Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Conservative Jews and Gay Rabbis

The Jewish Theological Seminary is one of this nation's leading rabbinical schools for conservative Jews. The Seminary just announced that they will now allow the admission of gay and lesbian students. Here are some highlights (the emphasis is mine):


"I write to announce that, effective immediately, The Jewish Theological Seminary will accept qualified gay and lesbian students to our rabbinical and cantorial schools.

"This matter has aroused thoughtful introspection about the nature and future of both JTS and the Conservative Movement to a degree not seen in our community since the decision to admit women to The Rabbinical School nearly twenty-five years ago. Convictions and feelings are strong on both sides. Some will cheer this decision as justice long overdue. Others will condemn it as a departure from Jewish law and age-old Jewish custom. One thing is abundantly clear: after years of discussion and debate, heartfelt and thoughtful division on the matter is evident among JTS faculty, students, and administration. The same is true of professionals and lay leaders of the Conservative Movement. For many of us, the issue runs deep inside ourselves. . .

"We believe that the law can be modified, and therefore should be modified, in accord with our society's changed knowledge about and moral attitudes toward homosexuality, knowledge and attitudes far different than those of our ancestors that guided their reading of law and tradition. Core Jewish teachings such as the imperative to treat every human being with full respect as a creature in God's image urge us strongly in this direction. We do not alter established belief and behavior casually. But we are convinced that change in this case is permitted and required, precisely in order to preserve the tradition charged with guiding us in greatly altered circumstances.

"For we are Conservative Jews. The question facing us now, as always, is what the tradition as a whole commands us to do. Members of our community disagree about the correct answer to that question and about the proper method of answering it but not, I think, about the nature or urgency of the question itself. As Conservative Jews, we know that halakhah has a history. The fact of its development and change over time, partly in response to altered circumstances, ways of thinking, and moral convictions, was proclaimed by Zacharias Frankel at the very outset of the movement. It is a given in scholarship on Jewish law as well. The CJLS debate and the discussion in its wake follow from these principles of Conservative Judaism. "

I found this via Andrew Sullivan's blog. Here is his take on this development:

"Read the whole thing. It's a landmark decision. It pains me to note that as Episcopalians, reform and conservative Jews, and many other religious groups are grappling with this question with compassion and insight, my own church has actually regressed back to the dark ages with respect to gay seminarians."

I agree with Andrew, this is a very interesting document that is worth a very close read.

4 comments:

clumber said...

The article here from last December was the prelude to this. One of the interesting parts of it is in the fourth paragraph

In the wake of the vote, four socially conservative members of the Conservative movement — Rabbi Joel Roth, Rabbi Mayer Rabinowitz, Rabbi Leonard Levy and Rabbi Joseph Prouser — resigned from the law committee.

It's a small world after all, it's a small small small small world.

clumber said...

Oh, forgot the part I really like:

It also means, in practical terms, Conservative congregations will decide for themselves whether or not to hire openly gay and lesbian rabbis and cantors.

Throw it back to the local level to decide what's acceptable!

Chuck Blanchard said...

Clumber:

Thanks for the link to the article. Very interesting background.

Anonymous said...

It is worth reading Arnie Eisen's comments very closely. The key pivot is that Jewish tradition has found "work arounds" lots of other Biblical prohibitions such as stoning to death disrepectful children. It is only over the course of the last half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st that this particular prohibition has come under the same focus. The willingness to reexamine is the key to having a viable religious life in a secular world.

Andy