Britain’s new Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, says he wants gay Jewish people to feel at “home” in orthodox synagogues, but has sworn out any possibility for same-sex marriages.
Ephraim Mirvis replaced the former chief rabbi Lord Sacks on Sunday, in a ceremony of about 1,400 guests at a North London synagogue.
Lord Sacks’ departure comes at the end of a 22 year tenure as the lead spokesperson for British Jews. During his time spent as Chief Rabbi, he kept an ambiguous stance towards same-sex marriage equality, when in June he 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.
Earlier this month, prior to his departure, Lord Sacks said he was not “heartless” towards the gay community, but that he “did not want to become a voice that would be caught up in a very polarised debate.”
Rabbi Mirvis, however, has recently said although he agrees he wants gay people to feel “comfortable” in orthodox synagogues, he is also vowing to maintain “traditional” values by opting out same-sex marriages.
In a BBC interview ahead of Sunday’s ceremony, he said: “We have a clear Biblical definition of marriage which is the union of one man and one woman and through that we value traditional family life.
“But I would like to reiterate our genuine sentiment to every single Jewish man and woman: you have a home in our synagogue and we will make you feel comfortable regardless of who you are.”
He also insisted he wanted to give women a greater role to play in orthodox Judaism, but declined any possibility for women rabbis.
When asked whether he thought he was “out of step with modern society”, he replied: “Equality is what we strive for but when we talk about equality it is not uniformity.
“When we talk for example of men and women and the opportunity within synagogues and within community life there are clear roles that different people can play and in that way each of us can achieve his or her own amazing potential.”
Chief Rabbi Mirvis’ views are at odds with more progressive rabbis in the Liberal and Reform synagogues who have previously campaigned for same-sex marriage.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, in the liberal-leaning Reform synagogue, urged Rabbi Mirvis to abandon the title of Chief Rabbi and to adopt the title “chief Orthodox rabbi” to better reflect his position.
He said: “The Jonathan Sacks years were marked not only by his prominent contribution to wider society, but also by much internal division and controversy.
“Hope of rapprochement have already been dashed in advance by Rabbi Mirvis stating that he will not enter a non-Orthodox synagogue.
“The refusal to even step inside a Reform synagogue makes it clear that he is in no position to represent all British Jews.
“Rabbi Mirvis should therefore abandon the title of Chief Rabbi – once appropriate, but no longer so – and adopt a more accurate title, such as Senior Orthodox Rabbi.”
Following the Chief Rabbi’s ceremony on Sunday, Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted:
— UK Prime Minister (@Number10gov) September 1, 2013
South African-born Mirvis, 56, will be the 11th holder of the office in more than 300 years. Throughout this period, Britian has had more than 50 prime ministers.