Samuel Freedman on the Brokeback Mountain Effect and the Conservative Movement

Columbia University Professor Samuel Freedman takes on Rabbi Avi Shafran in today’s Jerusalem Post on the issue of the homosexuality in Judaism and the recent decision by the Conservative Movement to be more inclusive toward gays and lesbians. Freedman, author of Jew vs. Jew (I wonder if Rabbi Shafran read that one?) and Letters to a Young Journalist, writes that “the decision to open a space of theological acceptance for gays and lesbians seems to me deeply true to the Conservative movement’s mission of interpreting Halacha in light of modernity.” Well said Professor Freedman.

From the Jerusalem Post (complete article)

In the Diaspora: Brokeback minyan
By SAMUEL FREEDMAN

When I was a senior in high school and editor of its student newspaper, my English teacher took our staff into Manhattan for a scholastic journalism convention. At the end of the events, which happened to fall on St. Patrick’s Day, he shepherded us onto the subway and then walked us to the correct platform of the bus terminal for the ride back home to New Jersey. Having boarded us all, he backed away from the closing door and said in a sprightly way, “Well, I’m off to see some Irish friends in the Village.”

Most of us knew the import of those flip words. Mr. Stevens, our teacher, was gay, and he was heading into the part of his life that was an open secret. Certainly, our community would not have acknowledged the presence of a homosexual on the faculty, someone entrusted with the lives of scores of teenaged boys. Just as certainly, nobody would have wanted to lose the most inspiring teacher in the school by forcing a confrontation. The result was just one more version of the closet, and it was in that closet that Mr. Stevens essentially drank himself to death.

I found myself recalling Mr. Stevens, a Protestant from the South, in relationship to the Jewish world last week, as the Conservative movement was finally, admirably opening the closet door. The movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards accepted a position paper that permits Conservative seminaries to ordain gays and lesbians as rabbis, and allows Conservative rabbis to perform ceremonies for same-sex unions.

THIS REMAINS incomplete justice, to be sure. Among the five papers accepted by the committee are one restating the movement’s 1992 ban on ordaining homosexuals and another urging gays and lesbians to receive treatment so they can become straight. Each of the movement’s five seminaries and hundreds of congregations has the right to adopt or ignore any of the approved positions. [more]

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

New Video Game Stars Rabbi

More and more these days we see rabbis in TV shows and movies, but I didn’t think the time would come anytime soon that we would see a rabbi starring in a video game. I’ve never been much of a fan of video games (I guess I’ve always like to play some of those retro games like PacMan, Arkanoid, Frogger, etc.), but I’ve got to check out this one. It’s called “The Shiva” and I guess that means you have to sit to play it (typical rabbi joke #1). Also, you’re not allowed to play it on Shabbat (typical rabbi joke #2). Maybe my idea for the video game “Rabbi Cop” will finally see the light of day now. And thank you to the guys at Bangitout.com for posting my “Rabbi Cop” creation to their site.

From Yahoo! News:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – While Christian games like the newly released “Left Behind: Eternal Forces” gain mainstream attention, Manifesto Games in New York City is billing “The Shiva” as the first to star the leader of a Jewish congregation.

In the murder-mystery game named after the Jewish mourning ritual, protagonist Rabbi Stone is having a crisis of faith and his congregation on New York’s Lower East side is losing members and cash.

When he inherits a small windfall from a controversial congregant, Rabbi Stone must solve the mystery behind the gift and make sure it is not cursed.

Manifesto, which announced the title via e-mail, said “The Shivah” plays on personal computers and is the first commercial game from creator Dave Gilbert.

Representatives from Manifesto, which sells downloadable games, were not immediately available for comment. “The Shivah” sells for $5.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Hanukkah-mania? No Wrestle-mania!

Here’s a great video from the Man Show with Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carrola in which they spend the eight nights of Hanukkah with the professional wrestler Goldberg.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Rabbi Joel Roth Speaks Out

Rabbi Joel Roth, who resigned his long-time position on the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) — the Conservative Movement’s standing law committee of the Rabbinical Assembly, has explained his actions in an op-ed piece found on the JTA.org website. He claims that the CJLS stepped outside the halakhic framework in its ruling on the gay issue. “The ostensible legal reasoning in the permissive paper that was approved was outside the pale of acceptability of halakhic reasoning,” Rabbi Roth explained. He is the author of the book, The Halakhic Process: A Systemic Analysis.

The entire text of Rabbi Roth’s op-ed can be found here.

The photo to the left is of Rabbi Joel Roth and me at my 2004 ordination ceremony at the Jewish Theological Seminary. We are standing next to JTS professor Rabbi Burton Vizotsky who is donning an “ORDINATION REGARDLESS OF ORIENTATION” button produced by the JTS Gay Lesbian advocacy group Keshet. I was wearing one of these buttons as well, but out of respect for Rabbi Roth I removed it before taking this photo. What makes this such a great photo however is that just to the right of Rabbi Roth’s head is Rabbi Neil Gillman, almost functioning as a “thought bubble” for Rabbi Roth (or is he one of those little angels or devils on Rabbi Roth’s shoulder?).

Also available on the JTA.org website is an op-ed written by Cyd Weissman, an irate member of the Conservative movement who is the mother of a gay son. She takes great exception with the passing of a teshuvah by Rabbi Len Levy, another member of the CJLS who resigned following the passing of a teshuvah allowing for gay inclusion was passed. Levy’s paper argued for the status quo but also suggested that, contrary to the common medical and psychological opinions, gays should undergo “reparative therapy.”

She writes, I was compelled to ask a Conservative rabbi, “When does Jewish tradition allow you to stand up and say the hurt caused by a law far outweighs the halachah?” Burning within me when I asked this question was the pain I felt while reading in The New York Times that the Conservative movement approved a legal opinion suggesting that “some gay people could undergo ‘reparative therapy.’ ” The movement I’m affiliated with was elevating to Jewish law the notion that gays and lesbians needed repair. Although not enough to make a minyan, six men had decided to brand my son — many sons and daughters — in need of fixing.

Well stated and I happen to agree with her. Certainly, Rabbi Levy (my professor for two courses in the JTS Rabbinical School including one titled “Practical Halakhah”) worked long and hard writing this paper, but it should not have been brought in front of the committee for a vote. Originally, many rabbis wrote teshuvot on this issue and there was a decision to merge several papers into only a few. The two extremely liberal papers that were both deemed takkanot should have not been considered, and the paper by Rabbi Levy should not have been considered leaving only the inclusive paper by Rabbis Nevins, Dorff, and Reisner along with the status quo paper by Rabbi Roth. If Rabbi Roth wanted to re-draft his paper with Rabbi Levy, then this would have been his choice. The three rabbis of the middle-of-the-road position (increased inclusion based on the concept of human dignity, but no abrogation of the ban on male-male anal sex) did decide to collaborate their efforts and I believe it made for an even better constructed teshuvah.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Ken Stein Resigns

Before leaving Michigan for Columbus, Ohio, I took part in TEAM — a one-year program for Jewish educators through the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit and the Alliance for Jewish Education. In June, the program concluded with a three-day conference on best practices for teaching about Israel and Zionism in the classroom. The conference was coordinated by the Institute for the Study of Modern Israel and led by its director Ken Stein, a professor at Emory. I was very impressed with Ken and his entire team for what was an extremely thought-provoking experience on how to convey the situation in the Middle East to students at every age level (past TEAM meetings and discussions had left me frustrated for what was a waste of my time). Ken has recently been in the news after resigning his post as a fellow at Emory’s Carter Center because of the anti-Zionist rhetoric in Jimmy Carter’s new book. Kol Hakavod to Ken for standing up for what he believes! Here is the article from the Forward:

A prominent Middle East scholar, Kenneth W. Stein, announced his resignation as a fellow of Emory University’s Carter Center, in response to former President Jimmy Carter’s new book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

Stein did not give the book’s title in the e-mail announcing his resignation, saying that it was “a title too inflammatory to even print.”

Carter’s book, published last month, is based on his years as a peace negotiator, including his role in the 1978 Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt. The book has drawn widespread criticism from Jewish activists.

Stein was the first executive director of the Carter Center, and he is now the director of the university’s Middle East Research Program and of the Emory Institute for the Study of Modern Israel. Carter and Stein co-wrote a book in 1984 called “The Blood of Abraham.” Stein said he was present in the room, as well, during a number of events recollected in Carter’s new book, and his notes show “little similarity to points claimed in the book. Being a former President does not give one a unique privilege to invent information”

Stein characterized Carter’s book as “replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions, and simply invented segments.”

In his e-mail, Stein said that he plans in the future to more fully rebut the errors that he found in Carter’s book.

Stein said that in his early years working with Carter, “we carefully avoided polemics or special pleading. This book does not hold to those standards. My continued association with the Center leaves the impression that I am sanctioning a series of egregious errors and polemical conclusions which appeared in President Carter’s book.”

Stein will continue in his other academic positions at Emory.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Esa Einai: Out of the Depths [of Staten Island] I Call You

Some might say it’s a sign of the Mashiach arriving! The PS22 Chorus sings Hebrew song Esa Einai (Psalm 121) with an original rap by Dritan, otherwise known as “Lil’ Eminem.” When Jewish kids come home and tell Mom and Dad that they had to sing “Silent Night” at school, the Jewish parents usually complain (December Dilemma). I wonder about the reaction of the Staten Island parents at this school.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism to change gay hiring policy

The United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism will not currently hire a Jewish educator or staff member to work with youth if they are gay or lesbian. Following the decision of the CJLS today, the USCJ issued a statement that seems to say that they will soon reverse that policy:

“Given the Law Committee’s decision today, Rabbi Epstein (at left), who is United Synagogue’s mara d’atra, has told United Synagogue’s leadership that he sees no reason why we should not revise our hiring policies. Based on this conclusion, we may consider applicants for United Synagogue jobs no matter what their sexual orientation. United Synagogue’s leadership will discuss the issue at its next scheduled meeting.”

The response on the USCJ website seemed to say “Here here” to the CJLS vote. Actually it said “here” a few more times:


Halakhic Status of Gay Men and Lesbians

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards met to consider the halakhic status of gay men and lesbians. We respond to decisions made on December 6 here and here.

On August 24, in one of a series of panels to be held across North America, Rabbi Joel Roth and Rabbi Elliot Dorff discussed the issue. Click here and here to read newspaper articles about the panel. If you want to see a three-part video filmed that evening, click here for Part I, here for Part II and here for Part III. To see a guide to the video, click here.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Arnie Eisen on the CJLS Vote on Homosexuality

FROM CHANCELLOR-ELECT ARNIE EISEN OF
THE JEWISH THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

To the JTS Community:

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) of the Rabbinical Assembly has now issued its ruling on the status of homosexual behavior. We are all in their debt for the years of hard work and sustained reflection they have put into this issue. Views on the matter among all of us at JTS differed widely before this week’s decision, and they will no doubt continue to differ widely in the wake of this decision. Opinions on both sides of the issue are strongly held and passionately felt. As we embark on the next stage of our consideration of gay and lesbian ordination at JTS, I am confident that the long-standing JTS tradition of embracing and respecting significant differences of opinion will continue to guide us. I write to remind you of the steps through which we at JTS will carry the discussion forward in coming weeks.

First, let me emphasize that the halakhic authority for the Conservative Movement and the institutions associated with it rests with the CJLS. The Law Committee has split on the status of homosexual behavior according to Jewish law; its rules and those of the Rabbinical Assembly regard each of the opinions authorized as equally legitimate. The ball is thus in our court with regard to the question of ordination of gays and lesbians at JTS — a decision regarding admission and graduation requirements that we will treat as such and not as the matter of law that stood before the Law Committee. We at JTS are not poskim. We will not be adjudicating matters of halakhah. However, we are going to consider what we think best serves the Conservative Movement and larger American Jewish community. We know that the implications of the decision before us are immense. We fully recognize what is at stake. This is why we are determined to conduct a thoroughgoing discussion of which we can all be proud no matter what outcome is eventually reached.

We have commissioned a survey with Stephen M. Cohen to determine where rabbis, Conservative Jewish laypeople, and the movement’s leadership stand on the issue. This data will be in hand before JTS reaches its decision on the matter.

I have invited the heads of the other seminaries affected by the CJLS decision — Machon Schechter in Jerusalem, the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano in Buenos Aires, and the Ziegler School of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles — to join me for a frank airing of the matter.

JTS students will be informed about the details of the Law Committee decision in coming days and will over the next month or so have a chance to debate with one another the pros and cons of the ordination of homosexuals. They will also have the opportunity to make their voices heard by faculty and administration.

Through the Campus Life Committee, the Deans of Student Life and the five schools will continue to consult and plan for both possible outcomes of this process.
Faculty will hold several discussions of the matter in coming weeks with the aim of making a clear and reasoned determination.

Let me note, that this critical phase of the discussion and the very debate itself is a hallmark of JTS — and Conservative Judaism more generally — of which we can be proud. We have the burden and privilege of this debate not because we are in the middle, but because of our commitment to halakhah on the one hand and full immersion in the culture and society of the present on the other hand. We are dedicated to thoughtful change as an essential element of tradition — which is not to say that the change proposed to us now is right or necessary, but that the process of considering it thoughtfully, whatever we eventually decide, is to us inescapable and welcome. One could say that such debate defines us — and that, well-conducted, it strengthens us. Of course debate on this and similar matters has the potential to wound us as an institution and a movement. It also, however, has the power to remind us of what we stand for, and why despite our differences — or even because of them — we choose to stand together.

That is why I hope you will all join me in doing our very best to ensure that we do this right. I firmly believe that the way we discuss the matter in coming weeks may well have as great an effect on the future of JTS as whatever decision we eventually reach. Argument le-shem shamayim is for us a long and valued tradition. Never has it been more needed than now.

Let me just add in conclusion that if you have suggestions or thoughts about either the process or its outcome, please do not hesitate to communicate them to me.

Arnold Eisen
Chancellor-elect

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Four Resignations on the CJLS over the Vote on Homosexuality and Halakhah

Rabbi Joel Roth and Rabbi Mayer Rabinowitz Resign from Conservative Movement Law Committee

At the end of the CJLS deliberations, four members of the Committee resigned: Rabbi Joel Roth (at right), Rabbi Mayer Rabinowitz (at left), Rabbi Joseph Prouser and Rabbi Leonard Levy. They expressed the view that the permissive teshuvah accepted by the Committee went beyond the bounds of halakhic process. The CJLS members have asked them to reconsider. I think this is really a shame. I disagree wholeheartedly with these four rabbis that the permissive tehuvah went beyond the bounds of the process to decide Jewish Law, however, these are also four very talented and thoughtful poskim in the Conservative Movement. Rabbis Roth, Rabinowitz and Levy were my teachers in rabbinical school (Rabbi Prouser’s wife Ora Horn Prouser was my teacher too). I certainly hope they re-consider (especially Rabbi Roth and Rabbi Rabinowitz who have served on the Law Committee with distinction for so many years).

At the conclusion of deliberations, three papers were approved. The teshuvot of (1) Rabbi Joel Roth and of (2) Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Rabbi Daniel Nevins (at left) and Rabbi Avram Reisner each received 14 votes. A third teshuvah by Rabbi Leonard Levy received six votes. The other papers were voted takkanot and failed, each receiving seven votes. These will be included in our papers as either concurring documents of papers to study.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

JTA Story on the CJLS Meeting

Well, here’s the JTA “Breaking News” alert on the CJLS meeting. It answers the question about the two liberal papers (one by the father-son team of Rabbis Bob and David Fine; the other by Rabbi Gordon Tucker) that were apparently ruled as takkanot and defeated in committee.

Conservatives open to gays

The Conservative movement’s highest legal body moved to allow commitment ceremonies for gays and the ordination of gay rabbis. The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards endorsed three opinions Wednesday on homosexuality.

Two opinions upheld earlier prohibitions on homosexual activity, but the third endorsed commitment ceremonies and the ordination of gay rabbis, while retaining the biblical ban on male sodomy.

Two other opinions that were under consideration, which would have removed all restrictions on gay activity, were declared takanot, or substantial breaks from tradition that would require an absolute majority of the committee members for adoption.

They were defeated.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller