Sunday, March 19, 2006

Rabbi Roth Series on CJLS... ok... on Homosexual Ordination...)

I just attended the first of three public lectures at the Conservative Yeshiva regarding the issue that was postponed a fortnight ago in the Law Committee regarding Homosexual ordination and Homosexual marriage/civil unions.

As some of you may remember from the last public lecture that I attended with Rabbi Roth, "Beards vs Goatees: Roth vs Gillman", I needed to bring paper, as last time I was writing on pizza napkins. So I did, but I ended up taking 6 pages of copious notes, more than the amount of paper I brought. Here are the notes I took, transcribed to computer (sometimes unclear). In addition and with implied permission I also tape-recorded it. Note that my notes may not be complete GREEN denotes that it is a correction I have made from later listening to the tape. RED is an editor's note:

NOTE That this is a work in progress and I will type up more of it soon...

"There are three major sides here, the left position, the centrist postion, and the right postion... uh, rightist position"

He will analyze the three positions and the objections raised to them

Debates fall into 3 Categories of what CJLS deals with
1. What we are arguing about the meaning of a text being referred to by some author as the grounds for the decision which is being rendered, either the text itself proves the position or the extrapolation from the text is supported by that text. ie: all of the arguments we have had: kashrut of american manufactured cheeses, kashrut status of gelatin, these disputes were written about the meaning of something in Chulin, is dvar chadash reasonable extrapolation from that sugya. Don't confuse this as arguing about the sugya, but the meaning about the passage and if it is a reasonable extrapolation of that passage. Much of the argument about the driving on shabbat is regarding halacha sheeina tzricha l'gufa...

2. disputants all agree that the claim being offered is a defensible halachic claim
they don't decide whether it is defensible, but that if it is desirable
1. things that the law requires
2. things that the law prohibits
3. things that the law permits (but not mandatory or forbidden) (most often discussed)
"yes I understand that there is a valid halachic argument for counting women in a minyan, but it is not desirable as men will stop coming to the minyan" therefore, not whether it is defensible, but if it is desirable.
hardly anyone in movement says can't put imahot in beginning of Amidah, (let's ignore the chatima for now), but not desirable because it is a historical revisionism (like changing Declaration of Independence to say "We hold these truths to be self evident that all men and women are created equal".
Triennial Torah
Approved two different methods:
-1/3 of Bereishit, 1/3 Noach, 1/3 lech lecha for first year, etc... <-- Most synagogues use this -1st/3 of Bereishit, 2nd/3 of Bereishit, 3rd/3 of Bereishit <-- more halachic basis and was the system used in the Palestine Triennial Opponents say that it is halachically acceptable, but object because it interferes with Klal Yisrael
What if I go to another synagogue that doesn't have the same practice?
What if my kid gets Bar Mitzvahed in
Israel after a Second Day Yom Tov that falls on Shabbat and he learned the wrong haftarah?
What will the haftarah be for each of the three weeks? Chairman Roth: We'll find biblical sections!
Bar Mitzvah Dates are chosen 6 years in advance! Roth: We'll make a 200-year calendar
It should be noted that no synagogue follows the latter Triennial Cycle.
B. Gittin: Women can appoint shaliach to accept Get.
Ashkenazic Jewry has not done this for over 700 years, Joint Beit Din discusses reinstating this
Eilu VEilu Divrei Elokim Chayim, both are the words of the Living God
Ordination of Women: JTS on the verge of implosion (or explosion)
tension among the faculty for 2 years
one senior member of Talmud department: "I'm opposed to ordination of women, but if we do ordain women, we should do it Joel's [Rabbi Roth's] way, because it is at least halachic".

1927-1940s = 1 person required for opinion
mid 40s-mid 80s = 3 people required for opinion
mid 80s-today = 6 people required for opinion (political maneuvering)

3. Rare occasions, argue over how halachic system works (Homosexuality issue falls under this category)

US Supreme court: if they said "President needs to be 35" is unconstitutional, may result in a revolt as no precident exists to uproot the constitution
Marbury v. Madison, Supreme Court decides it has Judicial Review (which the Constitution does not talk about, and could have caused a revolt)

Marriage of Kohen to a Grusha (divorcee)
argument: does it exist a precident for sages to do somethig lik this (but it is a valid binding marriage, but after the fact are coerced into getting a divorce (unlike father marrying daughter which does not ever take effect))
CJLS allows before the fact
Mamzerut: CJLS declare as null & void
does there exist a way to undo that?

Disputes of 3rd category are entirely different ball game than disputes in the first two categories
Could you say Eilu VEilu Divrei Elokim Chayim?
could potentially split the law committee
some who have always thought of the law committee as a serious deliberative halachic body would change their opinion of the law committee. That is IMHO an undesirable end

Originally 9 papers two retreats ago
4 this year

The Law Committee voted 20 for to 4 opposed (with zero abstentions) voted to postpone the vote until December. Know that a majority of people who hold your position

a. 1 ½ days discussing each paper separately, so each author might want to edit their papers

b. Why December? what about June and September?

June: Between now and June there is little likelihood that authors could finish rewrites (needed to be distributed a month in advance)

5 positions on law committee expire each year (this week, in fact). Committee decidingew members don’t meet until after june.

Therefore Only will have 20 people in June, not ideal for a vote.

September: Significant number of people will have chagim to deal with

Rabbi Roth assured me following the meeting that the December meeting will be OPEN and will meet at JTS.

Rabbi Roth Believes that 1 of the 4 leftist authors is intending to split his paper and present it as an independent paper

1 of the 3 authors of the centrist paper is considering a radical change in the paper, deleting something from the paper (might fight with other two guys over this)

of the two rightist papers, one of which is much more scientific

understand: A teshuva is not judged by thrust nor by conclusion, but if the conclusion follows conclusively from the content

Rabbi Roth’s disdain for newspaper reporting: you can have nuanced 20 minute phone call with a reporter and get two column inches. How much nuance can you get in two column inches?

Have רחמנות (rachmanus) (mercy), on the authors and don’t take Forward or JTA as gospel.

Roth’s paper is 52 pages and there are some longer.

One of the papers was declared in law committee as Takanah, declared as an act of legislation instead of interpretive.

Constitution of RA: 6 votes validates an opinion, but has no provision for Takkanot. A later addition allows for any standing committee to promulgate own rules, subject to Executive Committee approval

Law committee wanted 13 votes to count as takkanah (absolute majority, but not supermajority)

Executive council said no, 20!

Law Committee said 13 (or 15)

Executive council said no

So remains as 20

By the way, the vote on whether it was a takkanah ended as 13 yes, 8 no, and 4 abstentions

Each author added an addendum to their papers re: other peoples papers

Centrists in their addendum affirmed that left wing’s was a takkanah

Not just “right wing medievalists” believed this, but also center

There was no vote taken over whether centrists paper was a takkanah

Latest issue of Forward: article about the deliberation (Gay Issues Roil Rabbis In Advance Of Parley). Last paragraph is virtually SLANDEROUS! Misrepresentations in toto the argument of one of the papers


Leftist Paper (from three of the original four papers)

Did not work as well as combining 3 centrist papers

Postion of 3 of the 4 authors: Verses in Leviticus that prohibit male homosexuality are Immoral. They find no need to prove that that was {unintelligable (I think he said "correct"}

Premise of the paper is that it is self evident that law in Leviticus is IMMORAL!

Left and right agree on meaning of the verse
there's no argument, it's not a textual argument

Argument: Jewish Law is in 95-99% of the time Positivist law

it starts with Torah, Rabbinic understanding of Torah, Codes, Responsa, and 99% of the time this is how they decide the law

On occasion these authors argue that there are powered (?) cases to which positivist model does not apply (such as this case)

How the do we address the verse in Leviticus?

We address them in the following way: it is the virtually irreversable affirmation of Rabbis and scholars of the Conservative Movement that the Torah is not directly Divinely woven {unintelligible... sorry...}

Heschel: “Torah is a human midrash on an ineffable divine revelation”

(Sinai was wordless)

Torah is people of Israel’s interpretation of what happened

Sometimes we got it wrong

If Chaza”l interpreted Ben Sorer U’Moreh (the rebellious son who was to be put to death) as lo haya v’lo nivra (never enforced), same will happen with these verses

An aside: you never hear egalitarians arguing for equality in ben sorer u’moreh

They got it wrong

didn’t know about constitutional gays

they thought gay was a choice

therefore no longer binding

therefore men can have relationship with men, provided the relationship is MONOGAMOUS


no difference in nature of sexual relation from husband and wife (except no niddah restrictions)

same kind of Kiddushin (but you also need a Get)

seems to be a difference of opinion in one of the authors

see no reason to treat homosexual as heterosexual

bisexual should not have to choose one of the two BUT must remain monogamous at any given time

Both centrist and rightist authors say that this is out of the framework how halachic system works, and is precisly because it is out of this framework of how the halachic system works that and so as at a minimum must be called a Takkana, not as a Teshuva.

It cannot be simply called a Tshuvah because it breaks such new ground in terms of the way that the halachic system works that it is a precedence setting not simply in the actual decision, but in the Manner of decision making, that as a result of that should require some greater majority

Rightist: Torah itself is infallible. If it is fallible then there is no halachic institution.

“Chachamim have right to uproot except gufei Torah” -B. Yevamot

(ED: if it is ambiguous, then you have freedom, but if it is clear cut, no way around it)

no ambiguity in “Kohen can’t marry a divorcee”

“Mamzer can’t enter Congregation of the Lord”. Ok, what does Congregation of the Lord mean, and define mamzer, BUT is is clear that whatever a mamzer is cannot enter the Congregation of the Lord, whatever that is

No ambiguity in “man shall not lie with a man like one lies with a woman

(ME: whereas something such as Al Tevashel Gdi BChalev Imo “don’t cook a kid in its mother’s milk”could be interpreted differently and is quite ambiguous, to which Rabbi Roth agreed after the talk)

Remember, the right wing authors reject the notion that the law is immoral

(this fact often gets lost in delibration of young people)

Rightists: Law is NOT immoral

Don’t erroneously believe that rightist authors reject the Documentary hypothesis (ED: ie JEPD).

their contention is that in the same way as the great thinkers of every bygone era knew what the "given" was and would never consider their theology was a success if the result of their theologies was to reject the "givens" they knew were to be "givens" so too the function of this generation's theologans is to devise a persuasive theology which allows one both to affirm both Documentary Hypothesis AND infallible

Rightists (just to anger the leftists): “Theology is Aggadah, not Halacha!”

Rambam would have considered himself a failure if confirming Greek and Islamic thought is the result of his confrontation was to undermine the authority of the Torah

The argument of Torah is of Category 3, the argument between Right vs Left: how does halachic system legitimately work


Today we learned: thrust of t3 of the 4 left wing authors

Next week: the result of bringing in fourth of the four left wing authors (severed the argument)

something now inconsistent, something pointed out by speaker after speaker after speaker, so he severs the two arguments. They didn't dovetail well so roth presents it seperately

Permissibility of marriage of Cohen to Grusha passed immensely, but Roth didn’t agree.

PS: one of the authors at the right finds it in these that decisions and arguments on morality and immorality are made without any recourse to regnant theories of the etiology (?) of homosexuality, because it seems to that author that is perhaps the only way they can make that judgement. Three Regnant theories on the etiology (NOTE: I could not figure out this word either time it appears. I googled "regnant theories homosexualty" and the first thing that popped up was something by Rabbi Roth that contained the exact word I couldn't decipher.)Genetic theory, moral theory, analytic theory, the question is, when I analyze those theories and explain them, Is it conceivable that a moral God should demand of a person whose attractions are to a member of the same gender and would cause people to not act on their own attractions, which means celebacy? The authors on the right find that quite surprising

To say that God did not verbally dictate the Torah does NOT mean that the Torah is not divine

One of my professors, Rahel: What about Zeicher Amalek?

R’ Roth: If Amalek is gone, the mitzvah has been fulfilled!

Rambam on Korbanot?

R’ Roth: to best of my knowledge, Rambam never says that in third temple there will be no korbanot (RambaN thinks he’s nuts for making that claim)

Curse on Eve and all women that men will rule over them because of sin of Garden of Eden?

If that position is accepted by law committee and people leave because they think it is theologically untenable premise, which will probably happen is the same that happened in Women's Ordination, that

The movement may shift, that which was not authoritative would become authoritative

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