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Conservative Judaism and homosexuality

Historical position

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There are many parallels between Judaism and Protestant Christianity. Both base their policies on ethical matters on four main considerations:
bullet The content of scriptures: The Torah for Jews; the Hebrew & Christian Scriptures for Christians.
bullet Religious tradition.
bullet Personal experience.
bullet The findings of science and reason.

Conservative wings of Judaism, Christianity and other religions stress the first two criteria; more liberal wings stress the latter two.

In both Judaism and Christianity, the most liberal tradition(s) have accepted the validity of committed homosexual relationships, hold commitment or marriage ceremonies for loving committed same-sex couples, ordain homosexual clergy, etc. The most conservative traditions are unalterably opposed to any recognition of homosexuality as anything but extremely immoral behavior. The mainline traditions -- Conservative Judaism in this case -- suffer from a division among their memberships on an urban/rural, and young/elderly and other bases.

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The Conservative movement:

About 800 Conservative synagogues in the U.S. belong to the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Their total membership is about 2 million. It includes about 750 synagogues and more than 1,000 North American rabbis. Conservatives, perhaps more than other movement within Judaism, feel torn between conflicting pressures:
bullet Honoring received tradition from Scripture, which they regard as sacred;
bullet Integrating the personal experience of present-day believers;
bullet Adsorbing the findings of human sexuality researchers and mental health therapists.

The Conservative movement generally views "homosexuality as the non-fulfillment of one mitzvah" (command). But there are 612 other mitzvahs in the Mosaic Law -- mostly in the book of Leviticus in the Hebrew Scriptures -- that they can obey.  As such, their position is that:

"one should not treat homosexual Jews any different than one would treat a Jew who is not fully observant in any other way, such as one who drives on Shabbat (Saturday) to places other than a synagogue, or one who does not keep kosher, etc. Thus, Conservative Judaism affirms that homosexual men and women may lead prayers, have an aliyah to read from the Torah, and may even serve as youth group counselors or Hebrew school teachers." 1

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Policies on homosexuality:

At the beginning of the 21st century, Conservative synagogues generally:

bullet Welcomed members of all sexual orientations,
bullet Supported the decriminalization of homosexual behavior among consenting adults, and
bullet Supported laws which protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.


bullet All gays and lesbians are considered ineligible to be considered for ordination as rabbis.
bullet They did not approve of same-sex marriages, civil unions, or commitment ceremonies.

Their official positions were unchanged by 2003. Marianna Matt Newirth, assistant director of media relations at the Jewish Theological Seminary, said:

"While the Conservative movement does not condone same-sex marriages or ordain gay men or women as rabbis, Congregations are encouraged to welcome and reach out to gay members." 2

Two Conservative Jewish organizations, the Rabbinical Assembly (RA) and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism have approved very similar statements concerning homosexuality.  The proclamation by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) -- the movement's chief law-making body -- of the RA on 1992-MAR-25 states:

bullet Whereas Judaism affirms that the Divine image reflected by every human being must always be cherished and affirmed, and
bullet Whereas Jews have always been sensitive to the impact of official and unofficial prejudice and discrimination, whenever directed, and
bullet Whereas gay and lesbian Jews have experienced not only the constant threats of physical violence and homophobic rejection, but also the pains of anti-Semitism known to all Jews and, additionally, a sense of painful alienation from our own religious institutions, and
bullet Whereas the extended family of gay and lesbian Jews are often members of our congregations who live with concern for the safety, health, and well being of their children, and
bullet Whereas the AIDS crisis has deeply exacerbated the anxiety and suffering of this community of Jews who need in their lives the compassionate concern and support mandated by Jewish Tradition,
bullet Therefore be it resolved that we, the Rabbinical Assembly, while affirming our tradition's prescription for heterosexuality,
  1. Support full civil equality for gays and lesbians in our national life, and
  2. Deplore the violence against gays and lesbians in our society, and
  3. Reiterate that, as are all Jews, gay men and lesbians are welcome as members in our congregations, and
  4. Call upon our synagogues and the arms of our movement to increase our awareness, understanding and concern for our fellow Jews who are gay and lesbian. 3

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Robert Kaiser, "Judaism and Homosexuality," 1999-APR-4, at:
  2. Naomi Grossman, "The Gay Orthodox Underground," Moment magazine, 2001-APR, at:
  3. "Homosexuality and Conservative Judaism: A resolution of the Rabbinical Assembly," at:

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Copyright 2000 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-OCT-25
Latest update: 2007-FEB-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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