israeli rabbis’ letter panning gays

Lobby group warns hate speech could lead to violence against homosexual community

Participants in Jerusalem's Gay Pride Parade, August 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Participants in Jerusalem's Gay Pride Parade, August 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Close to 600 US and Canadian rabbis from across the spectrum of Judaism have signed a letter calling on Orthodox rabbis in Israel to retract a recent letter which described gay people as perverts who are striving to destroy the notion of family.

The document also urged the Israeli government to reverse recent legislation that excluded unmarried men from the right to father a child via surrogacy, and advocated greater separation of religion and state in Israel.

It was organized by A Wider Bridge, a San Francisco-based organization that focuses on ties between US and Israeli LGBTQ communities.

“The enshrining of discrimination into law, and harmful words spoken by religious leaders, sow the seeds of hatred and brutality in the land, and put vulnerable members of Israeli society at risk of violence and worse,” the letter said.

“We call on the Israeli leadership to reverse its discriminatory policy in favor of equal rights for all citizens,” the document continued. “In calling for these rights, including surrogacy, we call on the Israeli leadership to reiterate the separation of religion and state as an ideal of democracy.”

“We, therefore, call on Israeli leaders and rabbis to retract these recent actions and return the State of Israel in T’shuvah [repentance], to this higher level of sanctity, dignity and safety,” the letter said.

Hundreds of signatures from rabbis representing Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish communities were collected since the letter was published last week, the organization said in a statement Tuesday.

At the end of last month some 200 Israeli Orthodox rabbis penned a letter that called homosexuals “perverts” and accused them of brainwashing the public. They were responding to criticism of Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Aryeh Stern, who had said homosexuals were “forbidden” and the children they raised had “very strange and unnatural lives.”

Referring to the annual gay pride parade in Jerusalem, the rabbis wrote that most Israelis “are shocked by the provocation and loss of way of the abomination groups.”

The rabbis also accused the LGBT rights groups of “aggressive terror accompanied by nonstop media brainwashing…[that] destroy the notion of a family and turn the perverts into heroes.”

Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, a board member of A Wider Bridge who drafted the US-Canadian letter, said that the Israeli rabbis were trying to undermine the safety of the gay community.

“By calling LGBTQ Jews ‘perverts’ [who are] condemning children to ‘wretched lives,’ these rabbis are endangering lives by laying the groundwork for violence against LGBTQ people in Israel,” Steinlauf said. “Their outrageous letter is a sign that they feel emboldened in their quest to roll back protections for LGBTQ people and other Israeli minorities.”

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