Shai Piron
Shai PironFlash 90

Responding to heavy pressure, Education Minister Shai Piron (Yesh Atid) over the weekend backtracked on a statement he made Thursday, when he said that same-sex couples could not consider themselves “families.” Piron said that he had misspoken, and that “it was a terrible thing to say. It is not for me to say what is and isn't a family.”

In an interview with Arutz Sheva, Piron, an ordained Orthodox rabbi, said that “it was the right of Israel, perhaps even its obligation, to tell same-sex couples that they could not be considered 'families.' However, we would grant them full economic rights.” Piron made the comments in the context of a discussion on the secular legislative leanings of MKs in Yesh Atid.

Piron caught a great deal of criticism for those comments from MKs and gay advocacy groups. On Saturday night, Piron backtracked and said that he had no business making that comment. “There is a constant tension between religious belief and liberal society,” he told Channel Ten. “All I said was that it was possible to debate the question of 'familyhood' for homosexuals. I will not allow anyone to disqualify anyone for that standing, or for anything else, but that does not mean that the tension is not there.”

When asked what he thought about “gay families,” Piron said that a same-sex couple “is, from a civil, social, economic, and cultural point of view a family for all practical purposes. Religiously there is an issue, and this is a problem that must be solved.

“What most bothers me about this incident are the feelings of the children and adults I have hurt,” Piron said. “I look at them directly and say 'I am sorry.' I am conducting an ongoing dialogue with the gay community,” Piron added, “unlike that any other religious leader is doing in Israel today.”

In 2011, a coalition of more than 150 Orthodox rabbis, community leaders, organizers, and respected mental health professionals issued a document clarifying the theological understanding of the Biblically mandated prohibition on homosexuality, and presenting what the authors and signatories saw as a practical and achievable solution for those faced with same-gender attractions.

"The concept that G-d created a human being who is unable to find happiness in a loving relationship unless he violates a Biblical prohibition is neither plausible nor acceptable," says the Declaration, which views same sex attractions as any other behavior can be controlled and altered, such as addictions or weight control.

Signatories to the document represent a broad spectrum of the Torah-observant world. Among those who publicly signed the document are a myriad of international rabbis, as well as numerous rabbis in the United States and Israel, ranging from the Lithuanian, Chassidic, Sephardic and modern Orthodox sectors.