A prominent national religious Israeli rabbi sparked an outcry on Tuesday when he said that the country has become an “LGBT-stan” inundated with gay culture and urged his followers to “wage war” for traditional family values.
Speaking at a right-wing religious conference, Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira, who heads the Ramat Gan Yeshiva, said that so-called homosexual culture was “an illness that was spreading.”
The conference called for opposition to same-sex marriages. Stressing that neither he nor his followers were homophobic, Shapira said that Israeli culture had branded anyone who opposes homosexuality an “extremist.”
“Anyone who says something about a healthy and faith-based family is considered to have phobias, to be someone who is an extremist,” he said. “Why? Because he expressed an opinion that has been the basis of all humanity and the entire Torah!”
Shapira, who also teaches at Bar-Ilan University, said there was nothing homophobic or extremist in wanting traditional Jewish values in family life.
“I have invested many hours in helping those who have difficulty in this area [of homosexuality],” he said. “But there is an illness that is spreading and taking over. We’re becoming a country that looks more and more like LGBT-stan.”
Rejecting calls from within the national religious camp for a more moderate approach to the issue, Shapira said, “We are now attacked for this platform [of opposing homosexuality] as if we had left [the national religious camp] and become ultra-Orthodox. They hate us for our sanity.”
Shapira’s yeshiva is part of the Hesder system, which combines Torah study with army service. It is recognized by the government and receives public funding.
His words sparked an outcry.
Zehava Galon, head of the left-wing Meretz party, took to Twitter to accuse Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of hypocrisy in funding Shapira’s yeshiva.
“Netanyahu can speak until tomorrow in the United States about integrating the gay community, but as long as the state continues to finance this rabbi, he represents [the country] more than another AIPAC speech,” she said.
Activists organized a protest via Facebook to be held outside the Ramat Gan Yeshiva next week.
“These days voices are being raised seeking to change the custom of the state, in a way that is contrary to the human morality that emanates from our holy Torah,” the rabbis wrote, referring to the central text and derived teachings of Judaism.
“Our holy Torah is a beacon and moral compass to the Jewish people and the whole world. Therefore, it is fitting that in Israel we be on guard to strengthen family values and preserve a public space that respects the values of human morality and Judaism,” they said. “We support all the public representatives who act in this way.”
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.