Sparks fly over gay rabbi’s event

Rabbi Steve Greenberg (left) with his partner Steven Goldstein and their daughter.

PLANS for Caulfield Hebrew Congregation (CHC) to host the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi speaking about Jewish homosexuality have alarmed sections of the Orthodox community, with a threat of a demonstration outside the shule during this Friday night’s event.

American Rabbi Steven Greenberg, a fellow of CLAL, an Orthodox Jewish body promoting inclusivity among Jews, will address CHC’s inkr572 group for 23-35-year-olds on “Wrestling With God and Men”.

CHC’s Rabbi Ralph Genende assured shulegoers he would attend the event to moderate the discussions.

“It’s easy to say ‘It’s against the Bible and Judaism, that’s it’. It’s a lot harder to say that to a sincere gay individual, to your son who has come out, or to your sister who is living in a gay relationship,” Rabbi Genende wrote in CHC’s newsletter. “The overwhelming evidence and consensus suggests that homosexuality is not a choice.

“We also need to recognise the vulnerability of young individuals, to affirm their right not to be alone, not to be driven to despair and suicide, but to establish loving relationships,” he stated.

CHC president Anthony Raitman said the invitation continued Rabbi Genende’s policy over many years of “embracing diversity”.

Of the shule’s membership of some 1500, only three congregants have formally complained, he reported.

“I think we have to trust our young people to make their own decisions based on good information,” said Raitman. 

The CHC president drew a distinction between Rabbi Greenberg’s dinner speech to which congregants can choose to go, and a bimah engagement, which would have compelled shulegoers to listen. He said the shule has consulted with the Community Security Group in case a demonstration goes ahead.

David Szental, one of the organisers, reported “an overwhelmingly positive response from our peers who are looking forward to hearing one perspective on a topic seldom addressed in our community. In our view, being exposed to a plurality of perspectives and views about Judaism and halachah is always an enriching and engaging experience”.

But not all CHC congregants agree. Pesach Steinberg, a CHC stalwart of 44 years, who opposes the event, posted on Facebook: “I am not interested in giving a platform to anyone’s private sexual preferences.”

However, Steinberg told The AJN he does not condone a threat to demonstrate outside CHC on the night of Rabbi Greenberg’s event or threats that have been made to urge synagogues to withhold levies from their peak bodies and donors to stop payment on pledges.

The Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) stated: “The prohibitions of Torah are immutable and it is the considered opinion of the RCV that [Rabbi Greenberg’s] unorthodox interpretations of our sacred texts contradict the tenets of Judaism.”

Rabbi Greenberg will also be speaking at Shira shule on June 17 and at the Ark Centre shule on June 20. He will address Yom Limmud, part of Limmud-Oz, in Melbourne on June 18.