Dutch Rabbi Suspended For Signing ’Gays Can Be Cured’ Document

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Saturday January 21, 2012

The Orthodox Jewish community (NIHS) of Amsterdam recently suspended the chief rabbi of Amsterdam for co-signing papers that stated that gays could be "cured" and "treated" for their sexual orientation, reported the Jerusalem Post in a Jan. 19 article.

Rabbi Ralbag signed a document called, "Declaration on the Torah Approach to Homosexuality," which says "authority figures" should "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."

Ralbag, born in the U.S., was made the chief rabbi of Amsterdam nearly seven years ago.

In an interview the rabbi explained that he co-signed the document because it "represented the Torah viewpoint."

"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."

"Christian as well as Jewish religious leaders have expressed their position on this issue. It is their task to do so," he added.

When asked how he felt about his suspension, Ralbag said that community was denying his right to express "the halachic standpoint." He also defended the document and said that it does not blatantly call homosexuality a disease.

"The community regrets that the chief rabbi co-signed this document and distances itself from this view," said Ronnie Eisenmann, chairperson of the NIHS board. He also said that the board has come to the decision to temporarily suspend Ralbag until he "travels to Amsterdam to discuss the issue."

Unfortunately, several rabbis in the U.S. have the same anti-gay views as Ralbag.

Last December more than 100 Orthodox rabbis signed a statement opposing gay marriage because it went against the Torah's values, the Jewish Daily Forward reported.

The rabbis signed the statement because an Orthodox-ordained rabbi and gay activist, Steven Greenberg, married a same-sex couple in November.

"We, as rabbis from a broad spectrum of the Orthodox community around the world, wish to correct the false impression that an Orthodox-approved same-gender wedding took place," the statement said. "By definition, a union that is not sanctioned by Torah law is not an Orthodox wedding, and by definition a person who conducts such a ceremony is not an Orthodox rabbi."

The Netherlands is one of the most forward thinking countries in the world when it comes to LGBT issues and rights as it was the first nation to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001.

In 1993 the Dutch parliament passed the Equal Rights Law, which included sexual orientation. The legislation protected the gays against discrimination in the workplace, housing and a number of other sectors. Additionally, married gay couples were granted the right to adopt children in 2005.

The suspension of Ralberg is all the more extraordinary when one considers the disconnect between the Orthodox -- and especially ultra-Orthodox -- communities in the United States and in liberal democracies of Western Europe like the Netherlands. The point was brought home forcefully by Esther Voet, former editor of a prominent Dutch Jewish weekly and the current head of an organization that monitors anti-Semitism in the kingdom.

She told the Jerusalem Post that "there was a cultural gap between the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of Brooklyn and the relatively liberal Dutch Orthodox community."