Thursday, December 07, 2006

a little teshuvah from the conservative movement

the latest news from the conservative movement of judaism in the usa is that it has accepted a teshuvah permitting same-sex ceremonies and the ordination of lesbian/gay people.


a perspective from ha-aretz newspaper as an early response:

"Rosner's Blog
Shmuel Rosner Chief U.S. Correspondent
The abomination debate: Jewish conservatives on the verge of a new era

Twenty-five Conservative rabbis began a thorny debate yesterday on the place of homosexuals in their movement. The debate will continue today, in the hopes of reaching a decision, but regardless, a press conference has been called for noon. Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, said he finds it hard to believe that a decision will once again be postponed, as it was when the assembly first discussed the issue several months ago. The rabbis must decide: Can homosexuals become Conservative rabbis and cantors? Can Conservative rabbis conduct same-sex commitment ceremonies? (Update: the Movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards allowed the Movement's seminaries to ordain openly gay and lesbian rabbis and cantors)

The Conservative Movement - once the largest Jewish movement in America, but now steadily shrinking - has been debating the issue for some time. In 1992, it rejected proposals for homosexual equality, but since then, the pressure has intensified. The problem, explained one Rabbinical Assembly member, is how to explain rabbinic decisions to Conservative laymen, many of whom "don't understand the halakhic issues involved. They live in a liberal society, and they simply want us to change the laws, just as America changed its laws to give homosexuals equal rights."

Anne Kaiser is one of those who favor such a change. Not that she wants to be a rabbi - she likes her job as a Maryland state legislator, to which she was reelected last month as an avowed lesbian. And she said that her rabbi gave her to understand that she and her partner could hold a commitment ceremony in the synagogue, regardless. Nevertheless, she would like to see it official.

For opponents, however, such a radical break with tradition is not only unacceptable, it could also even be grounds for leaving the movement. This is the most divisive debate the movement has experienced since its debate 30 years ago over equality for women.

Rabbi Joel Roth, who formulated the movement's 1992 opinion against any change in the status of homosexuals, said at the time he simply could not identify any halakhic loophole that would permit such a change - and because the Conservative Movement defines itself as a halakhic movement, such a decision would require some basis in the religious sources.

"An inability to legitimate homosexuality halakhically makes no negative claim whatsoever about the humanity, sanctity, worth and dignity of homosexuals," he stressed in a lecture on the subject. But the Torah's blunt statement on homosexual relations - that a man lying with another man as he would lie with a woman is an "abomination" (Leviticus 18:22) - leaves no wriggle room, say Roth's adherents.

The Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards that will vote today in New York, however, is not that of 1992: Only nine of its 25 members are the same. Meyers said the current committee maintains a balance between "liberals" and "conservatives," but acknowledged that the generational change might also have changed the meaning of these terms, which in turn could result in a different outcome at today's vote.

Opponents of Roth's view argue that the Torah prohibition, as well as subsequent rulings by the rabbis, related to a different time and a different type of homosexuality. The Torah, they say, banned what existed then, but could not have banned today's homosexuality, because the current incarnation of same-sex relations is an invention of the modern world.

"Sex, in antiquity, was an activity, not an orientation," explained Rabbi Bradley Artson, one of the advocates of this view. "The meaning of the activity was determined by its context. In the case of same gender sex, that context was always one that treated a human being as an object, or [one] of oppression." And that, he argues, differs from today's model of consensual, caring, same-sex relationships.

"The rabbis were never at a loss for ways to transform or circumvent a biblical institution when later on it came to be viewed as ethically unjustifiable," added Rabbi Howard Handler.

Five different rabbinical opinions have been submitted to the committee for consideration, ranging from no change through limited rights to complete equality for homosexuals. This gives the panel some room to maneuver, and the prevailing view is that it will opt for a compromise: It will adopt one opinion that forbids homosexual ordination and same-sex commitment ceremonies, and another that permits them.

The rules make such an outcome possible: The committee requires a majority of 13 to adopt a binding ruling, but only six votes in favor are needed to adopt a "responsum" - defined as one possible interpretation of a halakhic issue, but not the only one. Thus the committee is widely expected to adopt two contradictory responsa but no binding ruling. That way, each Conservative congregation could decide for itself. "

a slightly later report from the houston chronicle has more details:

"Conservative Jewish leaders ease gay rabbi ban
Three differing policies leave the final decision to local synagogues

Associated Press

NEW YORK — A panel of rabbis gave permission Wednesday for same-sex commitment ceremonies and ordination of gays within Conservative Judaism, a wrenching change for a movement that occupies the middle ground between orthodoxy and liberalism in Judaism.

The complicated decision by the Conservatives Movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards leaves it up to individual seminaries whether to ordain gay rabbis and gives individual rabbis the option of sanctioning same-sex unions.

Like many Protestant denominations, Conservative Jews are divided over homosexuality: torn between the Hebrew scriptures' condemnation of it as an "abomination" and a desire to encourage same-sex couples to form long-lasting, monogamous relationships.

Reform Judaism, the largest branch of the faith in the U.S., has ordained gay men and lesbians since 1990 and has allowed rabbis to perform same-sex commitment ceremonies since 2000. Orthodox Judaism does not countenance same-sex unions or the ordination of gays.

After years of discussion and two days of intense debate behind closed doors at a synagogue on Park Avenue, the law committee accepted three teshuvot, or answers, to the question of whether Jewish law allows homosexual sex. Two answers uphold the status quo, forbidding homosexuality.

But a third allows same-sex ceremonies and ordination of gay men and lesbians, while maintaining a ban on anal sex.

Four of the law committee's 25 members resigned in protest of the decision.

It takes the votes of six panel members to declare an answer to be valid. Thirteen members voted in favor of allowing gay ordination and same-sex ceremonies, and 13 voted against — meaning that at least one rabbi voted for both positions."

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