Jewish LGBT groups have reacted with fury after a group of Orthodox rabbis in London have urged their members to boycott the capital’s Jewish culture centre after it held events celebrating LGBT Jews.
It comes after seven Orthodox leaders, who wrote an open letter saying “a red line has been crossed,” argued that the LGBT events were “in total contradiction to Orthodox Judaism and Halacha [Jewish law]”.
They include Rabbi Aaron Bassous of Beit Hamedrash Knesset Yechezkel in Golders Green, who said praise for the LGBT revolution by popular Sephardi Rabbi Joseph Dweck in May was “poisonous”.
In the letter, written on Friday, the seven harangued the Jewish cultural centre for not being religious enough, saying it “has never promoted the upkeep of Halacha, the observance of Mitzvot and religious commitment, and as far as we are aware it does not provide any conference or seminars on religious education and Torah learning.”
The rabbis also referenced a chapter and verse in Leviticus, before concluding: “Members should distance themselves fully from JW3, its activities and services, and avoid using this centre.”
Among the other signatories were Rabbi Yisroel Greenberg of Munks shul, in Golders Green, Rabbi Shimon Winegarten of Bridge Lane Beth Hamedrash in Temple Fortune and Rabbi Mordechai Fhima of Anshei Shalom in St John’s Wood.
While the rabbis do not list LGBT events as a specific reason for the boycott, they call the programme “toievah” – meaning ‘abomination,’ adding: “We are of the strong opinion that a red line has been crossed in launching campaigns and initiatives that promote lifestyles and behaviours forbidden and condemned by the Torah.”
Their letter follows a recent event, called ‘GayW3,’ which celebrated 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain, posters for which were defaced at the time, with the word ‘shame’ scrawled across them.
This week LGBT representatives hit back. Dave Shaw, a trustee of LGBT umbrella group Keshet UK, said JW3 had “helped to create a world where no-one has to choose between their Jewish and LGBT+ identities,” and criticised the Orthodox signatories for causing divisions between Jews.
“Attacks on individuals or organisations that support LGBT+ inclusion only alienate LGBT+ Jews and allies, many of whom already feel marginalised,” he said. “Chief Rabbi Mirvis has clearly stated there should be no place for homophobia in Jewish communities. There must be no place for cultural boycotts either.”
Rabbi Danny Rich, Senior Rabbi of Liberal Judaism, said: “You don’t know whether to be ashamed, embarrassed or angry that seven teachers of Torah encourage prejudice and bigotry against the Jewish LGBTQI community and its allies.”
He added: “Notwithstanding the particular attack on a vulnerable section of the community. This action fails to understand that contemporary Jewish culture is wider than a certain medieval interpretation of it. I know the Leviticus passages and using them in this way seems a clear incitement to intolerance and violence.”
Stephen Laughton, a gay Jew whose play ‘RUN’ featured as part of the centre’s ‘GayW3’ festival, said of the rabbis’ intervention: “It reflects badly on the Judaism I love. The Judaism I live my life by, am inspired by… I am mortified by these bigoted voices that continually ooze out of some corners of our faith.”
He added: “Whatever happened to v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha [love your friend like you love yourself]? Whatever happened to chesed [kindness]?”
Alison Walsh, Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians, said: “In being there for my children, to do all that I can so that they can be happy and well, it means a lot to me that they should always feel welcomed by the Jewish community. Events like GayW3 are so important here.”
She added: “I felt hurt by the words of stigma and rejection that I read. Thankfully I have met enough Orthodox Rabbis whose heart is full of love and humility in reaching out to provide a safe and inclusive space to know that this is not the voice of the whole community.”
Josh Jackman, a Jewish journalist at PinkNews, said the letter was “an abomination,” adding: “These are rabbis – people look to them for guidance, to set an example and be the shining lights in their community. By sending this letter, which seeks to bury and shame the LGBT section of the community, they have let down every one of their congregants.”
Jackman said young LGBT people “already have enough of a struggle to be recognised and accepted” in their shuls and the wider Jewish community, and that the rabbis’ letter had just made their lives harder.
“The fact they condemn LGBT-friendly events as a ‘total contradiction to Orthodox Judaism’ shows how poorly they understand both the LGBT community and Judaism,” he said.