Jewish gays fight for admittance to Jewish Council in Vic | ABC Religion Report

October 30, 2013

Jewish gays fight for admittance to Jewish Council in Vic

Wednesday 19 May 1999 8:30AM

This week on The Religion Report.

The Pope’s visit to Romania begins to heal the thousand year rift with the Orthodox.

The religiously backed conservative coalition in Israel has been defeated at a general election.

And, the newly elected world leader of the Salvation Army declares the movement should be more flexible about its rigid non-sacramentalism.

Transcript

The Religion Report 19th May, 1999

John Cleary: Today is about fundamental change, from Melbourne to Romania.
SFX: POPE IN ROMANIA

Last week, the Pope made an historic trip to Bucharest, the first time in a thousand years the Roman Pontiff has walked Orthodox streets as a religious leader.

Also today, the Salvation Army has elected a new world leader who signals fundamental change in this worldwide religious and charitable movement; Salvationists may soon be taking the sacraments.

But first to the pressure of change closer to home, and the issue of homosexuality in religion is once again the cause of a deepening split, this time in the Jewish Communities Council of Victoria.

Orthodox members of the Council are maintaining their rage over moves by a gay Jewish organisation called ALEPH Melbourne, to join. While ALEPH has so far failed in its bid to be an affiliate member, there are renewed threats from Orthodox groups that they’ll quit in protest is ALEPH is accepted.

And today, a provocative invitation for the JCCV, (Jewish Communities Council) President, Dr Phillip Bliss, to step down over his very support of ALEPH.

Toni Hassan spoke to Rabbi Ronald Lubofsky and the head of ALEPH, Michael Barnett, and prepared this report.

Ronald Lubofsky: The JCCV was very seriously threatened by this. There are a number of organisations that would have possibly seceded from the board had this been successful.

Michael Barnett: These are the sorts of attitudes that really do the most damage to people who are having troubles dealing with their sexuality. That’s why we have such a high youth suicide rate.

Ronald Lubofsky: There are certain things which they don’t like talking about, but they have done now because it’s forced into the open and is sort of they want to enter into Jewish schools, into sex education. And this is something which will ring the alarm bells with Jewish parents.

Michael Barnett: There’s nothing whatsoever in our organisation’s objectives or ideals to say that we are going to infiltrate or we’re going to convert or we’re going to subvert or whatever. We’re just a very straightforward support group and social organisation, we don’t have a hidden agenda.

Toni Hassan: Some of the high emotion echoed at a recent meeting of the Jewish Communities Council of Victoria. On one side is ALEPH Melbourne, a group whose objective is to provide assistance, support and companionship for gay and bisexual Jewish men. Michael Barnett is the group’s President.

Michael Barnett: The objection to our application was that a homosexual or gay organisation is contravening Jewish law because homosexual practice is one of the forbidden acts in Jewish law. In Leviticus 18, 22 it says -

Toni Hassan: Well that’s commonly argued. How do you get around that?

Michael Barnett: It’s not an issue for me. I mean I’m not a religious Jew and if I was, it wouldn’t bother me either way I don’t think, because that’s me as a person doing what I want to do. But that doesn’t come in to our organisation. Our organisation isn’t set up for the practice of homosexuality, it’s for the support of homosexuals, which is a slightly different issue, very subtle.

Toni Hassan: And do you think the Rabbis, the conservative Rabbis who rejected your proposal, do not see that distinction?

Michael Barnett: Oh well, they may see it, but they choose to ignore it I believe. They are very stubborn people, they stick to the letter of their law and it may be a guise for homophobia, it may not be. But either way it has no bearing on the JCCV, it’s not an issue as far as I’m concerned, or our members are concerned.

Toni Hassan: Ronald Lubofsky is Rabbi Emeritus at the St Kilda Synagogue. For him the inclusion of ALEPH amounts to tampering with the Ten Commandments.

Ronald Lubofsky: The core of the philosophy, the religious philosophy, the political philosophy of being Jewish, is in the written word. The Christians call it the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures. Some would reduce it to the Ten Commandments etc. and that excludes the notion of homosexuality, and as a consequence it’s a contradiction in terms. You simply cannot consider the two ideals as being compatible. So true enough, the members of this group are Jewish and it may well be that they are secular in their intent, but I’m afraid that as a group, as an organisation, they cannot claim parity as individuals absolutely. This is a point which I and others have made, that Jewish gay people, lesbian people, they can join synagogues, they can join the organisations which are represented under the umbrella of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, they can be the Presidents of those organisations, but as an organisation, as an ideology, they’re not compatible.

Toni Hassan: Doesn’t the JCCV, the Council in Victoria, recognise sporting organisations, many voluntary organisations of that nature?

Ronald Lubofsky: Yes, what you’re saying in actual fact is a point of view which many espouse, but there is simply no comparison. You’re talking here of fundamentals of life, you’re not dealing here with a sporting organisation where people make a choice to do this or to do that. These are individuals who do not produce families, these are individuals who perform sexually in a way which is aberrant, to say the least, with regard to Judaism. It is something which runs counter to the fundamentals of Judaism, that is the family unit. It’s not simply playing a sport.

Toni Hassan: What’s really got under the noses of Orthodox groups affiliated with the Jewish Communities Council of Victoria is the public support given to ALEPH Melbourne by the Council’s President, Dr Phillip Bliss. Without his support, the matter wouldn’t not have seen the light of day. Rabbi Lubofsky.

Ronald Lubofsky: If he followed the Westminster rules, he should resign, because it was something that he espoused, it was a motion that he himself moved. He now indicates he’s prepared to take it further. He’s going to endanger this organisation as a result of his monocular vision.

Toni Hassan: Are you calling on him to resign?

Ronald Lubofsky: No, I’m not, I’m just saying that he should. That would be a normal procedure in any other organisation. If there’s something which the President wants his organisation to follow and he is prepared to go as far as he was, knowing how controversial the whole thing was, and that it could well have his organisation disintegrate, and he was roundly defeated under those circumstances I’m surprised that he’s still there.

[unrelated content deleted]

Thanks to Toni Hassan and John Diamond for production.


The JCCV Puppet Show 2013

April 27, 2013

The Jewish Community Council of Victoria is trying to convince people they’re against homophobia.  Yet they take bucket-loads of money from numerous member organisations that are deeply intolerant of homosexuality.

Here’s my response to their GLBTI Statement from Nina Bassat AM.  Click on the image to enlarge.

JCCV puppet show 2013


Bnei Akiva’s Machane Keshet (Camp Rainbow) advertised outside Leibler Yavneh College

December 22, 2012

I was driving along Balaclava Road after lunch today and a billboard outside Leibler Yavneh College caught my attention, no doubt a testament to its effectiveness.

20121222 Bnei Akiva Machane Keshet billboard outside Leibler-YavnehIn particular I was drawn to the stylised rainbow, the word “keshet” (Hebrew for rainbow), the message underneath (“Show your true colours”) and that it was affixed to the fence of Yavneh College.

I parked my car so I could get a closer look at the billboard and I saw it was for the summer youth camp run by Bnei Akiva.

My initial reaction to seeing the billboard was that it was for the Keshet Australia program but I quickly realised that this wasn’t the case.  The reason I thought it might have been for Keshet Australia is because they are “developing an array of engaging education campaigns and initiatives for, and in partnership with, Jewish communal organisations; especially schools, youth movements, aged care-homes and synagogues”.

Optimistically, it would be ideal if Keshet Australia was associated with Bnei Akiva Australia.  The kids who participate in those programs definitely need the education about sexual orientation and gender identity that Keshet Australia intends to empower leaders in Jewish organisations with.

A collaboration between Bnei Akiva, Keshet Australia and Yavneh College would help safeguard the welfare of the most important assets in the Jewish community, the children.  Intolerance of homosexuality contributes to poor mental health outcomes, self-harm and suicide.  Ignoring the reality of this situation compounds the problem, only to the community’s detriment.

I actually had a quick look to see if there was any material online that Bnei Akiva had made available to help understand sexual orientation or homosexuality.  I only found one page on Bnei Akiva UK’s web-site discussing “controversial topics” that had a rough scan of some questions about homosexuality from a religious perspective.  Sadly, there were no answers, just questions.

I urge the educators in the Jewish community to work with organisations like Keshet Australia and Safe Schools Coalition Victoria and invest in the health and happiness of community that really does show its true colours.


Ethical Eggs | The Stirrer

October 21, 2012

Ethical Eggs is the second piece I’ve had published on The Stirrer.


Ethical Eggs

Recently it came to my attention, by way of a Sydney-based Jewish gay mailing list, that an observant Orthodox Jewish couple (married and nominally heterosexual) were unable to conceive conventionally due to a medical condition.  However they were advised that conception could be achieved with the assistance of a donated egg.

To accommodate their strict religious requirements the egg donor ideally must be Jewish and must be, and remain, unmarried.  The writer of the post felt that if the egg donor were to be a lesbian, this would rule out the likelihood that she would ever marry (a man), thereby meeting the aforementioned prerequisite that the donor be now, and remain, unmarried.

By the time I had digested the gist of this somewhat unusual request I was starting to feel a little uneasy.  Not that someone should donate an egg.  In itself that was fine.  What bothered me initially is that it was considered acceptable to use a lesbian woman as an egg donor simply because she would effectively be guaranteed never to get married (under Jewish law).

In 2012 in Australia this is a correct assumption.  Lesbian couples cannot currently marry in Australia, and if they get married overseas their marriages are not legally recognised here.  In any case, Orthodox Judaism does not currently recognise same-sex marriages anywhere in the world, so even if they could get married under a civil jurisdiction, they would not be considered married under Orthodox Jewish law.

What this doesn’t take into account is that at some time in the future lesbian couples may be able to get civilly married in Australia.  Given this possibility, it raises questions as to whether said lesbian egg donor, unmarried at the time of donation, would still be considered unmarried in the eyes of the Jewish law if she were to tie the knot with a same-sex partner under civil law.  Whilst this is not a concern of mine, it may need to be a consideration for the prospective parents.

What is of greater concern to me is the welfare of any child born from the gift of an egg to this couple by an unmarried lesbian donor.  Specifically, I would be concerned that this child might be raised in a manner that did not take into account that it may grow up to be same-sex attracted.  Given that Orthodox Jewish couples of strong religious observance do not typically consider homosexuality acceptable, the likelihood of such an inflexible upbringing is high.

Should the child turn out to be other than heterosexual, and assuming it was nonetheless expected to conform to heterosexual norms, there is an increased chance of negative mental health outcomes, self-harm and even suicide.  Current Australian scientific research1 shows that these scenarios are prevalent in religious environments intolerant of homosexuality.

The ethical dilemma for the egg donor, as I see it, is whether she should donate an egg to a couple, with the full knowledge that any child born of her egg and raised by this couple will potentially suffer due to the religious attitudes of the parents, if it turns out to be same-sex attracted.

How would the egg donor feel if this child experienced a life of misery because it was forced to conform to heterosexual norms?  Would that be an acceptable outcome to the donor?

Ultimately this decision is one for the egg donor to make.  Being party to the creation of life is not a responsibility to be taken lightly, and hopefully the donor would take this situation into account, along with any other considerations she may have.  Needless to say, all parties would want the best outcome for the child.  I just hope all parties understand the consequences of their actions and attitudes.

1. Refer Suicide Prevention Australia – GLBT Position Statement (PDF here)


The dichotomy of the Jewish leadership when it comes to Hitler and homophobia

August 19, 2012

A guaranteed way to find out if the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and the Anti-Defamation Commission are still in business is to report a rogue Hitler reference to them and measure how many milliseconds it takes for them to issue a media release and demand an apology by the perpetrator.  Take for example this recent example involving Macquarie Bank.

Yet these very organisations have moral constipation when rabbis from their community, such as Chaim Ingram or Shimon Cowen, to name two of the more obnoxious, say that gays should consider taking their lives for being homosexual, or make claims that we can be cured of our homosexuality, as if it’s an illness.

Imagine for one minute if a Muslim or Christian cleric were to say that Jews should consider taking their lives for their religious beliefs or because their way of life was considered an illness.  It has been proven by their past actions that the ECAJ and the ADC, along with other organisations such as the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria and every other Jewish organisation in the country would be screaming livid.   Yet stunned silence when it comes to these anti-gay statements by Jewish “leaders”.

I hold in complete contempt every single person and organisation complicit in the silence that is being perpetrated when these vile rabbis are not howled down.  Why are people so scared to speak out against these perpetrators of hate?  What illness has affected this community when they are more outraged at statements of hate and intolerance against them than those from their midst?


Kosher Rabbis of Australia Party

July 25, 2012

In the lead up to the 2013 Australian federal election two prominent organisations in Australia’s Orthodox Jewish community have joined up to create a new religious force in Australia’s political sphere.  After extensive consultation and introspection the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia (ORA) and Kosher Australia (KA) have teamed up to form the Kosher Rabbis of Australia Party.

The party platform is founded on the complete kosherification of Australia, from the perspective of the Orthodox interpretation of Jewish law.  At present Kosher Australia provides certification for products that are acceptable under Jewish dietary laws (kashrut).  However should the party win a seat in government it will propose legislation to have all food and drinks labelled “Kosher”, “Mostly Kosher” or “Non Kosher (but we’ll certify kosher for an additional fee)“.  The level of certification will be based on a sliding scale of fees.  Halal certification will be permitted but only under the revised name “Kosher Halal”, and of course will be subject to an additional “co-Semitic” fee.

The party also proposes legislation to counter any form of activity that falls outside that acceptable to its strict Orthodox Jewish standards.  This would include a ban on both trading and driving over the Jewish Sabbath and Jewish holy days, converting churches, mosques and other non-Jewish prayer halls into up-market residential developments, cancelling Christmas and Easter, making the sale of pig meat illegal, compulsory circumcision for all boys, modest attire for women, banning masturbation, strict alignment with Catholic clergy child-abuse cover-up tactics, and enforcing a no-sex before marriage policy (with a special emphasis of the latter being a pre-requisite for all members of parliament from the Prime Minister’s office down).

The ethos of the party demands a culture free of hypocrisy in Orthodox Judaism.  It feels that if it is compelled to decry the legalisation of marriage between perverted couplings of homosexuals (and lesbians), it must also decry all activities in society that come in conflict with its unforgiving religious dogma.  Party head (and Chef de Douche) Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, together with party Campaign and Propaganda Manager Rabbi Chaim Ingram, say there’s no room for double standards when it comes to interfering in the lives of Australian citizens and in particular vulnerable minority groups.

Look out for a complete list of candidates and policies on the party’s web site http://www.krap.org.au, soon to be launched.  And remember the campaign slogan: “Making our Australia more Kosher for you, one snip at a time”.


Chaim Ingram defends the Torah at the expense of his community

July 20, 2012

In the article “How to get rid of the hyphen” (AJN 20/07/12; p24) Chaim Ingram writes:

As a result, [non-Orthodoxy] has redefined who is a Jew and now it seeks to redefine what is a sacred Jewish partnership. Because make no mistake, accepting homosexual marriage and solemnising homosexual union in a sanctuary – which no other faith community in Australia has done – has succeeded in driving a greater wedge than ever between us. Non-Orthodoxy embraces it while Orthodoxy sees it as a sin for which one must be prepared to give up one’s life if necessary.

I have been outspoken in the Jewish community for well over a decade now on the need for understanding and acceptance of people who are same-sex attracted.  What drives me is the desire to prevent others from harm and suffering when confronted with ignorant and repressive attitudes toward sexuality.

Chaim Ingram should ask himself why people like me are challenging the timeless religious beliefs he clings on to so desperately.  I can assure him I am not doing it to take his religion away from him.  The reality is that the outdated attitudes toward human sexuality that he defends have been proven to drive up rates of suicide and self-harm in same-sex attracted youth in religious communities.

Those not bound to an immutable interpretation on the Torah are realizing they must be proactive in empowering themselves and their children with modern attitudes toward human sexuality through programs such as Safe Schools Coalition Victoria and Keshet.  Ultimately they will be raising happier and healthier children.

One only has to take a look at the extensive list of references on the drs4equality.com web site to understand why an increasing number of Australian medical practitioners are putting their name to marriage equality and programs that increase acceptance and integration of same-sex attracted people into communities.

It’s the overwhelming list of medical and mental health reasons that are driving this attitudinal change in thinking.  The longer Chaim Ingram holds onto his outdated values the more harm he does to his community.


20 Jul 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition

How to get rid of the hyphen

In THE AJN on July 6, ‘postdenominational’ Rabbi Gary Robuck issued a passionate plea for Jews of all persuasions to ‘deal kindly with one another’. From his Orthodox perspective, Rabbi Chaim Ingram responds.

Love for one’s fellow Jew must transcend denominational boundaries.

UNDOUBTEDLY sincere as North Shore Temple Emanuel Rabbi Gary Robuck’s cri de coeur is, I fear he, like most who write on this topic, is skirting the main issue. To illustrate: let me quote a well-known story from the Talmud concerning the formidable Beruria, wife of Rabbi Meir. Certain sectarian Jews (possibly Sadducees) were harassing the rabbi constantly. In his exasperation, he wanted to imprecate them in his prayers. However, his wife Beruria persuaded him that the Psalmist (104:35) teaches that one’s thoughts ought to be directed not against the offender but at the offence. “Rather pray,” she said. “They will see the error of their ways and re-evaluate!”

It is not for any Jew to judge another. Only God may. A rabbi may feel he must excoriate values and ideologies that he believes are anathema to Torah. But he must never excoriate the practitioners of those values and ideologies who he feels are in error.

I have tried always to stay true to this principle. I try not to deal unkindly with anyone. Members of Reform congregations have sat happily at my Shabbat table. All are welcome at my Torah classes regardless of their denomination. In one of my communities in England, the president of the local Progressive congregation was a regular attender – and we had many spirited and spiritual discussions without sacrificing our friendship. A former spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel Woollahra was welcomed to a shiur given by the late Rabbi Shmuel Roth of Adass. Some of my colleagues have hosted Reform spiritual leaders for Shabbat at their homes. Love for one’s fellow Jew must transcend denominational boundaries.

However, when it comes to accepting ideologies that conflict with one’s own, one has to ask the following question: What am I trying to protect? And is what I am trying to protect important enough to risk conflict or not?

Let us take an example. A difference of opinion arises between a newly married couple about whether to purchase pine or mahogany furniture for their living room. It goes without saying (or it should) that, regardless of the strength and validity of each one’s preference, this should not be an issue that causes even a ripple of domestic disharmony. Both partners must avoid conflict at all costs rather than dig in their heels over such an issue.

However, what if the marital conflict is over a fundamental principle of how to educate their children? One partner is a staunch advocate of faith-based, traditional schooling for their child, while the other considers such schooling indoctrination and wants his child to mix freely with children of all faiths. It is utterly unrealistic for a family counsellor to tell the couple to “speak nicely to each other” and everything will work out. It won’t! There is a fundamental conflict of parenting ideology here, which ought to have been uncovered years earlier before they tied the knot and will almost certainly destabilise the marriage. Neither will back down because each believes he or she is acting in the best interest of the child they both are trying to protect.

For the Orthodox Jew, the God-given Torah is that child. He will not say or do anything that might put Torah at risk. He certainly will not recognise any ideology that, as he sees it, seeks to destroy its soul.

No Orthodox rabbi can accept the validity of an ideology that conflicts with basic principles of Jewish faith – belief in a unique, omnipotent, omniscient, incorporeal, indivisible, accessible, loving, just God; belief in the divinity, the eternal validity and the essential unchangeability of the written and oral Torah; belief in a messianic golden future where “the world will be perfected under the dominion of the Almighty”; and belief in a world beyond the grave.

The Sadducees denied the last of these principles. Christianity denied elements of the first and the second. And sadly, non-Orthodoxy has denied the second and indeed remains equivocal on the others! As a result, it has redefined who is a Jew and now it seeks to redefine what is a sacred Jewish partnership. Because make no mistake, accepting homosexual marriage and solemnising homosexual union in a sanctuary – which no other faith community in Australia has done – has succeeded in driving a greater wedge than ever between us. Non-Orthodoxy embraces it while Orthodoxy sees it as a sin for which one must be prepared to give up one’s life if necessary.

I believe it is for those Jewish leaders outside Orthodoxy to now make the following honest assessment: How important is ideology to them? How important are their liberal principles? For hard-core Reform leaders, one would imagine: pretty important. For self-confessed “post-denominational” Jews as Rabbi Robuck refreshingly describes himself, one might think: less so.

Therefore, I issue a challenge to him and to those of his colleagues in Australia who think like him. If ideology to you is truly not as important as communal unity, rejoin the mainstream. Rehitch your isolated, static carriages to the train that is going forward. Because make no mistake – and recent articles in The AJN attest to it – Orthodoxy, particularly on the right, is growing while nonOrthodoxy is dwindling.

If you are concerned about rightward trends, form a concerted voice on the left. Be a dissenting voice even, if you must. But let yours be a voice like Rabbi Yehoshua’s in the Talmud who, though he passionately held his colleague to be wrong regarding the date of Yom Kippur in a given year, acquiesced for the sake of unity.

Let’s all be post-denominational Jews. Orthodox was a word coined by the first generation of Reform secessionists. Before that there were only Jews. Let’s restore the status quo. But let it be a status quo based on the values that pertained before the 19th-century divisions set in.

Let us indeed deal kindly with one another. But let non-Orthodoxy acknowledge that, in the words of Billy Joel, “we didn’t start the fire!”

Rabbi Chaim Ingram is honorary rabbi of the Sydney Jewish Centre on Ageing, honorary secretary of the Rabbinical Council of NSW and director of the Kol Shira Learning Centre.


Double standards much, Nina?

July 17, 2012

On May 1 2012 Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) President Nina Bassat appeared on JOY 94.9FM with Doug Pollard and Rod Swift.  The interview is available online here and the podcast can be downloaded here.

During this interview Doug Pollard asked if there had been any developments arising from the report the JCCV’s GLBT Reference Group put out in November 2011.  Nina’s response (at 4:20) was:

“We’re not a body that can actually bring in change on the ground.  It’s up to our affiliates to do that.”

This response needs to be considered in relation to the JCCV’s Youth Alcohol Program that has been running for a few years now.  I include some statements from various sources relating to the YAP:

“Last year, the JCCV also set up the Youth Alcohol Project and has been working with our schools to combat issues like teenage binge drinking, something to which Jewish kids are certainly not immune.” — Malki Rose on Galus Australis

“The JCCV has responded strongly to information that Jewish youth as young as eleven and twelve are drinking alcohol in excessive amounts, Jewish teenage binge drinking appears to be rising and young Jewish females are drinking alcohol at a rate equal to the general teenage community.” — John Searle (via the JCCV)

“This month the JCCV Youth Alcohol Project Officer Debbie Zauder hosted Focus Groups for Year 6 Jewish School students and another for parents of Year 6 Jewish School students. The Focus Group aims were to inform the Youth Alcohol Project and the curriculum that the JCCV will deliver to the Jewish community in its forthcoming educational program on alcohol. Participants in both Focus Groups commented on the social, peer and in an increasing fashion parental pressure that Jewish youth experience to drink alcohol.” — Debbie Zauder (via AJN)

In addition, there have been a number of stories about the JCCV’s YAP in the Jewish print media recently.  I attach one such story from June 22, 2012 at the end.  In particular it’s worth noting this paragraph:

Debbie Zauder, JCCV Youth Alcohol Project (YAP) manager, explained that the DAW 2012 theme, “Look After Your Mind”, fits perfectly with the YAP education programs for Jewish schools. The programs offer students and parents the chance to hear experts in the alcohol and drug field discuss the short and long term effects alcohol has on the adolescent brain.

It seems, to me at least, that there’s a significant disconnect between the words that Nina Bassat said on JOY and what her organisation is actually doing.  A more honest answer that Nina could have given Doug would be something along the lines of:

“The JCCV can’t actually be seen to be promoting homosexuality for fear of backlash from the Orthodox bloc of organisations that effectively control the JCCV.  My hands are tied and as much as I would like to see intolerant behaviour toward homosexuality stamped out in the Jewish community, just like we are actively intolerant of anti-Semitism in the wider community, I have a job as President to keep and don’t want to risk a vote of no confidence that would see me being asked to step down.  And that’s why you have seen no outcomes initiated by the JCCV further to the report.”

Whilst I’m on the topic of Orthodox, Nina Bassat went on in the interview to say (at 10:20):

“I think the Orthodox community is very open to discussion. … I don’t think our community is closed.”

To which I ask Nina why the JCCV has shut down all discussion about the submission that the Rabbinic Council of Victoria made to the Australian Senate stating their opposition to marriage equality.  This submission goes against the recommendations of the JCCV’s report and is clearly an embarrassment to the JCCV.

Double standards much?


22 Jun 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition
AJN STAFF

Community unites to topple teen tipple

“Recent research proves alcohol … does permanently affect the development … of the adolescent brain.”
Debbie Zauder
YAP manager

JEWISH community leaders have joined together to show their support for this week’s Drug Action Week (DAW).

The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV), Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV), David Southwick MP and Chevra Hatzolah have all spoken out in support of the initiative from the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia (AODCA).

Debbie Zauder, JCCV Youth Alcohol Project (YAP) manager, explained that the DAW 2012 theme, “Look After Your Mind”, fits perfectly with the YAP education programs for Jewish schools. The programs offer students and parents the chance to hear experts in the alcohol and drug field discuss the short and long term effects alcohol has on the adolescent brain.

“Recent research absolutely proves that alcohol, especially binge drinking which is popular with Jewish teenagers, does permanently affect the development and condition of the adolescent brain,” Zauder said.

Nina Bassat, president of JCCV, said the media coverage of a Purim party in Melbourne earlier this year, in which several teens were treated for drunkenness, should serve as a stark reminder of the perils of binge drinking among our youths. model appropriate drinking behaviour and to fully discuss with their children their family’s values and expectations in relation to alcohol,” she said.

Rabbi Yaakov Glasman, RCV president, commented that “Excellent work has been done in educating school students through the YAP program, but clearly the message hasn’t got through to many older teens and adolescents.”

Member for Caulfield David Southwick said the state government was taking appropriate steps to educate parents.

“Thanks to the state government’s leadership here in Victoria we have legislation which makes it crystal clear that parents are responsible for ensuring young people do not engage in unsafe drinking practices. Parents can now face fines up to $7167 for allowing their kid’s friends to drink in their homes without parental consent, an act that was legal under previous laws.”


Australian Masorti rabbi Adam Stein speaks out against Dr Miriam Grossman

June 30, 2012

I applaud Rabbi Adam Stein of the Melbourne Conservative/Masorti Synagogue Kehilat Nitzan for taking this responsible and appropriate stance in relation to a communication about tomorrow’s talk at Glen Eira College by Dr Miriam Grossman.


From: [...]@kehilatnitzan.org.au
Sent: Thursday, 28 June 2012 12:24 PM
To: [...]
Subject: News sheet follow up regarding Sex Education Event

Dear Kehilat Nitzan members,

I wish to apologise for sending out a notice about an event called “Sex Education – Protecting Our Children’s Well-Being.” The shule was sent an email asking us to promote the event (as was every shule in the community, it seems), and I should have read the announcement more carefully. If I had, I would have noticed that the sponsor is the Australian Family Association, which is devoted to denying marriage and even civil union rights to loving gay and lesbian couples. I would have noticed that, contrary to what the title might imply, Miriam Grossman seems to be a crusader against sex education in schools. After a couple of hours of research late last night, I found her to be in agreement with the chair of the program, Shimon Cowen, who calls homosexuality “an abnormality, which as far as possible should be treated.” It seems this program may be part of Dr. Cowen’s recent anti-gay screeds found in the past few months throughout many issues of the Australian Jewish News and even the MX paper found at train stations, attacking the Safe School Coalition Victoria for its approach to preventing bullying and sex education, at least in part because they teach that being gay is OK. In Dr Cowen’s view, it is not and should be fixed. (This so called “Reparative Therapy,” by the way, has been debunked as damaging in study after study. Even the study he cites time and again was retracted by its own author. See the five letters to the AJN a couple of weeks ago by psychologists and psychiatrists attacking Cowen for his damaging views.

Miriam Grossman obviously does not like the way sex education is run in America, and perhaps Australian schools. You may agree or disagree with her, and may even decide to go to the event. I’ll be doing a consecration at a cemetery at the time; otherwise, I might go myself to hear what she has to say.

The email we received and sent out stated “The following Public Address has been approved by the Rabbinical Council of Victoria and Rabbis of all denominations” The Rabbinical Council of Victoria contains only Orthodox rabbis, and I would be surprised to hear of any non-Orthodox rabbis approving of this talk.

Please accept our apology for sending out a notice for a program which does not in any way reflect the Worldwide Masorti Movement and especially not the values of Kehilat Nitzan. For an approach to sexuality, and homosexuality, which better reflect a Masorti/Conservative view of halachah to which I adhere, I suggest the following resources:

  • The teshuvah (Jewish legal responsum) from 2006, by Rabbis Dorff, Nevins, and Reisner titled HOMOSEXUALITY, HUMAN DIGNITY & HALAKHAH (click on the title to download)
  • The section on sexuality in the wonderful new volume from our Movement called The Observant Life. The Kindle version for your Kindle, iPad, Smartphone, or computer, can be purchased here.

Please be in touch if you have any thoughts or questions on these or other topics.

Shabbat Shalom,

Adam Stein


Our Rabbi

Adam SteinRabbi Adam Stein became the rabbi at Kehilat Nitzan in August 2011. He received his ordination from The Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University in Los Angeles. He also earned a Master of Arts in Education from AJU. Before coming to Kehilat Nitzan, Rabbi Stein was the Assistant Rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom in Kansas City, Missouri.

His journey to the rabbinate began in high school and in college at the University of California, San Diego, when he spent his junior year at Hebrew University and summers at Camp Ramah and the Brandeis Collegiate Institute. Following college, he studied in Israel at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies.

In addition to Judaism, Rabbi Stein counts among his great loves his wife Tamar, his parents, sister, extended family and… Macintosh computers.

Office Hours

Rabbi Stein is in and out of the office meeting with congregants, at funerals, making hospital visits, and so on. He will be available in the office (Level 1, 230 Balaclava Road, Caulfield Junction) on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons between 2 pm and 4 pm if you want to meet with him. You can call him at 0422 674 455 or send an email.



AJN Watch confirmed gone soft

March 8, 2012

Yesterday I said AJN Watch had the bloggers equivalent of erectile dysfunction.  In a post just up today they’ve confirmed it:

The simple reason that we have stayed away from this semi-annual “gay moan and gripe” festivities is because it has become boring. Boring for us and boring to our readers. Zehu! Nothing else.

I don’t for one minute believe this codswallop.  Their masthead states quite clearly:

We spotlight errors, expose misrepresentations and vigorously advocate our community’s positions.

If they had an ounce of credibility they’d be vigorously advocating their community’s positions, but nope, they’re can’t be bothered.

Soft shmocks.

(P.S.  AJN Watch accuses gays of being “half-naked, sexually-disturbed weirdos” and “pink-frilly underpants-wearers”.  Their religious community is the one rife with the hideous child sex-abuse scandals, police investigations and cover-ups at Yeshivah College.  Not to mention the men walking around the streets in hats made of possums, wearing funny white stockings and curly side-locks, and their women covered up, not unlike the burqa-clad Muslim women, simply because their lecherous men can’t control their sexual urges.  They’re not in a position to be calling gays weirdos, especially with this sort of shmutz and weirdness in their community.)


Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen – turning harmony into division

February 20, 2012

[SOURCE]

Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen had a goal of bringing harmony to this world:

Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen received a PhD in social philosophy from Monash University, Melbourne and rabbinic ordination in the Kollel Menachem Lubavitch, Melbourne, of which he was Programme Director, and from the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Rabbi S.Y. Cohen. He also founded the Institute for Judaism and Civilization in 1998, helping to bring together the two worlds of religious tradition and secular society in discussion and, ultimately, harmony.

He completely missed the mark in achieving harmony.  In fact he’s succeeded in creating more social division and unrest than he probably ever have imagined he was capable of.

In just one week Cowen’s intolerant and bigoted views on homosexuality have led him to be shunned by the leadership of the Australian Jewish community and have caused Monash University, his Alma Mater, to distance themselves from him.

Time to rethink your strategy Rabbi?


History making statement issued by Australia’s Jewish peak body against ‘respected’ Orthodox Rabbi

February 15, 2012

ECAJ logoLast Friday, February 10 2012, news came to me by way of Queer community journalist Doug Pollard that Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen had published a paper via the virulently anti-gay Australian Family Association, slamming homosexuality and along with it the Safe Schools Coalition Victoria.  The SSCV web site describes itself as “Dedicated to supporting gender and sexual diversity in schools.”

Doug Pollard has a personal interest in the welfare of SSCV as he was instrumental in helping the program get off the ground.  I have a personal interest in fighting homophobic intolerance in the Jewish community.  So without delay I wrote to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) and asked they intercede in this unpleasant matter, as they had made a commitment to countering hatred against GLBT people.  Together with Doug Pollard and also Rob Mitchell of the RJM Trust we had a dialogue with the ECAJ, explaining our concerns and reasons why a prompt response from the ECAJ would be beneficial.

On Monday, February 13 2012 Peter Wertheim, Executive Director of the ECAJ, issued a statement indicating the rabbi’s views were not representative of those of Australian Jewish community and in doing so, distanced themselves from his toxic viewpoints.  To the best of my knowledge this single acts sets a precedent for the Australian Jewish community (and perhaps even globally), as there has never been an organisation representing, in part, the Orthodox Jewish community that has spoken out publicly against an Orthodox Jewish rabbi.

I have to praise Peter Wertheim and the ECAJ for their professionalism, sensitivity and swift action in handling the concern presented to them.  They have told the community that it is unacceptable to vilify homosexuals and attack organisations and programs that have been established to prevent young people from bullies, especially bullies of the likes of Rabbi Cowen and his cohorts.

In saying that though, there is ample room for improvement in the position taken by the ECAJ.  Their cautiously worded statement lacked the necessary gravitas to tell the Orthodox Rabbinate that they must never again speak ill of homosexuality, that they must never refer to it as an illness, that they must never offer ‘reparative therapy’ as a ‘cure’ for homosexuality and that they must actually accept that homosexuality is a normal and healthy expression of human sexuality.

I have presented the ECAJ with a statement each from the Australian Psychological Society and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists.  These statements are absolutely unambiguous in their message and leave no room for uncertainty as to what these two professional bodies believe is the best approach to the issue of reparative therapy.  Yet the ECAJ has refused to publicly acknowledge these two statements.  Why?  It surprises me that an organisation that has access to a plethora of psychologists and psychiatrists in the Jewish community didn’t source one of each to help them understand and convey these plain language statements.

The presence of Professor Kim Rubenstein on the ECAJ executive adds the necessary relevant academic and scientific qualifications to the repertoire of the ECAJ, as she is the convenor of the Gender Institute at the Australian National University, and is well-connected on these matters.  With her talents at hand, and access to a wealth of resources through the ANU, the ECAJ currently has no reason for saying “but it’s outside our area of expertise”.

I need to remind myself that the Jewish community, at its official level, is excellent at fighting hate from beyond its borders.  However it is far from having perfected that art when the hate emanates from within.  What is rewarding though is seeing that it is trying hard to get there.


Australian Jewish Community Security and the invisible terrorist

February 3, 2012

Two stories published on January 31 2012 came to my attention this week: “Safety at all costs” (The Age) and “The Jewish Press won’t be silenced” (The Jewish Press).  After reading these stories it’s clear to me that the greater harm toward members of the Australian Jewish community comes not from outside it’s high security walls, but rather, from within.

The Age story talks about the tens of millions of dollars the Australian Jewish community spends on security each year and questions the merit of such a large investment:

… the inconvenient truth was that the Jewish community had not faced a terror attack in Australia for 30 years, since the Hakoah Club and Israeli consulate in Sydney were bombed on the same day.

The Jewish Press story, coming from a US-based perspective but nevertheless one that is transplantable to the local context, advises:

A significant number of suicide attempts are committed by boys from not just religious but rabbinic homes — because they thought they were homosexual and had no place in the Orthodox world they grew up in, even if they had never acted on those impulses.

If the Jewish community is serious about preventing harm to those within its ranks, which I believe it is, it should, as a matter of priority and urgency, rethink its approach to community security and how best it invests its millions of dollars.  It should be addressing the real and alarming problem of youth suicide, ubiquitous amongst religious communities that are intolerant of homosexuality.  Only then, when all traces of the harm have been eradicated, should the focus be placed on the less evident issues affecting the safety of the community.


Two reasons why the ECAJ must vocalise its support for marriage equality

December 15, 2011

On December 3 2011 the Australian Labor Party voted in favour of supporting marriage equality.  This was promptly followed by a statement of support from the Union for Progressive Judaism and simultaneously a statement of opposition from the Orthodox-based Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia.  J-Wire then reported a message from Jewish Community supporting Marriage Equality (J4ME) along with a statement from the ECAJ:

Peter Wertheim, the executive Director of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, told J-Wire that his organisation had no policy in place relating to same sex marriage.

The ECAJ recently passed a motion that calls for “mutual respect for the human dignity of all members of the [Jewish] community” and also acknowledges “that there is still much work to be done to remove intolerance of and unlawful discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons in the Jewish community and the wider Australian community”.  This motion appears on the ECAJ Platform.

Peter Wertheim has recently been promoting via email the fact that Israel is the most GLBT-friendly place in the Middle East and that it is the only safe place for GLBT people to live openly and out in the Middle East.  Indeed, the Israeli situation for GLBT people is mostly good.  In some cases Israel is actually more advanced than Australia in affording GLBT people human rights.  One such case is that Israel recognises foreign marriages of same-sex couples whereas Australia has chosen to legislate against such recognition.

I wish to make two points regarding the recent support from the ECAJ for GLBT people and the promotion of Israel as a relatively safe GLBT space.

Firstly, the human rights and equality that GLBT people in Israel have been afforded have come about through changes to civil law and have for the most part been independent of (Orthodox) Jewish law or “halacha”.  If halacha was the law of the land in Israel, GLBT people would have no equality or recognition in any form.  This is evidenced by the aforementioned ORA statement and the general attitude of Jewish Orthodoxy to homosexuality.  This religious intolerance of homosexuality is not dissimilar to that which exists in the Islamic states that surround Israel.

It is the secular and progressive attitudes toward equality and human rights that has made Israel the beacon of tolerance and acceptance of GLBT people in the Middle East that it is.  With ongoing work in this area, such as that around surrogacy and parenting (here and here), Israel will become an increasingly proud oasis of acceptance for GLBT people and will no doubt be further promoted as such by Zionist advocates.

Secondly, with the ECAJ calling for respect of GLBT people in the community and the acknowledgement that there is “unlawful discrimination” against GLBT people, such as in the case of the Australian Federal Marriage Act, I find it hard to understand that the ECAJ chooses to remain silent on marriage equality.

In fact, this silence betrays the ECAJ’s platform on Social Inclusion, where it states:

1. Social Inclusion
This Council:
1.1 NOTES that it is the vision of the ECAJ to create and support a community in which all Australians, including all Jewish Australians:
(a) feel valued and their cultural differences are respected;
(b) have a fair opportunity to meet their material and other needs; and
(c) are equally empowered as citizens to participate in and contribute to all facets of life in the wider community;
1.2 NOTES that as Australians we take great pride in what we see as the uniquely Australian values of social egalitarianism, “mateship” and a “fair go”;
1.3 REAFFIRMS our profound commitment on behalf of the Australian Jewish community to the dignity of difference, gender equality, and a belief in the equality of humankind;

Here the ECAJ is calling for “equal empowerment”, “social egalitarianism” and “a belief in the equality of humankind”.  To my understanding, marriage equality fits all of these three concepts.  To clarify, egalitarianism is defined as “affirming, promoting, or characterized by belief in equal political, economic, social, and civil rights for all people.”

I believe the ECAJ does want marriage equality to be legislated, but has not yet taken the time to think about the implications of not vocalising its support for it.  The ECAJ is an organisation that has a genuine concern for the human rights of all people in every nation on this planet.  Further, it is inherent in the Jewish psyche to understand what deprivation of human rights can lead to.

I sincerely urge the ECAJ to consider its stance on marriage equality in general and speak out in favour of removing the legislated discrimination that all GLBT Australians face when it comes to recognition of our relationships.  It is without a doubt in the ECAJ’s best interests to advocate marriage equality, as doing so will have the double reward of making Australia a better place for all its citizens, and simultaneously making the beacon of light in Israel, the country that it is so proud of, shine even brighter.


Transgressing the GLBT community

November 8, 2011

[SOURCE]

Over recent days I’ve found myself contemplating what the GLBT community is, or is supposed to be.  I live in Melbourne, and base my experience of “GLBT community” from my personal experience of “it” here.  It’s many things to many people.  To some it’s everything.  To others, it’s a “lifestyle” they’d rather not participate in.  Yet for many of us, it’s an integral part of our lives, and something that for the most part enriches our experience of being not “straight”, in one way or another.

So why have I been pondering this?  Something has happened that was for me so radical to my understanding of “GLBT community” that it made me begin to question if this amorphous notion of cohesiveness was simply something in my imagination, or if there was actually something going desperately wrong.  What am I talking about?  Specifically, it involves a well-known transgender activist signing her name, as a representative of Transgender Victoria, to a document that opens with the statement:

The reference group recognised that Jewish Halacha prohibits gay sexual behaviour and, according to orthodox rabbinic interpretation, lesbian sexual behaviour.

That a transgender activist had signed her name to a document making this statement troubles me deeply.  This sends a message of approval, tacit or otherwise, that the aforementioned religious prohibitions against homosexual and bisexual behaviour cannot be challenged in any way.  It shows that the transgender activist in question supports the notion that she is working under a framework of religious intolerance of homosexuality and bisexuality, and that in order to be accepted onto the reference group that this document was formed out of, there can be no dissent on this underlying principle.

The statement in question is misleading, divisive and dishonest whilst the “Jewish Halacha” being referred to is not qualified as being “Orthodox” and whilst there is no mention of a different and accepting interpretation of homosexuality and bisexuality by the Progressive and Conservative Jewish communities.

I sincerely believe the term “Sold Out” applies here.  There is no plausible excuse that could convince me that a representative of an organisation whose mission statement begins with the words “To achieve justice and equity for all transgender people” could put their hand on their heart and say that acknowledging immutable religious intolerance of homosexuality and bisexuality doesn’t sit uncomfortably with them, in the slightest.

Sure, homosexuality and bisexuality are independent of transgender issues, but in the context of GLBT issues and the GLBT community they are inextricably linked.  The bigotry that GLBT people experience is shared collectively.  The suicide rates our youth suffer are shared collectively.  The hurt and intolerance are shared collectively.  Hurt one of us and you hurt all of us.  Sit on a panel of people who accept an understanding that gay people are sinners and you are furthering the collective hate, bigotry and intolerance against all of us.

The actions of this renegade transgender activist who has allowed her principles to be steamrolled by a homophobic Jewish community council has left me staggered and in shock.  If this is what GLBT has become then I want nothing to do with the T, and will have to make do with a diluted GLB community, a community that is less, a community that is not as rich and as fulfilling as I believed it previously was.

However, perhaps this is not what GLBT has become, and perhaps there is simply a person whose actions and beliefs are misguided and has not understood that by allowing herself to be blinkered by the hate and intolerance of some religious bigots, she has let the team down, and that she can at any stage simply say she’s not going to put up with the religious intolerance and the hateful guidelines of the reference group in question and return to the community that has supported her and the values she previously stood for.

Ultimately this is about reducing harm, saving lives and making better of a woefully bad situation.  Suicide and mental health issues amongst trans and same-sex attracted people are very real.  Any intolerance of us, of our relationships, of our community is unacceptable and there is no excuse for it.  Supporting people who are intolerant of us is just as inexcusable.

Only time will tell whether this transgender activist will understand the harm she has done to her cause, and to ours collectively.  It is possible to repair the damage, and I hope that it happens soon.


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