The Associated Press reported on 2006-SEP-07 that Rabbi Jerome Epstein,
executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism,
expected that the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards would split their vote
concerning the ordination of homosexual rabbis in 2006-DEC. He expected a type
of local option in which individual seminaries and synagogues would be able to
select one of two contradictory policies. He said:
The Conservative tradition of U.S. Judaism is caught in a squeeze somewhat
similar to that experienced among mainline Christian denominations.
Their reports will allow both the more liberal and more orthodox leaders in
the movement to pursue different paths.
Rabbi Elliot Dorff of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles said
each of the rabbinical schools would hold separate discussions on the reports.
"I imagine each of the seminaries will handle it differently. My guess is
that within the next several weeks we will be announcing that our rabbinical
school will be open to gays and lesbians because we have already had this
Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, said
rabbis who so desire could start performing commitment ceremonies recognizing
gay relationships immediately.
Four members of the committee resigned after the reports were issued. They
opposed the methods used to reach the conclusions in the reports. 2
Reactions to the decision:
According to the Virtual Talmud on Beliefnet, some leaders of
the conservative movement felt that the decision of the committee to approve two
opposing positions -- one allowing and one prohibiting same-sex sexual activity
-- "was a failure of will or moral rectitude."
Many Orthodox critics suggest that the Conservative movement has abandoned
its committment to halakhah (Jewish law).
The Virtual Talmud notes there is a gulf between strict and loose
The author of the Virtual Talmud considers the lack of consensus by the
committee as a positive outcome. He notes that the dual decisions of the
committee have left the ultimate decisions up to each locality. Many rabbis,
congregations, and individuals will now study, dialogue, debate and finally
reach conclusions on their "stand on the continuum of Jewish interpretation
and practice" regarding homosexuality. 4
Jewish opinion survey:
Arnold Eisen, a professor at Stanford University and the incoming
chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), commissioned a study
of Conservative Jewish leaders. Steven Cohen, a sociologist at the Hebrew Union
College volunteered to conduct the survey. It was mailed to 18,676 Conservative
rabbis, cantors, seminary students, and lay and professional leadership. 4,861
responded. An additional 722 responded via a web site.
The survey showed that about two-thirds of Conservative rabbis and cantors
believe that the JTS should admit gay and lesbian students for rabbinical study.
Results were slightly higher among lay and professional leadership, and slightly
lower among student rabbis and cantors. Similar results were obtained on the
question of rabbis officiating at same-sex commitment ceremonies.
The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California commented:
"Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United
Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the movementís synagogue association,
said that he has enlisted a consultant to help his staff cope with
synagogues that may choose to hire a gay rabbi. 'We donít see our role as
promoting change,' Epstein said. 'We see our role as promoting pluralism'."
"Support for a more permissive approach is also far more prevalent among
those who are less religiously observant, describe themselves as 'liberal'
and who have friends or family that are gay. Among those who call themselves
theologically liberal, 91 percent support gay ordination; among the
theologically conservative, 57 percent oppose it."
"In one particularly striking finding, 35 percent of the rabbis, cantors
and JTS students surveyed agreed that the liberal teshuvah was 'outside the
pale of acceptability of halachic reasoning,' while only half rejected the
"Sixty-seven percent of Conservative clergy reported that they were
'somewhat embarrassed' by the committeeís decision." 3
U.S. Conservative seminary open to gay students; Israeli seminary remains
In late 2007-MAR, the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York
City -- described as "the flagship seminary of Conservative Judaism,"
announced that it would accept openly gay and lesbian students. A vote by the
JTS faculty produced results similar to the opinion survey mentioned
above: most professors favored an inclusive admissions
Arnold Eisen, chancellor-elect of the JTS commented:
"Iím hoping that the whole process that surrounded the decision will
revitalize the sense that Conservative Judaism is a living organism."
The Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, the main west coast seminary,
recently announced that it had accepted its first two openly gay students.
Rabbi Einat Ramon, dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in
Jerusalem announced on MAR-27 that her seminary would remain closed to gay and
lesbian students. She said:
"This is a final decision. In Israel, the [Conservative] movement has to
be consistently halachic [true to rabbinic and biblical law] otherwise it
will unite with the Reform Movement."
She stated that she believes that homosexuality is a chosen behavior, not a
fixed sexual orientation.
Rabbi Andrew Sacks, director of the Israeli branch of the Rabbinical
Assembly expects that the seminary ruling will be a temporary one. He said:
"We live in a global society, and it is difficult for me to imagine that
what occurs in the United States will not have an impact or influence here
in Israel. ... A decision that is more inclusive seems to me to be
Schism by Canadian Conservative Judaism may result:
Forward, a Jewish daily, reported:
"... those who oppose Conservative Judaismís slide to the left, including
the past chancellor of JTS, Ismar Schorsch, have warned that the acceptance
of gays could ultimately divide the movement. Thus far, those predictions
have not been borne out in the United States."
"In Canada, though, Conservative Jews tend to be more traditional than in
America and movement leaders are mulling whether to split off from the
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the streamís congregational arm in
North America. Rabbis there describe the newly liberal approach to
homosexuality as just one issue among a host of other problems ó including
whether the movementís Canadian branch is getting its fair share of the
financial pie ó that are driving the discussions of a break-away."
"Referring to the decision by JTS, Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, one of two
Canadian members of the law committee, said, 'I would imagine that the
decision today will go into the hopper, but it will not be the determining
decision in terms of whether the Canadian Conservative synagogues will
remain formally connected with the United Synagogue'." 6
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