Small community, small minds, big actions

There is a story in the Jerusalem Post about the City of Amsterdam firing its Chief Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag. The Ralbag family are very famous. They are big Talmidei Chachamim and oversee the controversial Triangle K Hechsher, which is not widely accepted.

Rabbi Ralbag signed onto a statement that homosexuals have an inclination that “can be modified and healed.” There is no doubting that they have an inclination towards the same gender. It appears though that Rabbi Ralbag aligning himself with a view that suggests that this can be modified is considered both disrespectful and irritating to the extent that he can no longer function as the Rabbi of Amsterdam.

This is not my area of expertise, nor do I imagine that it is Rabbi Ralbag’s area of expertise. There are, however, respected practitioners such as Dr Elan Karten, who tend towards that view. I haven’t got any insight into the veracity of the claims. As expected, the politically correct in Amsterdam have jumped and howled and sacked their Rabbi because he is seen as disrespectful.

He apparently apologised if his comments hurt anyone, but I’m not sure what his hangable offence was. Perhaps there was something more offensive in the document he signed? That document has an “Agudist” tinge to it, as witnessed by the signatories. Certainly, I prefer the RCA’s position. It is more constructively written. I would have preferred to sign the RCA version myself, but I don’t agree that Rabbi Ralbag should have been sacked.

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

24 thoughts on “Small community, small minds, big actions”

  1. Small community, small minds…. pardon me but you obviously did not get the full picture. And no he has not formally apologized to his community please advise where you got that info as I am truly interested.
    A `politically correct `Jew from Amsterdam


    1. Hi Lea, this was alleged in press reports. I’m interested to know what the ‘full picture’ is? Do you agree that signing that letter ought not be a hangeable offense?


      1. The full picture is that this was not Rabbi Ralbag’s first unforgivably deed as a Chief Rabbi. I don’t think this blog is a suitable place to name all of the incidents and it doesn’t really matter, this by itself was not his “hangeable offense”. But I don;t blame you, the (Jewish)press has indeed been very one sided. I have learned that where it concerns Reb Ralbag there is politics involved, so he probably signed the declaration without doing his research to check the authenticity and truth of this document. In my opinion ( knowing what I know from first hand experience) it was probably a political decision to sign.
        A Chief Rabbi may of course speak his mind where it concerns halacha or for the best interest of his community, however this declaration in not at all based on halacha and even if it was he shouldn’t have signed it with his title as Chief Rabbi of the Netherlands as he should have been aware that this may harm the (his) Jewish community( which it did big time). Here in Holland we deal with antisemitism on a daily basis, e.g. my son is scared to walk with his kippa in the street. A scandalous story like this creates, unnecessarily may I add, not only a chillul Hashem but more antisemitism. It really has nothing to do with being politically correct trust me. Anybody with a bit of brain can check the researches which have been done and knows by now that homosexuality is not a decease. Whether they can and should fight their desires is a whole different story.
        You call us small mined and this is a bit insulting.
        We, Dutch Jews, may be have a different way of thinking may be this is because of our past. But even being orthodox I was brought up to think for myself and accept every Jew as he/she is, Kol Israel….every Jew is equal. Black, white, gay or not religious.


        1. These are fair points. Note, there is no politics in my consideration of the matter. I would say this, however. He most definitely does have the right to say things both from a Halachic point of view or from a quasi halachic point of view, and to sign as Chief Rabbi. I don’t think we should be limiting Rabbis or selling them short. However, if their words are not well chosen, then they have themselves to blame. Unfortunately, the anti-semites, the world over, will use examples such as this, however they do not need these examples. This is not why Shechitah is under threat. Thanks for your comments.


          1. True, we shouldn’t limit Rabbi’s but Rabbi’s should know their own limits. And a true chacham would know when to speak and when not. Rabbi Ralbag has in no form (email, letter, phone calls) contacted any of his congregants to speak ( or apologize) about the issue at hand. We only hear if him via the national and international media. He gets quoted in the local newspapers on a regular basis. In my opinion he is selling us short as chief Rabbi. And yes you are right he does have the right to say things or sign things, but don’t call it a halacha point of view when it is not.
            Sorry but I did not get your point on the shechitah though. Would you care to explain please?


  2. lea

    “please advise where you got that info as I am truly interested”.

    according the link in my previous posting only Ronny Eisemann, president of the Orthodox community apologised in the name of the community, but not the rabbi.


    You wrote: “As expected, the politically correct in Amsterdam have jumped and howled and sacked their Rabbi because he is seen as disrespectful”.

    According the same article rabbi Ralbag wrote in his “Daat Tora”:

    “כי הקהילה ה’גאה’ סובלת ממחלה קשה ויש להעניק להם טיפול רפואי על-ידי הרשויות”.

    “that the gay community suffers from a serious illness, and that the authorities should provide them with medical treatment”.

    He offended too many people (around the globe) with his stupid remark, and he paid the price.


    1. I’m hearing that this was one of many issues. Isolated, he could have clarified, and used better language. Again, the Aguda type Rabbis need to learn from the RCA.


  3. It is clear that with a brain like his, that he offended people before.

    had it been you, how would you have clarified a statement like this:

    “that the gay community suffers from a serious illness, and that the authorities should provide them with medical treatment”.


  4. The question is not about homosexuality, it’s clear that the homosexual act is forbidden mideorayta. The question is: how do we deal with the homosexual individuals within our community. Cleary Rabbi Ralbag labels them as seriously mentally ill, who urgently need psychological help. We, the Amsterdam Jews, reject this kind of thinking. There is no halachic base to assume these people are mentally ill, to say so is insulting, humiliating and besides the truth. How would you feel if I label you, as an orthodox jew, as mentaly ill? Clearly you are, you believe in a god whom we cant see nor speak to, you whole life revolves around 613 statements written in a scroll that might be written by human beings, not the word of god. Should I go on, or did you get the picture?


  5. Amsterdam Jew. Thanks for your comments. They can also be interpreted as being somewhat extreme. There is no need to connote “mental illness” when describing the approach of practitioners (not Rabbis) who are of the view that there are approaches that can be taken to modify the desire of some people towards the same gender. It’s really all about how you express yourself. Are you comfortable with the RCA’s wording which I quoted above in my article as opposed to the Agudist version which Rabbi Ralbag signed? The Rambam himself clearly indicates that people are born with certain tendencies and that the challenge of life is to deal with those. How you deal with them is the question. I don’t think that one can be prescriptive. This is why I don’t like the statement he signed. At the same time, I don’t like the rhetoric of the other side which attempts to defend their position by saying “you are calling us all mental cases” when that is definitely not the case.


    1. Many years ago I watched a documentary called “Trembling before G-D”. As the subject arose again in Holland I watched it again (you can download it on youtube). It gives you a good insight of the troubles these people go through and how some of them deal with their challenges.


      1. I have no doubt that you are right about the extreme difficulties many people will have. I think though that the difficulties do not mean that we also shut our eyes to some respected psychologists who believe that they can assist. I mentioned one in my article. In summary: we must avoid extremes. Those who say “they can all be cured” adopt an extreme view that is unsubstantiated. Those that say “none should seek therapies designed to assist with this problem” are also being extreme.


    2. ” The Torah makes a clear statement that homosexuality is not an acceptable lifestyle or a genuine identity by severely prohibiting its conduct.”

      False, only the actual sexual act between 2 men is prohibited. In theory, 2 men can have a household together, love each other, grow old and die, as long as they dont have sex with each other. I addmit, its gonne be hard on them, but theoratically, its possible and not against halacha.

      ” The only viable course of action that is consistent with the Torah is therapy and teshuvah. The therapy consists of reinforcing the natural gender-identity of the individual by helping him or her understand and repair the emotional wounds that led to its disorientation and weakening, thus enabling the resumption and completion of the individual’s emotional development…
      These processes are typically facilitated and coordinated with the help of a specially trained counselor or therapist…”

      I dont know how you read this, but I read her that anyone with homosexual desires should get therapy, due to his “emotional wounds” and “disorientation”. Therapy should be conducted by a counselor or therapist.

      This all sounds to me like a seriously disturbed human being, in need of serious phycollogical help to deal with his mental state.

      Correct me if i’m wrong.


      1. In other words, without calling them explicitly “mentally ill”, they sure hint (and even insinuate) that homosexuals have some kind of mental distortion. Like they say it in English: when it looks like a duck, and it walks lik a duck, it’s a duck 🙂


        1. I agree that it leads one to think that there is some mental incapacitation. The wording is the issue. The lack of sensitivity to the wording is also a major issue. I have no doubt, that Rabbi Ralbag, for example, would treat homosexual guests with loving kindness despite what he signed for.


      2. Thanks, but there is one element where I believe you are wrong. It is absolutely halachically forbidden for two males who are attracted to each other to live together. The laws of Yichud apply. If this is known by the two males,, Judaism does not allow then to cohabit even without a sexual relationship.

        I don’t like the word Teshuvah in the context. Yes, it is true that philosophically, Teshuvah means to return to Hashem. Many many people wrote on that topic. For example, Veshavta AD Hashem Elokecha. In this context, I think it is a poor choice of word because it immediately connotes a return from a certain sinful act. Not everyone in the world acts on their urges. We all succumb, that’s true. We are all Ba’alei T’Shuva. That’s also true. In this context though, the wording is exceedingly poor.


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