Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks: I’ve not come out strongly against same-sex unions, but we don’t do them

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Speaking to Sir David Frost, the Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, has rejected a suggestion that he had “come out strongly” against same-sex unions.

Lord Sacks will have a vote on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill as a cross-bench life peer sitting in the House of Lords.

Following this week’s third reading in the House of Commons, peers will start debating the bill on 3 June.

Last year, in its official response to the government’s consultation on equal marriage for England and Wales, the office of the Chief Rabbi stated that Jewish Law prohibited “the practice of homosexuality,” and it argued against all same-sex unions, and same-sex marriages.

The document submitted by the London Beth Din (Court of the Chief Rabbi) said in its introduction that marriage is, “by definition in Jewish (Biblical) Law… the union of a male and a female.”

Speaking to journalist and broadcaster Sir David Frost at a public event at the Barbican Centre in central London, Lord Sacks rejected a suggestion that he had “come out strongly” against same-sex unions.

He stated: “I’ve not come out strongly, I’ve simply said that in Judaism we don’t do it. I know that we have Jewish gays and lesbians who feel shunned by the community and I simply will not be a part of that.

“I know that homosexuals were sent to the concentration camps, as were Jews, and therefore I will not allow any intolerance towards them in our synagogues. I sat down 20 years ago with Jewish gays and lesbians and the encounter was one of the most moving I’ve ever had. They said ‘we know you can’t give your blessing to our way of life and we’re not asking you to, but we do ask for you not to be insensitive, not to have your rabbis be unnecessarily hurtful and to have access to pastoral care.’

“I thought it was a wonderful, wonderful encounter and I’ve cherished that relationship ever since. We have strong ideas about sexual orientation in Judaism – ideas that are more than 3,000-years-old – but we do not seek to impose those ideas on society.”

Lords Sacks added: “When you cannot buy into every single one of the elements of the faith, buy into those that you can buy into. Therefore we welcome everyone at the US, we believe in holding the door open and leaving the judgement to God, who is far better at it than we are.”

“His comments are encouraging,” said the publisher of Benjamin Cohen. “But the idea that he does not seek to impose his views on society doesn’t tally with his opposition to same-sex marriage. It will be interesting to see how he votes when it reaches the House of Lords in two weeks.”

The Movement for Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism officially support equal marriage.