Chief Sephardi Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar spoke out harshly against Reform Jews and the LGBT community in an interview with Israel Hayom's weekend supplement this week. He went as far as to call Reform Jews "evil" and homosexuals "a cult of abomination," prompting LGBT community leaders to launch complaints with the police for incitement.
Amar's frustration with the Reform community follows clashes over plans to establish an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall complex.
"There aren't many Reform [Jews] in Israel," Amar said. "In recent years they have been importing it, this culture. What they are doing is incitement. It is not a matter of personal distress; it's politics. I try to speak kindly, but I will not refrain from talking about Reform [Jews] or the abomination. I will not change what is written in the Torah."
Q: Are you using that language? Calling them evil?
"I am saying that it is written in the verse [Numbers ], 'Get away from the tents of these wicked men.'"
Speaking about the LGBT community, he said, "When it started in Tel Aviv, a woman who couldn't stop crying came to us at the rabbinical court. She told us that she was a Holocaust survivor and that she has one son, and now he has gone off with that cult, got into that club, and now she is crying."
Q: She called it a cult?
"No, I am saying cult. It is a cult of abomination. It is clear that it is abomination. The Torah punishes it with death. This is in the first line of serious sins. They say 'tendency,' 'perversion' -- nonsense. There is lust, and a person can overcome it if he wants, as with any other kind of lust. This is one of the most forbidden types of lust. The most grave.
"When they killed the girl, Shira Banki [at the 2015 Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade], they held a "shloshim" [memorial ceremony marking 30 days from her death]. They asked me to come and I did not agree. I wrote them a letter, and I expressed deep sorrow and the most strongly worded opposition to what that man [the murderer] did. On the other hand, [I told them], I call on you, if you want to spiritually lift a person's soul, to accept the task of repairing your evil ways. This is something that is forbidden by the Torah. I made it a condition for them to read aloud the entirety of the letter. They wanted to read only half. I did not agree."
Amar added that he would have been happy to sit privately with the family for a conversation, but that attending the memorial service would have been a "desecration of God."
Asked to explain his choice, he added, "They are taking advantage of it [the memorial service]. On the one hand, they are condemning the act of murder, which is completely correct; but on the other hand, they are increasing their [the LGBT community's] power. They want to show that everyone is with them, that even rabbis attended. I call on them, in warm and friendly language, to leave their bad path. The Torah has forbidden it [homosexuality] and calls it an abomination."
Q: There are many rabbis now trying to listen to the LGBT community.
"There is no such thin as having understanding or tolerance for this. ... When I have spoken about this in the past, secular people called to thank me. People don't want it. They want their children to get married and have children."
Pressed about his approach being perceived as divisive, Amar stressed that he "cannot change the Torah."
Following their publication in Israel Hayom, Amar's remarks faced a wave of condemnation from political and religious figures throughout the country.
Oded Fried, formerly the head of Aguda -- The Israeli National LGBT Task Force, is signed on a police complaint against Amar. "We cannot sit idly by in the face of forceful, wild incitement like this," Fried said. "I call on law enforcement officials and on elected officials, who have the power to stop the next murder to act without hesitation and to [punish] anyone who calls for harm to people on the basis of their sexual orientation or their gender identity to the full extent of the law."
Fried also responded to Amar's comments directly, saying, "Rabbi Amar should keep his dark opinions to himself rather than lend a hand to incitement against the LGBT community," he said. "You cannot condemn the murder of an innocent girl at a gay pride parade solely in the name of obligation, and at the same time strengthen and encourage the ignorance and hatred that are the source of this harsh violence against the LGBT community."
Israel Religious Action Center Director Rabbi Noa Sattath said, "Once again, Rabbi Amar proves that he is not worthy of his title as chief rabbi of Jerusalem. His comments, which are nothing more than baseless hatred peppered with ignorance, harm Israelis and Jews who pay his state salary. Rabbi Amar has fouled his mouth ahead of the holy Sabbath. His comments distance communities further and further away from the dark Judaism that he represents."
The Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance responded to Amar in a statement, saying, "In cooperation with the Jerusalem Municipality, we put together a rally marking the "shloshim" [30 days since the murder] of Shira Banki. Rabbi Amar was invited to speak as a leader of public opinion and as someone who is of the same religion that the despicable murderer claimed to be sanctifying with his act. We regretted that the rabbi decided not to participate."
Representatives from religious LGBT organizations Hevruta and Bat-Kol called Amar's remarks "extremely hurtful," adding that they could cause self-hate and real damage to young men and women.
Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon posted a response to the comments on Facebook: "Rabbi Amar can hide behind the Torah as much as he wants, but we hear his darkness, not the Torah. The time has come to stop funding his salary. Rabbi Amar receives money from the State of Israel. Is he claiming that we need to execute homosexuals? Does he also recommend stoning, as the Torah instructs?"
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