Thursday, December 07, 2006

More on Gay Conservative Rabbis

Josh Yuter, in A Conservative Compromise lays out the alternatives open to JTS and discusses the very careful press release JTS issued yesterday about the decisions from the Law Committee. His discussion focuses on the question of whether JTS will decide to ordain gay people as rabbis. He also raises the question of what kind of sexual activity might be permitted to gay or lesbian rabbinical students.

JTS, however, is not the only Conservative seminary, and the administration and faculty of each seminary are free to make their own decisions about whether to ordain openly gay people. The University of Judaism will be admitting openly gay students.

He also says that "at no point did the CJLS permit homosexual behavior." And following from this, he says, "Furthermore, assuming JTS does in fact decide to admit homosexuals I'd be curious to see how they follow the CJLS ruling. Since even the most lenient CJLS position still prohibits homosexual intercourse, would JTS admit openly sexually active students in defiance of the CJLS? I'm sure JTS could initially adopt a don't ask don't tell policy, but assuming someone's private activities do become public, how would JTS adhere to their commitment to Conservative halakha?"

This discussion is leaving out several important points:

1) Not all gay people are men. Lesbian sex, of whatever type, is not even discussed in the Torah. The one talmudic discussion of it is only in the context of whether a woman who engages in some kind of sexual activity with another woman would then be disqualified from marrying a man from the priestly caste. Maimonides in his code, the Mishneh Torah, disapproves of it and says that men should make sure that their wives stay away from women known for engaging in these activities. If the only prohibited activity is anal intercourse, then this is something that women can very easily avoid engaging in.

2) Not all sex that two men engage in with each other is anal intercourse. There are lots of other ways to have a good time. In a discussion many years ago that I had with Shlomo Ashkinazy, one of the men interviewed in "Trembling Before G-d," Sandi Dubowski's movie about gay and lesbian Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews, he suggested that what gay men needed to avoid is anal intercourse, not other sexual activities.

3) From my knowledge of JTS' policies, they frown on all premarital sexual activity. This raises the question of whether, if they choose to admit gay students, will they require those students to be in committed relationships if they wish to be involved sexually? (As they would require of heterosexual students).


  1. This raises the question of whether, if they choose to admit gay students, will they require those students to be in committed relationships if they wish to be involved sexually?

    My sister-in-law and her wife are dorm parents at a co-ed boarding school not too far from here. The school in question has been happy to offer them joint health insurance, and to allow them to be dorm parents together as any other committed couple could be. But when Massachusetts made it legal for gays and lesbians to wed, the school let my sister-in-law and her partner know, discreetly, that since other dorm parents were required to be married before they could live in the dorms, it would be nice if my sister-in-law and her partner could do the same!

    It made sense, of course, though we all got a good laugh out of teasing them about the possibility of a shotgun wedding in order to keep the high school job secure. :-)

    (Anyway: I'll be curious to see whether JTS adopts the policy you describe, too.)

  2. Since, the Dorff Teshuva also sanctions same sex commitment cermonies, I would assume JTS would require that for any gay couple living together. I don't know what JTS's policy is for unmarried heterosexual non-vaginal sex, but I assume it would be extended to gay students.

    Regardless, JTS has still not decided if they will accept gay rabbinical students, and given the reaction of Roth and Rabinowitz you can't assume that JTS will decide to accept gay students.

  3. No, I'm not making that assumption, although there are members of the JTS faculty who are clearly in favor - Judith Hauptman for one.

    I don't know what the U.J. policy is on premarital sexuality for rabbinical students - if it's the same as at JTS then I would assume that this issue (about being in a committed relationship) would also arise there.

  4. I just put up a post which made a point similar to the second point you made above, but in somewhat greater detail. If you're interested, it's here:

    Great blog, btw! I just discovered it the other day while googling around for info about this ruling...

  5. You raise an interesting point about anal intercourse between men, which would certainly fall under the taboo that one may not "lie with a man as one lies with a woman." I can see where we might conclude from that passage that anal intercourse is the only male-on-male sexual activity forbidden in Torah.

    Alas for me, who would love to welcome gay men and women into Torah life without a qualm, this quoted passage occurs juxtaposed with several other passages regarding forbidden relationships. Many of those passages, if memory serves, cover the destruction of seed, which is absolutely forbidden under any circumstances (see the story of Judah's son Onan).

    While this may provide some small comfort by implying that homosexuality as such carries no weight of sin, it's hard to see how two men can make love without spilling seed unless they refrain from orgasm altogether - a recipe for torture if ever I heard it.

    This is one of two issues in Torah that I just can't fathom, the other being the restriction that only allows men to initiate divorce. I don't expect to understand why God placed those two restrictions in Torah when He/She must have known what trouble it would cause, and if after 120 years I get a chance to ask God about them, I will certainly do so.

  6. Well, is spilling seed forbidden in all circumstances? A post-menopausal woman and her husband are permitted to have sex, after all, as are a sterile woman and her husband. Also, as I recall, anal sex is permitted between husband and wife, which would involve the spilling of seed also. I was recently reading a discussion of this (I can't remember where) that suggested that the prohibition on spilling seed isn't necessarily a total one.

    Also, of course, this is not a problem for lesbians.