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Reform Judaism and homosexuality

Policies of the Central Conference
of American Rabbis

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See also an essay on the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC)

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Review of the Central Conference of American Rabbis:

The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) is the largest group of rabbis in the American Reform tradition. Their membership includes about 1,800 rabbis who serve over 1.5 million Reform Jews. They have gradually taken a increasingly inclusive approach to homosexuality. On 2000-MAR-29, they overwhelmingly approved a "Resolution On Same Gender Officiation" giving rabbis the option of presiding at gay and lesbian commitment ceremonies if they wish.

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Statements by the CCAR:

Within the Reform movement, by far the largest association is the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). It is the largest group of rabbis in America. They have about 1,800 male and female members. These are rabbis serving at least 1.5 million Reform Jews.

The Conference has gradually taken a increasingly inclusive approach to homosexual matters:  

bullet1977: The CCAR passed a brief resolution which was unusually liberal for the time:

bullet "WHEREAS, the Central Conference of American Rabbis has consistently supported civil rights and civil liberties for all people, especially for those from whom these rights and liberties have been withheld, and

bullet WHEREAS, homosexuals have in our society long endured discrimination,

bullet BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED, that we encourage legislation which decriminalizes homosexual acts between consenting adults, and prohibits discrimination against them as persons, and

bullet BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that our Reform Jewish religious organizations undertake programs in cooperation with the total Jewish community to implement the above stand." 1

bullet1990: The CCAR created an Ad Hoc Committee on Homosexuality and the Rabbinate in 1986. They adopted the report of the Committee in 1990. It said, in part:
bullet They were unable to reach a consensus on the nature of homosexuality. They concluded that "...for many people sexual orientation is not a matter of conscious choice but is constitutional and therefore not subject to change. It is also true that for some, sexual orientation may be a matter of conscious choice."

bullet They reported that: "the majority of the committee affirms that heterosexuality is the only appropriate Jewish choice for fulfilling one's covenantal obligations. A minority of the committee dissents, affirming the equal possibility of covenantal fulfillment in homosexual and heterosexual relationships. The relationship, not the gender, should determine its Jewish value."

bullet They recognized the equality of all Jews, regardless of their sexual orientation.

bullet They support equal rights for homosexuals and welcome them into their synagogues to pray.

bullet The committee urges that all rabbis, regardless of sexual orientation, be accorded the opportunity to fulfill the sacred vocation that they have chosen.
bullet However, they recognized that "the acceptance of gay or lesbian rabbis [is] an intensely emotional and potentially divisive issue."

Reform Judaism does not currently discriminate on the basis of either gender or sexual orientation when ordaining rabbis. They do not require their rabbis to follow a celibate lifestyle.


bullet1996-MAR: They passed a resolution stating:

bullet "BE IT RESOLVED, that the Central Conference of American Rabbis support the right of gay and lesbian couples to share fully and equally in the rights of civil marriage, and

bullet BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the CCAR oppose governmental efforts to ban gay and lesbian marriage.

bullet BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this is a matter of civil law, and is separate from the question of rabbinic officiation at such marriages." 3

Many Reform rabbis perform b'rit ahavah (commitment of love) ceremonies for gays and lesbians. 

bullet1998-JUN: The "Ad Hoc committee on Human Sexuality" issued their report. It is well worth reading for persons of all religious affiliations -- and none -- because it delves into all aspects of human sexuality from a spiritual perspective. Some points raised were:

bullet "Sexuality and sexual expression are integral and powerful elements in the potential wholeness of human beings."

bullet "Authentic and ethical human relationships should be grounded in both truth and honesty."

bullet "Both partners in an intimate relationship should strive to communicate lovingly."

bullet "Reform Judaism encourages adults of all ages and physical and mental capabilities to develop expressions of their sexuality that are both responsible and joyful. The abuse of human sexuality can be destructive to our emotional, spiritual and physical health."

bullet "The importance of family, whether biologically or relationally based, remains the foundation of meaningful human existence."

bullet "For sexual expression in human relationships to reach the fullness of its potential, it should be grounded in fidelity and the intention of permanence....A sexual relationship is covenantal when it is stable and enduring and includes mutual esteem, trust, and faithfulness."

bullet "In a Reform Jewish context, a relationship may attain a measure of kedusha (holiness) when both partners voluntarily set themselves apart exclusively for each other, thereby finding unique emotional, sexual and spiritual intimacy."

bullet "...kiddushah (holiness) may be present in committed, same gender relationships between two Jews, and that these relationships can serve as the foundation of stable Jewish families, thus adding strength to the Jewish community. In this spirit, we believe that the relationship of a Jewish, same-gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual, and that each rabbi should decide about officiation according to his/her own informed rabbinic conscience." 3

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bullet2000-MAR: The CCAR overwhelmingly approved a resolution giving rabbis the option of presiding at gay and lesbian commitment ceremonies. The resolution stated, in part:
bullet "WHEREAS justice and human dignity are cherished Jewish values, and

bullet WHEREAS, in March of 1999 the Women‚€™s Rabbinic Network passed a resolution urging the Central Conference of American Rabbis to bring the issue of honoring ceremonies between two Jews of the same gender to the floor of the convention plenum, and

bullet WHEREAS, the institutions of Reform Judaism have a long history of support for civil and equal rights for gays and lesbians, and

bullet WHEREAS, North American organizations of the Reform Movement have passed resolutions in support of civil marriage for gays and lesbians, therefore

bullet WE DO HEREBY RESOLVE, that the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual, and

bullet FURTHER RESOLVED, that we recognize the diversity of opinions within our ranks on this issue. We support the decision of those who choose to officiate at rituals of union for same-gender couples, and we support the decision of those who do not, and

bullet FURTHER RESOLVED, that we call upon the CCAR to support all colleagues in their choices in this matter, and

bullet FURTHER RESOLVED, that we also call upon the CCAR to develop both educational and liturgical resources in this area." 4

Some individuals commented on this decision:
bullet Rabbi Shira Stern heads the Women's Rabbinic Network. She said: "This is not a woman's issue, or a gay or lesbian issue. This is a human rights issue...For Jews who have no choice in the matter of sexual identity, we as leaders of the movement must provide them with the religious framework in which to celebrate their union."

bullet Rabbi Charles Kroloff, president of CCAR's said that: "gay and lesbian Jews, and the committed relationships they form with their partners, deserve the recognition and respect due to people created in the image of God."

bullet Rabbi Paul Menitoff, executive vice president of CCAR, said: "It is not sinful to be a gay and lesbian...It is sinful to have these [homophobic] prejudices and act out on them."

bullet Maranatha Christian News Service, a conservative Christian group, commented that "Both Kroloff and Menitoff stressed the same-sex ceremonies weren't civil marriages recognized by law, but Kroloff said that some rabbis who have already been performing the ceremonies call them marriages. The Torah condemns male homosexual intercourse, but a decade ago Reform Judaism approved openly gay rabbis. Reform Judaism's rabbinate bases its position on contemporary understanding of homosexuality and the Jewish values of human dignity and justice."

bullet Rabbi Kenneth Hain, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, an Orthodox Jewish group, criticized the CCAR saying that they had undermined the unity of Judaism and had made "another tragic assault on ... the sanctity of our people...As a timeless faith rooted in divine revelation, Judaism's laws cannot be abrogated by fiat or majority vote or redesigned to fit a current behavior pattern." He said that Judaism cannot confer "legitimacy upon relationships which our Torah and tradition specifically prohibit." 5


Rabbi Eric Yoffee of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said:

"This afternoon the Central Conference of American Rabbis, meeting in Greensboro, NC, adopted a resolution by an overwhelming vote stating, in part, that 'the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual'."

It is important to note what the resolution on same gender unions does and does not say. It does not compel any rabbi to officiate at such a ritual, and indeed supports the right of a rabbi not to officiate. It does not specify what ritual is appropriate for such a ceremony. It does not say that the ceremony performed should be called a 'marriage.'

Nonetheless, the historical and religious significance of this resolution is indisputable. For the first time in history, a major rabbinical body has affirmed the Jewish validity of committed, same gender relationships. ..."

"I would like you to know that, voting as an individual, I cast my ballot in favor the resolution. I did so because of my belief that our gay and lesbian children, relatives, and friends are in great need of spiritual support; that the Torah‚€™s prohibition of homosexuality can reasonably be understood as a general condemnation of ancient cultic practice; that loving, permanent homosexual relationships, once difficult to conceive, are now recognized as an indisputable reality; and that in these relationships, whether or not we see them as 'marriages' it is surely true that G-d and holiness can be present.

I know that many disagree. But whatever one thinks on the commitment ceremony question, I assume that we will respect those who believe otherwise, and remember what unites us in this debate: our responsibility to welcome gays and lesbians into our synagogues. Because this I know: if there is anything at all that Reform Jews do, it is to create an inclusive spiritual home for all those who seek the solace of our sanctuaries. And if this Movement does not extend support to all who have been victims of discrimination, including gays and lesbians, then we have no right to call ourselves Reform Jews." 6

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References used:

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

  1. "Resolution Adopted by the CCAR: Rights of Homosexuals," Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1977 at:
  2. "Resolution Adopted by the CCAR: Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Homosexuality and the Rabbinate," Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1990 at:
  3. "Report to the CCAR Convention, June, 1998," Ad Hoc Committee on Human Sexuality, at:
  4. "Resolution Adopted by the CCAR on Gay and Lesbian Marriage," Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1996 at:
  5. "Rabbis approve same-sex unions," Maranatha Christian Journal, 2000-APR-3 (Original posting), at: 
  6. "Reform's position on ... homosexuality," Soc.Culture.Jewish Newsgroups, at:

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Copyright © 2000 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-APR-3
Latest update: 2010-NOV-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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