Chief Rabbi supports LGBT+ rights in unprecedented move
The UK’s Chief Rabbi has spoken out in support of LGBT+ Jews being accepted by Orthodox communities as part of a new guide for religious schools on how to help queer students.
“The Wellbeing of LGBT+ Pupils: A Guide for Orthodox Jewish Schools,” created by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis with the help of Jewish LGBT+ group KeshetUK, is an unprecedented step towards LGBT+ equality in Orthodox Judaism.
The Chief Rabbi urged Orthodox synagogues to welcome LGBT+ people into their communities when he took on the prestigious position in 2013, and reiterated this stance in 2016, after the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.
But he has now gone further than any other Chief Rabbi by co-creating guidance for Orthodox schools on how to use language responsibly, prevent bullying, help children when they come out and educate parents and teachers on queer issues.
In his foreword to the document, the Chief Rabbi writes that ignoring queer issues in the Jewish community is a slight to God and your children, before challenging the infamous Torah passage used to justify homophobia.
“Orthodox schools have understandably found it difficult to engage with LGBT+ issues,” said Rabbi Mirvis.
“As challenging as the task might be, and it is exceptionally challenging, I believe that failure to address it at all amounts to an abrogation of our responsibility to the Almighty and to our children.
“We are, of course, aware of the Torah’s issurim (prohibitions) here, including Vayikra/Leviticus 18:22, but when homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying is carried out with ‘justifications’ from Jewish texts, a major chilul Hashem (desecration of God’s name) is caused.
“We must be ever-mindful of the mitzva to “Love your neighbour as yourself.'”
He added that “within our schools there are students whose lives are in danger, both spiritually and physically.
“As a community, we have a collective chiyuv (obligation) to address this issue together.”
The guide, which was created over the course of nine months, also explains to schools what the current rules and regulations are and how to follow them, and includes a glossary of LGBT+ terms.
Rabbi Mirvis hailed the document as “an extremely significant milestone” which he said “will have a real and lasting impact on reducing harm to LGBT+ Jews across the Orthodox Jewish community.
“Our children need to know that at school, at home and in the community, they will be loved and protected regardless of their sexuality or gender identity.”
Dalia Fleming, executive director of KeshetUK, said her organisation was proud of the guidance, adding that “KeshetUK now looks forward to working with schools, rabbis and educators across Jewish communities, supporting them to implement this guide so they can ensure their LGBT+ students reach their potential, free from homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, discrimination and fear.”
It is understood that a backlash is anticipated from some within the Orthodox community.
But the guidance has already been introduced and explained to several major Jewish schools, including JFS, Kantor King Solomon High School (KKSHS), Hasmonean, Yavneh College and Immanuel College.
Yavneh headteacher Spencer Lewis told PinkNews that his school welcomed the document.
“I was very happy to receive the guidance and will be discussing it with colleagues over the coming weeks; I think it will be really helpful,” he said.
Rachel Fink, the headteacher of JFS, said her school “welcomes this guidance for schools and through staff training with KeshetUK we will be able to implement the recommendations fully.
“The guide will contribute to supporting the way in which JFS is developing wellbeing for all students, including LGBT+ pupils.”
The head teacher of KKSHS, Hannele Reece, told PinkNews: “We welcome the document and guidance sent to all Orthodox Jewish schools.
“At Kantor King Solomon High School we pride ourselves on our diversity and have had programmes in place for a number of years now to promote tolerance and acceptance within our community.
More from PinkNews
“We do not tolerate discrimination in any form. The school has worked closely with Keshet UK in the past and they are regular visitors during our annual LGBT+ week.”
The other schools mentioned have also been contacted for comment.
In March, it was revealed that staff at Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ school in north-east London’s Stamford Hill had blacked out the word “homosexuals” several times in a history book’s account of Nazi persecution.
Last year, North London Jewish community centre JW3 faced a boycott from strictly Orthodox rabbis because it was running gay-inclusive sessions.
This article was amended after publication to include comments from the head teachers of JFS and KKSHS.