Thursday, December 07, 2006

It's about time! Gay Conservative rabbis

It's about time! The Committee on Law and Standards of the Conservative movement, which decides on halakhic issues for the movement, has approved three teshuvot on the issue. One teshuvah, authored by Rabbi Elliott Dorff, argued that the movement should ordain gay people and should permit rabbis to officiate at same-sex marriage or commitment ceremonies. On the other hand, he argued that the biblical prohibition of anal sex (Lev. 18:22) should still be upheld.

A second teshuvah by Rabbi Joel Roth was also approved, arguing that gay people should not be ordained and rabbis should not be permitted to officiate at same-sex ceremonies. A third teshuvah, even more conservative than Rabbi Roth's, authored by Rabbi Leonard Levy, was also approved - Rabbi Levy argued that homosexuality is an illness that can be "cured." The most liberal teshuvah, by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, was ruled a takkanah, which meant that it needed 13 votes to be adopted - which it did not receive. The three opinions listed above were each approved by six votes or more. The texts of each responsum have not been released, but for a look at earlier opinions considered by the Law Committee, the texts are available here.

What this means is that the institutions of the Conservative movement, including the four seminaries (two in the U.S., one in Israel, and one in Argentina) are free to make a decision that follows any one of the three accepted responsa. They can now decide whether to admit or reject gay people based on their own considerations. The Ziegler Rabbinic School of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles has already announced its intention to admit openly gay people. The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City has just embarked a on study process before deciding what to do.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (the association of Conservative synagogues) issued the following press release:
NEW YORK, Dec. 6, 2006— United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents more than 750 Conservative synagogues, with 1.5 million members, today welcomed the movement’s decisions on gay men and lesbians and moved toward changing its own hiring policies.

Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and a voting member of the Law Committee that made today’s ruling, issued the following statement:

“The decisions of the Conservative Jewish movement’s Law Committee, which allows individual synagogues and other institutions the flexibility to embrace the policies they believe are most appropriate for their community, afford Conservative Jews the opportunity to now be even more welcoming of the broad diversity in our community. Today’s decisions reaffirm the importance of Jewish law, halacha, in our everyday lives. Regardless of how one feels about this specific issue, the decisions reached today are founded in the deep and abiding respect for halacha.

“I no longer have any reason to believe that halacha stands in the way of fully engaging gays and lesbians in our organization. Based on that conclusion, I see no reason why we should not revise our hiring policies so we may consider applicants for United Synagogue jobs no matter what their sexual orientation may be. United Synagogue’s leadership will discuss the issue at our next scheduled meeting.

“Although I have the greatest respect for the Law Committee decisions, I don’t agree with the recommendation that gay men and lesbians are best advised to find ‘restorative therapy’ to change their sexual orientation.”

Rabbi Epstein's statement indicates that the United Synagogue will now accept gay applicants for positions.

The acceptance of Rabbi Dorff's responsum also means that individual Conservative rabbis are now free to officiate at same-sex ceremonies. (They are not required to do so, but if they want to, they can, without incurring the disapproval of the movement).

Another interesting occurrence is that four of the members of the Committee on Law and Standards have resigned from the Committee: Rabbi Roth, Rabbi Levy, Rabbi Mayer Rabinowitz and Rabbi Joseph Prouser. Rabbi Rabinowitz's earlier responsum was accepted in the 1992 deliberations of the Law Committee as the basis for its consensus statement, which decided that "avowed homosexuals" should not be ordained as rabbis.

UPDATE: According to a comment on Kesher Talk, the rabbis who resigned from the committee "expressed the view that the permissive teshuvah accepted by the Committee went beyond the bounds of halakhic process. The CJLS members have asked them to reconsider."

FURTHER UPDATE: Some interesting Jewish blogosphere discussions: J Spot, Failed Messiah, Velveteen Rabbi, Oy Bay.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link!

    You're more than welcome to join the fray and share with us your $0.02. :-)