A high-ranking Israeli rabbi is under fire after saying that the Jewish punishment for homosexuality must be death because the Torah commands it. It comes a year after an ultra-Orthodox man stabbed several people during a Jerusalem gay pride parade.
Shlomo Amar, who previously served as the country’s Sephardi chief rabbi, told Israel Hayom newspaper that homosexuality is an “abomination,” and that Jewish law advocates the death penalty for those who choose to engage in same sex relationships.
“I call it a cult. It’s a cult of abominations, it is obvious. It’s an abomination,” he said. “The Torah says it is punishable by death. It is in the first rank of severe offenses… They say ‘leaning,’ ‘perversion’ — this is nonsense. There is lust, and a person can overcome it if they want to, like all lusts. This is among the most forbidden lusts, the most severe.”
When one of the victims died after being stabbed last year, Amar wrote a letter condemning the killing, while also telling the victim’s family that “if you want to elate her soul to the heavens… repent from your evil ways.”
What about at least treating the other side with respect? Amar is against that, too:
He also came out against rabbis trying to build bridges with the LGBTQ community: “There is no such thing, to show understanding or tolerance for this. A simple truth needs to be stated — there is a severe prohibition, and there is no allowance for it.”
The good news in all this is the near-universal pushback from other leaders. LGBT activists along with Knesset members Yael German and Meirav Michaeli have called for his resignation, while other criticism went even deeper:
“Rabbi Amar proves once again that he is unworthy of the title of chief rabbi of the city of Jerusalem,” [Rabbi Noa Satat, manager of the Reform Center for Religion and State] said. “His comments, which constitute nothing more than unjustified hatred seasoned with ignorance, hurt Israeli men and women, Jewish men and women who finance his salary, paid for by public funds. Rabbi Amar is cursing just before Shabbat, his comments push more and more people from the medieval Judaism he represents.”
As of now, Amar has not apologized or disavowed his comments — there’s no reason to think he will — but last week, the walkway to his office was decorated in rainbow colors as part of a peaceful protest.
It’s a good sign when the words of a religious authority like Amar carry little weight with people who know better.