Amsterdam chief rabbi suspended for gay stance

Rabbi temporarily removed for signing document saying homosexuality can be "healed”; Orthodox say gays "welcome" in community.

Gay pride in Israel 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Gay pride in Israel 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
AMSTERDAM – The Orthodox Jewish community of Amsterdam suspended its US-born chief rabbi on Tuesday for cosigning a declaration which said homosexuality was a “treatable” inclination.
Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that he found it “scandalous that a chief rabbi cannot state the Torah viewpoint for his community without being penalized.”
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Ralbag, who was made chief rabbi of Amsterdam in 2005, was temporarily relieved of his duties on Tuesday by the board of the Orthodox Jewish community (NIHS) after he signed a document describing homosexuality as an inclination which “can be modified and healed.”
The document, titled “Declaration On The Torah Approach To Homosexuality” ( called on “authority figures” to “guide same-sex strugglers towards a path of healing and overcoming their inclinations.”
“Rabbi Ralbag’s signature may give the impression the Orthodox Jewish community of Amsterdam shares his view,” a press release by the NIHS read. “This is absolutely untrue. Homosexuals are welcome at the Amsterdam Jewish community.”
In an interview with the Post, Ralbag said that what he co-signed represented the “Torah viewpoint.” He added: “It’s really irrelevant if homosexual inclination or attraction is hereditary or acquired through the environment – there is a debate on this issue among psychologists.
If one wants to live a Torah life, then one can change it. That is what the declaration was about.”
He also said that the context in which the declaration was made is the American elections and the same-sex issue being debated in the US.
“Christian as well as Jewish religious leaders have expressed their position on this issue. It is their task to do so.”
The suspension, according to Ralbag, is “intolerant on the part of the Jewish community – it is to deny the community’s rabbi the right to express the halachic standpoint.
This is unheard of.” He added that the declaration never explicitly called homosexuality a “disease,” as some Dutch media reported.
Ronnie Eisenmann, chairperson of the NIHS board, said: “The community regrets that the chief rabbi co-signed this document and distances itself from this view.” He also offered “heartfelt apologies to anyone who may have been hurt by the rabbi’s signature.”
“The board has decided to (temporarily) relieve the chief rabbi from his duties, in any case until he travels to Amsterdam to discuss the issue.”
Esther Voet, former editor-in-chief of Dutch Jewish weekly Nieuw Israëlietisch Weekblad, supported the decision to relieve Ralbag of his duties.
“I think it’s the only right position because the policies of Rabbi Ralbag have come repeatedly under scrutiny for a while now.”
Voet, currently vice-director of CIDI - the Dutch Jewish community’s watchdog on anti-Semitism – said there was a cultural gap between the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of Brooklyn and the relatively liberal Dutch Orthodox community. Following Ralbag's co-signature, her organization on Tuesday called on Ralbag to step down as chief rabbi.
“The Dutch Jewish neshama [soul] is unique. We have special rules, like waiting only one hour before eating meat and dairy. We need a chief rabbi who is aware of our traditions and that’s something you cannot fly in two times a year,” she said.