600 North American rabbis call for Orthodox rabbis in Israel to retract homophobic letter


(JTA) — Nearly 600 rabbis from North America have signed an open letter calling on Orthodox rabbis in Israel to retract recent homophobic comments.

The letter, signed by rabbis representing Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish communities from across the United States and Canada, also asks the government coalition in the Knesset headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reverse newly approved legislation that prevents gay couples from using an Israeli surrogate.

A Wider Bridge, the North American organization building support for Israel and LGBTQ people in Israel, organized the letter in response to one signed by 200 Orthodox rabbis that was published on the eve of Friday’s Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance that referred to gays as “perverts” and an “organization of abominations.”

The Wider Bridge letter reads: “We join together to decry the rise of intolerance, discrimination and Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred, against the LGBTQ community in Israel. In light of a recent letter, signed by 200 prominent Israeli rabbis, labeling LGBTQ people with hateful and demeaning insults, as well as condemning their children to a ‘wretched’ existence, we lift our own voices not in hatred, but out of the deepest love and concern for all the people of Israel.

“We declare that these recent actions violate the Torah’s most precious principles – most notably that of Pikuach Nefesh, the command to save and preserve life above all else. 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 recalled the killing three years ago of 16-year-old Shira Banki at the Jerusalem Pride parade by an Orthodox man “claiming to act in the name of Torah.” It said the rabbinic letter and the recent legislation on surrogacy “reflect a dehumanizing mindset that could, G-d forbid, lead to more tragedies like Shira’s murder in the future.”

Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, a board member of A Wider Bridge who drafted the letter, said the Orthodox rabbis were inciting potential violence against LGBTQ people in Israel

“Their outrageous letter is a sign that they feel emboldened in their quest to roll back protections for LGBTQ people and other Israeli minorities. The democratic principles and values of the founders of the Jewish state must remain non-negotiable,” he said in a statement.

Among the rabbis signing the letter are Steve Wernick, CEO of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism; Steve Greenberg, executive director of Eshel; Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Debra Newman Kamin, president of the Rabbinical Assembly; Denise Eger, past president of Central Conference of American Rabbis; Sharon Kleinbaum, senior rabbi of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah; and David Saperstein, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for religious freedom.

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