Thursday, December 07, 2006

Homosexual Ordination and Marriage

A watershed day in the history of Judaism, the Conservative Movement's Law Committee just passed three of five papers on the subject of homosexual ordination and marriages. Two of the papers upheld the ban on both and the third paper, by Rabbi Elliot Dorff, allows limited ordination and marriage of homosexuals provided they never engage in anal sex and remain monogamous. The two papers that would have uprooted the law against homosexual relations were defeated. Multiple decisions are not binding as each community can decide which of the accepted opinions to adopt for their community.

Note that these papers are slightly different than the three discussed last time around (see my posts from, I think, March of this year). Think of these results as the passing two of the rightist opinion (and one of them is Rabbi Roth's) and the middle opinion, which remains largely unchanged.

I have not seen any of the papers yet but they should be published soon, with votes recorded as passed opinions must become a matter of public record. The two leftist papers, however, will probably never be published publicly.


Here is an article from the AP:
Conservative scholars ease gay rabbi ban
Decision upends thousands of years of precedent while stopping short of fully accepting gay clergy

Associated Press Published: 12.06.06, 22:34

Conservative Jewish scholars eased their ban Wednesday on ordaining gays, upending thousands of years of precedent while stopping short of fully accepting gay clergy.

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, which interprets religious law for the movement, adopted three starkly conflicting policies that nonetheless gave gays the chance to serve as clergy.

One upholds the prohibition against gay rabbis. Another, billed as a compromise, permits gay ordination while continuing to ban male sodomy. The third upholds the ban on gay sexual relationships in Jewish law and mentions the option for gays to undergo therapy aimed at changing their sexual orientation.

That leaves seminaries and synagogues to decide on their own which approach to follow.

It will also test what Conservative Jewish leaders call their "big tent," allowing diverse practices by the movement's more than 1,000 rabbis and 750 North American synagogues.

The 25-member panel made its decision in a two-day closed meeting in an Upper East Side synagogue. Students from a gay advocacy group at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the flagship school of Conservative Judaism, stood vigil nearby while the results were announced.

Conservative leaders are struggling to hold the shrinking middle ground of American Judaism, losing members to both the liberal Reform and the traditional Orthodox branches.

Reform Jews, as well as the smaller Reconstructionist branch, allow gays to become rabbis; the Orthodox bar gays and women from ordination.

The last major Law Committee vote on gay relationships came in 1992, when the panel voted 19-3, with one abstention, that Jewish law barred openly gay students from seminaries and prohibited the more than 1,000 rabbis in the movement from officiating at gay union ceremonies.

Canadian congregations to consider idea

The debate focuses on Leviticus 18:22, which states, "Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman," echoing the fight in mainline Protestant groups about the Bible and sexuality.

It's unclear whether any congregations in the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the synagogue arm of the movement, will break away over the gay issue.

A handful of Canadian congregations, which tend to be more traditional than their US counterparts, have said they would consider the idea. However, leaders believe it's more likely that individuals who object to the change will leave to worship in Orthodox synagogues.

Arnold Eisen, incoming chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, personally supports ordaining gays. But he said in a Nov. 22 e-mail to the seminary community that faculty will vote on how the school should respond to the committee's decison.

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, vice chairman of the panel and a supporter of gay ordination, is rector of The Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, which also trains Conservative rabbis. The school was expected to admit gays now that the committee allows it.

Another one, from the Jewish Forward:

Breaking: Conservative Panel Votes To Permit Gay Rabbis
Four Committee Members Resign To Protest Decision
Rebecca Spence | Wed. Dec 06, 2006

In a historic vote, leaders of Conservative Judaism on Wednesday approved a rabbinic opinion allowing ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis and sanctioning same-sex unions.

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards — the 25-member lawmaking body of the Conservative movement — opted to follow the rabbinic tradition of approving separate, mutually contradictory opinions, each of which is now sanctioned as normative Conservative practice. Of the three papers approved, the most permissive, authored by Rabbi Elliott Dorff, opens the door for gay rabbis and same-sex unions, but retains certain biblical bans on homosexual activity. Also vetted were two opinions that uphold the ban on ordaining gay rabbis, one submitted by Rabbi Joel Roth, and another, more extreme opinion submitted by Rabbi Leonard Levy.

Four of the most conservative members resigned the committee in protest: Roth, Levy, Mayer Rabinowitz and Joseph Prouser.

While the decision of the law committee marks a major turning point, it is now up to the individual Conservative seminaries and congregations to decide how to implement the ruling.

And at the movement’s two seminaries, situated on opposite coasts, the approaches are markedly different. The University of Judaism in Los Angeles has long maintained that it will immediately begin admitting gay and lesbian students as soon as the law committee passes a policy that sanctions gay ordination. But at the Jewish Theological Seminary — the movement’s flagship seminary in New York — the law committee’s decision will have to be weighed by the faculty, who plan to deliberate whether or not to begin accepting gay and lesbian students who want to become rabbis.

Judith Hauptman, a professor of Talmud and rabbinic culture at JTS and a prominent supporter of gay ordination, cautioned that the faculty there would not necessarily lean in favor of accepting gays and lesbians. “We can go either way on it,” said Hauptman. “We’re not making a decision about Jewish law, we’re making a decision about the school.”

Hauptman also said that many members of the faculty had not publicly disclosed their views on gay ordination, making it anyone’s guess what the final outcome would be. As for her own views, Hauptman expressed unflagging support for accepting gay students. “As soon as it is possible to ordain gay rabbis,” she said, “it becomes morally imperative on us to accept gay candidates for ordination.”

This week’s decision marks the final chapter in a divisive debate that has roiled the Conservative movement since 1992, when the law committee first took up the question of gays and lesbians becoming rabbis. That debate resulted in the adoption of an opinion that effectively banned gay ordination and unions. The committee’s current consideration of the issue began with the submission of nine papers in the spring of 2005, which were ultimately combined into four separate papers.

The wide gulf between the stances of JTS and of U.J. can be explained in part by the positions of the institutions’ faculty and leadership. The dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at U.J., Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, authored the1992 paper advocating gay ordination and unions, which was defeated at the time. That rabbinic opinion, known as a teshuvah, took the most liberal position in that it also lifted the ban on homosexual anal sex.

Rabbi Joel Roth, a professor of Talmud and Jewish law at JTS, wrote the opinion paper opposing gay ordination that gained approval some 15 years ago. In addition, the former chancellor of JTS, Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, has long argued that sanctioning gay ordination and unions would fracture the movement, with those who opposed it joining the ranks of the Modern Orthodox and those who supported it ultimately converging with Reform Judaism, America’s largest stream.

The appointment earlier this year of Arnold Eisen, a proponent of gay ordination, as the new chancellor of JTS signaled to many that the movement was now on track to open its doors to gay and lesbian clergy. Eisen, who is not a rabbi, is widely expected to turn to the pews in order to bolster support for the movement’s retooled approach to homosexuality.

At Wednesday’s vote, held at Manhattan’s Park Avenue Synagogue, five teshuvot were on the table, covering a diverse spectrum of opinion. The teshuvot in favor of upholding the ban on gay ordination and same-sex unions included an expanded version of Roth’s 1992 paper, as well as one written by Rabbi Leonard Levy, making the case that homosexuality is an illness that can be cured.

Rabbi Elliott Dorff, the rector of U.J., authored the paper that sanctions same-sex unions and allows for gay ordination, but falls short of deeming intercourse between men to be compatible with halacha, or Jewish law. An opinion submitted by Rabbi Gordon Tucker of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y., which advocated full equality of gays and lesbians in Conservative Judaism, with no restrictions on sexual behaviors, failed to pass after being turned into a takanah, an amendment to Jewish law rather than an interpretation. In an interview at his Los Angeles office, Dorff framed the debate in generational terms. He contended that most Conservative Jews on the younger side of the spectrum would support the decision to allow gay and lesbian rabbis, while older people who grew up in a society far less accustomed to people openly expressing their homosexuality might be opposed to the change. Dorff also noted that of the 25 members of the law committee, only two are under the age of 40.

In recent days student groups advocating a change in policy ramped up their activism in advance of the vote. Last week, U.J.’s pro-gay ordination group, Dror Yikra (Hebrew for “call to freedom”), sent each member of the law committee a copy of a letter in support of gay ordination that was signed by three-quarters of the student body.

“As future rabbis, we feel bound by the tenets of halakhah and moved by the ethical challenges posed by our new scientific knowledge and modern understandings of sexual orientation,” the letter stated. “We believe that there is a halakhically acceptable way for our movement to ordain gays and lesbians and for our rabbis to consecrate their love through Jewish commitment ceremonies.”

The group’s co-founder, Rachel Kobrin, a fifth-year rabbinical student, said that her decision to attend U.J. stemmed from its more liberal position on homosexuality. “I came here and not JTS because of this issue,” said Kobrin, 32. “Because I knew that Rabbi Artson was a serious advocate for change.” Indeed, according to Dorff, Artson accepted the job as dean of the rabbinic school on the condition that U.J. would begin accepting gay and lesbian students if and when the law committee ruled in favor of an inclusive policy.

While the majority of the student body at U.J. favors gay ordination, a quiet minority stands in opposition. One student who chose not to sign the letter, Ben Goldstein, a second-year rabbinical student from Rochester, N.Y., said that while he was conflicted in his views on the subject, he did not attach his name to the petition because he did not think that both sides had been given a fair hearing at U.J. Goldstein said that Dorff’s view had been fully parsed, but that Roth’s opinion upholding the ban had gotten short shrift.

“There are other people who feel the same way I do, but they won’t tell you,” he said, citing an atmosphere in which it was frowned upon to oppose gay ordination.

Meanwhile, at JTS, the student organization that advocates full inclusion of gays and lesbians, Keshet, hosted seminars on homosexuality in Judaism while the law committee deliberated. Students wearing rainbow ribbons and buttons proclaiming “ordination regardless of orientation,” participated in educational sessions on such diverse topics as the history of lobbying in the process of deciding Jewish law as well as gay interpretations of the classic Yiddish play, “The Dybbuk.”

The law committee’s decision to allow gays and lesbians to be ordained as rabbis and to sanction same-sex unions comes as other mainstream religions are grappling with similar internecine debates. In recent weeks a southern California diocese of the Episcopal Church (U.S.A.) moved to distance itself from the church over its ordination of gays and women, when it voted to identify as a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, rather than a member of the American arm. That vote could portend a complete break from the church, which recently elected its first female bishop.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Please post where to find the text of each paper!