Amsterdam's Chief Rabbi Zigzags on Homophobic Views, Causing Outrage Among Liberal Jews

Amsterdam's chief rabbi is reinstated after being suspended for describing homosexuality as 'an illness' that can be 'healed.'

A week after apologizing for signing a controversial document describing homosexuality as "an illness" that can be "healed," Amsterdam's chief rabbi seems to have retracted his apology.

U.S.-born Aryeh Ralbag was suspended - and then reinstated by Amsterdam's Jewish community - after he apologized for signing the document. Some 180 Orthodox rabbis, educators and therapists signed the declaration, which characterizes homosexuality as an "unacceptable lifestyle choice."

The document caused outrage among liberal Jews on both sides of the Atlantic, due to its assertion that "the only viable course of action that is consistent with the Torah is therapy and teshuvah [repentance]. The therapy consists of reinforcing the natural gender-identity ... by helping [people] understand and repair the emotional wounds that led to its disorientation."

The Amsterdam Jewish community is officially Orthodox, but includes liberal Jews as well, and there has been concern that this scandal might cause a split between them.

Following the outcry, the Orthodox contingent suspended Ralbag, who actually is based in New York but visits the Netherlands periodically. The suspension angered groups such as the Conference of European Rabbis, which insisted he had done "nothing more than restate what the Torah says about homosexuality."

For its part, Agudath Israel of America wrote Ronnie Eisemann, head of the Amsterdam community, that "it is especially troubling that a lay body like the Jewish community of Amsterdam would suspend a religious leader ... from his post simply for expressing his religious conviction."

Ralbag was reinstated last week after apologizing for using his official Amsterdam title when signing the controversial document, which he said had been "wrong."

Now in Brooklyn, he expressed fear for his life if he returned to the Netherlands - but was still as defiant as ever.

"The Torah is eternal, the Torah is our way, the law of the Torah, and nothing else, is binding for all Jews. There can be no compromise on the priniciples of the Torah," he declared.

Sources in Amsterdam claim many local Jews aren't pleased with the fact that Ralbag usually resides in New York, and intimated that his tenure as chief rabbi won't last much longer.