Poland’s chief rabbi has strongly criticised the spread of so-called ‘LGBT-free zones’, saying they violate Jewish religious law.
Rabbi Michael Schudrich has been the religious leader of the Polish Jewish community since 2004, playing a central role in the country’s “Jewish Renaissance” movement.
On Monday (30 August) he spoke frankly about his faith amid Poland’s anti-LGBT+ backlash as part of a panel for The Aguda‘s “Pride in the Living Room” series.
“As far as I can tell, [creating LGBT+ free zones] is against Halacha,” Schudrich said, referring to the collective body of Jewish laws based on the Torah.
“Of course Halacha isn’t responsible for what the towns in Poland are doing… but the way I understand Judaism, as an Orthodox rabbi, is that we want every Jew to feel comfortable in a synagogue.”
Poland’s ‘LGBT-free zones‘ began appearing in 2019 as towns and cities passed resolutions declaring themselves free of “LGBT ideology”. There are now at least 80 of these zones in Poland, covering nearly a third of the country.
Rabbi Schudrich refused to be drawn into the growing anti-LGBT+ sentiment, explaining that it does not represent Judaism.
“Every Jew should know that they are welcome,” he said, “and if someone tells them they are not welcome, that person is incorrect. Yes, we have differences, so what? Creating Jewish unity is not about agreeing about everything, it’s about celebrating that we are all Jewish together.”
Schudrich said that since he began working in Poland in 1990, he understood his sole responsibility as rabbi was to bring Polish Jews closer to Judaism and Jewish culture, not exclude them on the basis of sexuality.
“It is is not my role to judge who they are,” he insisted. “That is God’s responsibility… I got enough to do, I don’t have to do God’s job. I’d like to give him – or her – some of my work!”
The chief rabbi is not the first Jewish leader to condemn Poland’s surge in public homophobia. Last year community leaders in Warsaw signed an open letter in protest, drawing damning parallels with attempts to whip up anti-Semitic hatred before the Holocaust.
Schudrich criticised Jews who refuse to take a stand on the issue, saying the community had a “special responsibility” to intervene when others are being persecuted.
“We Jews always complain that when we suffer anti-Semitism, the non-Jews don’t stand up for us,” he told the Aguda panel. “So that means we have a special responsibility to stand up for anyone being discriminated against.
“Anything that is a violation of civil rights, anything that’s demeaning to a human being is wrong.”
His inclusive approach was praised by other religious leaders on the panel. “Hearing rabbis speak about Jewish LGBTQ+ people in our lives is so important because that silence can be deadly,” Keshet UK executive director Dalia Fleming replied.
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