Hateful Words from Rabbis Living in “Small Places”

The comments of two distinguished rabbis left me troubled and distressed in recent days.  First, I was disappointed but not surprised to  read in the Forward’s August 6 edition of Rabbi Moshe Tendler’s incredibly misinformed understanding of homosexuality and his apparent support for “reparative therapy.” 

The other troubling words came from Rabbi Shlomo Amar, (Sephardic) Chief Rabbi of Israel in a letter he penned to the New York Times  (8/6/10).  In that missive, Rabbi Amar  takes Diaspora  Jewry to task for putting the brakes on the Rotem Conversion Bill.    In so doing, Amar charges diaspora  Jewry with sabotaging the democratic process in Israel.  I dare say that a Chief Rabbi of Israel decrying the lack of democracy in any process is little like Kim Jong-il of North Korea questioning the elections or freedom of the press in the West.  Is there any entity is Israel’s 62 year history that has worked harder and expended more time and enegy consolidating its power and control than the Chief Rabbinate? 

Rabbi Amar further embarrasses himself by suggesting that Diaspora Jewry should have no say on what goes on in Israel.  I respectfully suggest that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chair of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, if at all possible, need to Rabbi Amar out for a  good long luncheon meeting and see if they can possibly liberate him from whatever intellectual backwater has him trapped.  The Chief Rabbi is apparently unaware of the role world Jewry has played politically and economically in the development of the modern State of Israel.   How is that possible when one considers that more than likely, Rabbi Amar and his family had a successful aliyah from their native Morroco and successful absorption into Israel in 1962 thanks to the good will and good shekalim provided by Diaspora Jewry.

And like the proponents of that pseudo science known as Intelligent Design, one can’t help but wonder what intellectual shtetl Rabbi Tendler is trying so hard protect and hide in.  Here is a reputable scientist trying very hard to promote some very disreputable ideas about homosexuality.  Does this Biology professor really think he knows more about sexual orientation than the American Psychiatric Association and all the other professional and academic associations that long ago determined that homosexuality is neither a disease or developmental dysfunction?

It is as intellectually dishonest to suggest that a homosexual can be made heterosexual through reparative-therapy as it is to suggest that every single word of the oral and written traditions of Judaism were dictated at Mount Sinai, or, that halacha has not evolved over 3,000 years in response a changing world and very diverse communities in which Jewish people have lived.

And here are two good pieces of news apropos the issues troubling these two rabbis: 1.  90 Orthodox  rabbis signed a letter showing more compassion, more respect and sensitivity for gay and lesbian Jews than Rabbi Tendler apparently has.  2.  Mainstream leadership in Israel knows that the consolidation of the power of the Chief Rabbinate and the Ministry of Religion  that is out of step with and hostile to, the majority of Jews in Israel and the

Diaspora cannot continue unabated without dyer consequences.  Apparently, thank God, in spite of the challenges of the journey, Israel and Diaspora Jewry are moving forward in spite of those who prefer remaining in the very confined and narrow mitzrayim of their own making.

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About Mitchell S. Gilbert

Mitch Gilbert is a social worker, writer, and religious educator. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he has done community development work in Washington DC, Cleveland, Akron, Vancouver, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. Mitch earned a BA at Brooklyn College (CUNY), a Master of Science in Social Administration degree from Case Western Reserve University. In addition, Mitch has done graduate studies in Jewish tradition, history, and culture at New York University and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Mitch serves as a volunteer Jewish chaplain in a state prison and a senior adult residential community. In addition to writing/blogging, he an avid volunteer and political activist.
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