Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The State of Orthodox Jewry in the UK

Rabbi Mordechai Rose (TOI)
Is the handwriting on the wall in the UK? There are those who say it quite likely is. The issue that precipitates that question (and that response) is Britain’s educational arm called Ofsted. They have laid down the law with respect to teaching British values to all of their youth. While that might be an appropriate demand for for any government to insist upon - the devil lies  the details. Meaning – what happens when those values clash with one’s religious values?

That is a tricky question that affects not only British Jews but Jews living in any country where that might happen. That question has been raised right here in America. Where civil rights and religious rights came into conflict with respect to a variety of issues involving homosexuality and religion. Most recently in the case where a Christian baker refused to bake a wedding cake for 2 homosexual men who were at the time about to get married to each other. In that case – one of those two parties were going to have their rights violated – depending on how the courts decided the case.

Although I have my own view of which rights should be the priority in that case, it is beyond the scope of this post. The issue here is how far a government may go to legislate its values if they are radically different than ones religious values.

This is being played out in real time in the UK (United Kingdom). But there are several aspects to this that each need to be evaluated separately. I do not believe one can look at it in the aggregate.

There is an educational component and a social component. Let me begin with the educational component. I am inclined to agree with Ofsted that each child needs to be well educated via a core secular curriculum. That will enable them to rely less on welfare programs by giving them a better chance at procuring higher income jobs. It will also make them better and more participatory citizens.  To that extent I heartily endorse the government’s right – and perhaps even their obligation - to assure their students get that kind of education.  

There are some complaints about teaching science and other courses that might conflict with religious beliefs – such as The Theory of Evolution. I have absolutely no problem with that provided that God is not explicitly excluded from the picture. It should be up to each school how to teach it. (Not getting into details.) 

As long as Evolution  is not used as a substitute for God as the Creator it should not be a problem. The religious grounding that religious schools provide (or should provide) will leave that belief system intact. I studied it in college and it did not alter my belief in the Creator at all. Nor did it affect my fellow Orthodox students at the time who took that Zoology course with me. We are all still believers and are all still observant.

Then there is the social aspect. That’s where things get dicey. The issue is how to treat homosexuality in an enlightened 21st century.

My views on that subject have been expressed here for what seems like a countless number of times. Having a same sex attraction is not a sin. Acting upon it in ways that the Torah forbids is a sin. A serious one.

Based on this view and on the strong evidence that sexual orientation cannot be changed, it is obvious to me that homosexuals should be treated with the same dignity as heterosexuals. There should never be any discrimination based on that. Nor should anyone speculate about what goes on in the privacy of one’s own home. That is no one’s business but God’s. But at he same time we must recognize what is and isn’t sinful behavior and we may not waver on that any more than we can waver on what constitutes sinful behavior on Shabbos.

The question is, what is it that Ofsted is demanding? Are they demanding that homosexuals and others with non traditional sexual identities  (the so called LGBT community) be treated with dignity? If that is the case, I support them.

But if as has been suggested by some in the Charedi world in the UK, Ofsted is demanding that we teach our children that being gay and living a lifestyle that the Torah forbids - is no different than living a lifestyle that the Torah permits and even encourages - I part company with them. Big time.

It seems from a declaration made by Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis that the former is the case. He has come out with guidelines for religious schools that Ofsted seems to be satisfied with. Guidelines that are pretty much in line with my views n the subject.

And yet it seems that England’s Charedi rabbis are unhappy with Rabbi Mirvis. Rabbi Mordechai Rose has written an 8 page analysis of why that is the case. Among his problems are:

1)  Rabbi Mirvis coordinated those guidelines with KeshetUK, a gay rights group that supports celebrating a gay lifestyle.

2) It will lead some to embrace a gay lifestyle that they otherwise would not.

3) It misrepresents the Torah approach to homosexuality which he says is a complex subject.

I could not disagree more. That Rabbi Mirvis worked with KeshetUK should not be held against him nor against the product of that collaboration. Just because they have a different agenda that ours doesn’t mean there can’t be areas of compromise that both groups can be satisfied with. That is what I believe happened. Rabbi Mirvis should not  be criticized for that. He should be praised for it.

That this will lead some to a gay lifestyle who is not actually gay is pure nonsense. And if one is gay, this will not be what precipitates sinful behavior.

And although I agree that this is a complex subject, I do not think Rabbi Mirvis misrepresents the ‘true Torah approach’. I think treating all human beings with dignity and respect regardless of their their sexual orientation is exactly the true Torah approach.

Where does that leave Britain’s Orthodox Jews? I think if they follow Rabbi Mirvis guidelines they will be OK. At the same time, I tend to agree that England’s progressive views about these things are not at all in line with ours. So I am not sure what the future holds if this trend continues. Add to this the very real possibility that the UK’s next prime minister might be Jeremy Corbyn, an antisemite whose progressive views  probably make Ofsted look conservative …and I think that Orthodox British Jews have real a problem.