Sunday, April 15, 2007

Israeli Masorti movement and gay rabbis

Rabbi Einat Ramon, the dean of the Masorti Rabbinical School in Jerusalem, writes in an article in the Washington Jewish Week, Healing heterosexuality within Jewish people, that
Should we, then, deviate from the longstanding and clear perspective on the issue presented by Jewish law and theology? The answer is positive only if our vision is to transcend sexual differences between men and women and blindly follow the modern reality and ideology of gender and family fluidity. As long as there are Jews who advocate that view, they deserve to be able to make their spiritual homes at various rabbinical schools and congregations that promote such an ideal.

Yet, will the spiritual home at Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, for those of us who believe in the complementary difference between men and women, as an opportunity for deeper intellectual and spiritual family and community bonds, be likewise respected by our colleagues in the long run? We hope that the value of unity - not uniformity - of the people of Israel has not disappeared in the face of different ideologies of gender.

It is very disappointing to read such a viewpoint from Rabbi Ramon. It is clear from reading the entire article that her views are heavily influenced by Rabbi Joel Roth, who was her teacher at JTS. Rabbi Ramon, however, was the first Israeli woman ordained by JTS, and certainly in the past has expressed a far more feminist vision of the relationship between men and women.

In an article published in the book Life of Judaism, edited by Harvey Goldberg, she spells out the ways that she and her husband rewrote the traditional ketubah to spell out a broader range of obligations of both parties (unlike the traditional ketubah, which only spells out the obligation of the husband to the wife, and assumes what the wife's obligations are to be). For them, kiddushin was an act of mutual consecration, not an act of a man acquiring a wife by transferring a ring. She justifies this rewriting of the ketubah by recourse to Mordechai Kaplan's concept of "reevaluation" - clarification of the values and religious and psychological needs that a particular observance required in the past, and an adaptation of the observance and creation of a modern halakhah that remains faithful to those needs and values, as well as to modern sensibilities. It seems that she no longer holds to the values she wrote about so passionately in this article, which is a step backward for women, feminism, and certainly the role of gays and lesbians in the Israel Masorti movement.

Later thoughts: Since both JTS and the University of Judaism rabbinical school have decided to admit gays and lesbians into their rabbinical program, how will they be greeted when they go to Israel for their obligatory year of study at Machon Schechter? Will they be shunned by Rabbi Ramon and the other faculty, or the Israeli students? Will they be forced back into the closet? Will they be given aliyot or counted in the minyan? I wonder if Chancellor Eisen of JTS or Rabbi Artson of the UJ have communicated with Rabbi Ramon on this issue?

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