Oxford rabbi suspended

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AN ultra-orthodox rabbi has been suspended from duty because he refuses to withdraw an invitation to the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, to address students at the Oxford Union.

Rabbi Shmuel Boteach, 27, who runs the L'Chaim Society, is defying a suspension order from his employers, the New York-based Lubavitch movement. He has been summoned to attend a rabbinical court at the movement's headquarters in Brooklyn to explain his actions.

The leaders of the Lubavitch movement object to the Rabin invitation because the movement's late leader, Rabbi Menachem Shneerson, was severely critical of him.

The invitation has brought to a head growing tensions between the ebullient and high- profile Rabbi Boteach and his employers. His wish to minister to gentiles - as well as Jewish students - is seen by some as outside his brief. His sympathy for homosexuals and for Jews marrying outside the religion - while not condoning homosexual acts or inter-marriage - has also evoked controversy.

In five years, Rabbi Boteach has built the L'Chaim Society into the second biggest student group in Oxford, with more than 1,500 members of all religious persuasions attending lectures, classes and social events. Last year Mikhail Gorbachev and Bob Hawke came to speak at the rabbi's request.

Student friends of the rabbi say he is determined to continue his work with the society. 'All he wants is to keep on promoting his belief in a humane Judaism in accordance with Jewish law,' one said.

'He is being made ill with worrying about these threats of dismissal. He still supports the Lubavitch movement, and hopes they will debate with him, rather than threaten him. He doesn't want to be a martyr.'

Yesterday's Jewish Chronicle ran several letters supporting Rabbi Boteach, backed by hundreds of signatories. The newspaper's leading article urges both sides to find a compromise.

Rabbi Boteach and the Lubavitch movement in London both refused to comment yesterday.