Britain’s former chief rabbi has caused a stir here by saying he would favor genetic engineering as a way of eradicating homosexuality.
Lord Jakobovits’s views come amid a heated debate among rabbis on the implications of new scientific evidence pointing to a “homosexual gene” or, at any rate, to specific genetic regions that may play a role in determining sexual orientation.
While stressing that his statements were “tentative” and “did not have the status of a ruling,” Jakobovits told the London Jewish Chronicle: “If we could, by some form of genetic engineering, eliminate those trends, we should,” adding “so long as it is done for a therapeutic purpose.”
But the former chief rabbi ruled out abortion in this context.
“I cannot see any justification for destroying a potential life. One would have to train a child to help him overcome his (homosexual) predisposition,” he said.
In a letter to The Times of London, Jakobovits had earlier compared homosexual practices to stealing, adultery and murder, writing that if it could be proved that these were hereditary traits, this would not make them any more tolerable.
His letter angered non-Orthodox rabbis as well as the Jewish gay and lesbian community.
Rabbi Stephen Howard, chairman of the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues’ Rabbinic Conference, described Jakobovits’ letter as “rather disgusting.
“I find it reprehensible to bracket homosexuality with the examples he gave,” he said.
Howard added that he would consider it a “very serious matter” if somebody were to endorse genetic engineering as a way of wiping out homosexuality.
Jack Gilbert, secretary of the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Helpline, was equally critical. He said, “Such an idea is morally reprehensible. As Jews, we must know that such tampering, except in the most extreme cases, is very dangerous.”
But Rabbi Nisson Shulman, who holds the medical ethics portfolio in the chief rabbi’s Cabinet, said he agreed with Jakobovits that “tendentious homosexual feelings had to be overcome.”
But he added that genetic engineering “can only be used for healing purposes, and not for selective human breeding. Homosexuality would fall under the latter.”
A spokesman for the current chief rabbi of Britain, Jonathan Sacks, said the rabbi was “greatly concerned” with these issues and would be having a full consultation with his Cabinet in September.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.