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Jewish leader raps religious 'zealots'

HOUSTON -- The leader of the largest branch of American Judaism blasted conservative religious activists in a speech yesterday, calling them ''zealots" who claim a ''monopoly on God" while promoting antigay policies akin to Adolf Hitler's.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, said ''religious right" leaders believe ''unless you attend my church, accept my God, and study my sacred text you cannot be a moral person."

''What could be more bigoted than to claim that you have a monopoly on God?" he said during the movement's national assembly, which runs through today.

The audience of 5,000 responded to the speech with enthusiastic applause.

Yoffie did not mention evangelical Christians directly, using the term ''religious right" instead. In a separate interview, he said the phrase encompassed conservative activists of all faiths, including within the Jewish community.

He used particularly strong language to condemn conservative attitudes toward homosexuals. He said he understood that traditionalists have concluded gay marriage violates Scripture, but he said that did not justify denying legal protections to same-sex partners and their children.

''We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations," Yoffie said. ''Yes, we can disagree about gay marriage. But there is no excuse for hateful rhetoric that fuels the hellfires of antigay bigotry."

The Union for Reform Judaism represents about 900 synagogues in North America, and has an estimated membership of 1.5 million people.

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