Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks: I am not heartless, I understand gay people’s fears

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The outgoing Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, recently spoke in an interview about his reason for abstaining from the same-sex marriage debate earlier this year, and said he understands the fears that many gay people have.

In June, Lord Sacks abstained in a House of Lords vote on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, which came after many had urged him to back the bill’s passing.

Speaking to the Telegraph this week, Lord Sacks said: “I have fully understood the fear that gays have of prejudice and persecution.

“I fully understood, and I mention this pretty much every year, that gays, not just Jews, were sent to the concentration camps, and I did not want to become a voice that would be caught up in a very polarised debate and be seen to be heartless towards the gays in our own community.”

He added: “I am not heartless towards them, I really seek to understand them and they seek to understand where I am coming from.”

The Chief Rabbi’s words echo previous defenses made earlier this year, and last year, in which he rejected a suggestion that he had “come out strongly” against same-sex unions.

He said: “I’ve not come out strongly, I’ve simply said that in Judaism we don’t do it.”

When asked by the Telegraph to expand on his position, Lord Sacks replied: “There is a Talmudic principle that says, ‘Just as it is a duty to say that which will be heard, so it is a duty not to say that which won’t be heard’.

“In other words there is such a thing as a sense of timing, of moment. And I actually felt that this was not a moment when our particular message could be heard.”

Lord Sacks also said he was “confident” that the Government provided “cast iron guarantees” that religious freedom would not be curtailed by the legislation, which eventually received Royal Assent last month. He added that any further intervention risked hurting the gay community.

On the topic of marriage itself, Lord Sacks also said that he believes the Government is not doing enough, and that a tax system should also be recognised.

He added that he blames the “decline” of the institute of marriage on the 1960s, and a generation which failed to hand on their own values to their children.

“It seems to me that the breakdown of marriage seemed like a tremendous liberation. We were there in that revolution and at the time it seemed to be ‘all you need is love’ and nothing else. We live to see, 50 years later, the full cost of that, of an entirely new kind of child poverty that has a lot to do with single parent families.

“No one wants to lay a burden of guilt on anyone who bought into the cultural attitudes of the 60s but the fact is their kids are suffering.”

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

In June, former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore criticised the Chief Rabbi for not voting against the legislation, claiming that “opposing gay marriage now is as brave as being openly gay was in 1970”.

Benjamin Cohen, the founder of PinkNews, also wrote in May for Lord Sacks to reconsider his non-committal stance towards to gay issues.

He wrote: “Lord Sacks’ comments are both encouraging and disappointing, leaving more questions than answers and probably reflect the contradictory approach to human sexuality adopted by the United Synagogue.”

He added: “Before deciding, he could visit my kosher home, dine with the gay Jewish community and learn how the issues have changed in the 20 years since he last met with the community. I don’t think this could change Orthodoxy’s approach to sexuality, but it might give his effective role as the voice of Judaism in Parliament a new perspective.”