Few will underestimate the scale and impact of the Chief Rabbi’s new guidance to promote the wellbeing of LGBT+ pupils in Jewish Orthodox schools.
Such an initiative has never been attempted anywhere, and for good reason. You need only think of the furore kicked up around seemingly innocuous comments made by Senior Rabbi Joseph Dweck of the S&P Sephardi Community last year, or the abusive messages targeted at JW3 for profiling the contribution of gay Jews, to understand why.
Let’s be clear: Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis could have shied away from full involvement in this guide. He could have said something bland and left it more or less alone. But he didn’t.
Alongside KeshetUK, he recognised the hurt felt daily by young Jews who are bullied and isolated at school, whether that’s because they identify differently, or because they have LGBT+ parents. These children are left to self-harm or worse by an educational establishment woefully ill-equipped to deal with a child’s development in terms of sexual and gender identity in an Orthodox Jewish setting.
That’s the tragedy he chose not to ignore.
By biting the bullet no one else wanted to bite, the Chief Rabbi may save lives by recognising those many choose to shun. He should be applauded.
No, he is not suddenly saying that after thousands of years Judaism is now fine with the idea of non-heterosexual relations or gender fluidity, nor is he preaching that we should all promote the LGBT+ lifestyle.
He is saying that Jews, like all people, come in different forms. They can be gay, bisexual, straight, or anywhere in between, and some relate better to a different gender. He’s saying: Let’s support them. Let’s stamp out bullying. Let’s talk about it. When you think about it, it’s not revolutionary.
Yet for a community which still believes – in some quarters – that gays can be “converted,” or that trans Jews can be re-educated, it is a huge step. Let’s take that step together. Let’s have that conversation about pastoral support within a Halachic framework.
And let’s not let any more young lives end because we didn’t help.
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