With its signed statement, the Minnesota Rabbinical Association adds to the spirited debate in advance of the November vote.
Dozens of Minnesota rabbis have gone on record opposing the proposed marriage amendment, urging "all Minnesotans of conscience and faith" to vote against the change to the state constitution that would define marriage as a union between a man and woman.
The Minnesota Rabbinical Association, made up of 35 rabbis and 15 synagogues and groups representing the majority of the state's Jewish population, announced Monday they had signed the statement that was adopted on Jan. 18. Orthodox rabbis did not sign it.
The statement is the latest indication of the intense debate ahead of the vote on the marriage amendment in November.
The rabbis' statement says the amendment "seeks to continue the practice of leaving individual families within the LGBT community vulnerable and unprotected by the law. To honor an individual is to fight against discrimination in society for any reason, including race, religion, natural origin, gender, age or sexual orientation.
"Throughout history the Jewish community has faced discrimination, and therefore we will not stand by while others are targeted."
The Jewish group joins with some other Protestant groups in opposition, showing how divisive the amendment will be in faith communities. Minnesota's Catholic bishops and conservative-leaning faith groups support the amendment's passage.
'An enormous moment'
Rabbi Lynn Liberman, director of congregational learning at Beth Jacob congregation in Mendota Heights and a chairwoman of the Minnesota Rabbinical Association, said the group's statement is out of the ordinary because it has the support of rabbis embracing almost all major movements of Judaism.
"This is really an enormous moment for this body of rabbis to come together on this," Liberman said. "It's not easy to get religious leaders sometimes to come together around an issue ... with a clear and supported statement we all agree to."
The group began discussing the marriage amendment over the summer and decided now was the best time to release its statement, particularly in light of what Catholic bishops have said in support of it, Liberman said.
"We felt it was paramount to be a different voice, what we felt was the right voice," she said. "We're one of the first religious bodies to make such a statement in a positive way."
Minnesota's Catholic bishops have been among the most vocal supporters of the amendment, chief among them Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt, who warned clergy there should be no "open dissension" of the church's backing of the amendment. Nienstedt has also directed parishes to form committees to work for passage of the amendment and wants Catholics to recite a special "marriage prayer" during masses.
'Welcome to their opinion'
Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, defends the church's campaign.
"The rabbinical association and all people of faith are welcome to express their opinion in this important debate," Adkins said in an e-mail statement. "That is why those proposing the amendment put it on the ballot, so that all Minnesotans, and not just a few judges or politicians, can have their voice heard."
While dozens of individual houses of worship and religious-affiliated groups have weighed in on the marriage amendment -- both for and against it -- few institutions or denominations have done so.
One of the more recent examples involves the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, which passed a resolution in October at its annual convention opposing the marriage amendment. There are about 22,000 Episcopalians in Minnesota.
Minnesota for Marriage, a coalition of groups including Minnesota's Catholic bishops, formed in an effort to get the marriage amendment approved. It recently reported that it raised $830,000 and recruited over 10,000 volunteers in 2011. The lead group in the effort to defeat the proposal, Minnesotans United for All Families, reported it raised $1.2 million in 2011 from more than 5,100 donors.
While the rabbis signing onto the Minnesota Rabbinical Association's statement represent the majority of the state's Jewish population of nearly 42,000, the statement doesn't include Orthodox rabbis.
"By definition an Orthodox Jewish congregation is in favor of defining marriage as the relationship of a man to a woman," said Rabbi Chaim Goldberger, with Kenesseth Israel Orthodox congregation in St. Louis Park. Goldberger estimates there are about 500 to 1,000 Orthodox Jewish families in Minnesota. He adds that his congregation doesn't plan to release statements in favor of the amendment, nor does he plan to address it during services.
"Our feeling is individuals need to vote their conscience and should vote as they see fit."
Rose French • 612-673-4352