Conservative Judaism Homosexuality Jewish JTS Keshet

No Vote from the Conservative Movement’s Law Committee on Gay Rabbis or Commitment Ceremonies

Jewish Theological Seminary Homosexuality Rabbi Jason MillerBelow is the “Breaking news” from that no vote was made on any of the teshuvot (responsa) presented. This was no surprise for me having sat in on several Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) meetings while a student at The Jewish Theological Seminary. Teshuvot are presented, studied, debated, and then re-written or just tweaked before being voted on. I would have been shocked had they actually voted on any of these four papers during this meeting at an undisclosed location in Baltimore. It shows they are being mindful of how the halakhic (Jewish legal) process works and that this decision cannot be made based on social pressure or politicking from both sides of the debate.

The authors of the four response are our Conservative rabbis and members of the CJLS:
1) Joel Roth;
2) Elliot Dorff, Daniel Nevins, Avi Reisner;
3) Leonard Levy;
4) Benzi Bergman, David Fine, Robert Fine, Myron Geller, Gordon Tucker.

Here’s the breaking news blurb from (The full article is here and the Forward article is here):

Conservatives delay gay policy decision

The Conservative movement’s policy on homosexuality will remain unchanged until at least December.

During a two-day meeting of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, which ended Wednesday, authors of four responsa on the status of homosexuality in the movement were asked to make revisions in advance of a vote on the issue in December.

The decision means that the movement’s 1992 decision barring openly gay and lesbian individuals from its rabbinical schools and forbidding its rabbis to perform same-sex marriages will remain in place for now.

“The pain that so many real people are experiencing because of their love for tradition and their hope for a supportive community clearly hasn’t moved the Rabbinical Assembly as an institution to move more quickly,” said Rabbi Menachem Creditor, one of the founders of Keshet Rabbis, a group supporting gay and lesbian rights in the Conservative movement.

Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the assembly, urged patience. “I am urging my colleagues who promote change to realize that there are an equal number of colleagues who are in favor of welcoming gays and lesbians in the Conservative community but who do not wish to change halachah,” he said.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Conservative Judaism Jewish JTS Keshet Rabbi

RA May Expel Member

From the NY Times

A rabbi who has officiated at the marriage of gay and lesbian couples has been threatened with expulsion from the Conservative movement’s rabbinical association, though movement officials say it is not her activism that is at issue but her repeated defiance of the movement’s rules.

Ayelet S. Cohen, the junior rabbi at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, a largely gay and lesbian synagogue in Greenwich Village, says she is being punished for her openness in performing the ceremonies. Officials of the association say it has nothing to do with the gay marriages. Rather, they say, she faces expulsion because she has repeatedly defied long-established rules for taking a job at a synagogue.

The Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement, with 1,600 rabbis, voted in 1992 not to ordain gays as rabbis and said that rabbis should not perform same-sex marriages. But the assembly stopped short of declaring the ban on marriage or commitment ceremonies a binding standard, tacitly allowing individual rabbis some discretion. Various rabbis within the movement have estimated that 20 to 40 rabbis have performed these ceremonies. Both the Reform and Reconstructionist movements ordain people who are gay and allow rabbis to marry gay people. Orthodox Jews neither ordain nor marry gays.

Rabbi Cohen said the assembly’s Joint Commission on Rabbinic Placement told her in recent days that it would recommend her expulsion from the assembly for taking a job at an unaffiliated synagogue without obtaining a waiver and, after getting a waiver, letting it expire. Officials confirmed that part of her account, and said her case would be heard on Jan. 25 by the assembly’s administrative committee and on Jan. 26 by the executive council, whose decision would be final.

Expulsion would make it virtually impossible for Rabbi Cohen to get jobs at 760 North American synagogues affiliated with the Conservative movement, or to use the movement’s pension and insurance plans. She could continue serving at Beth Simchat Torah, which was discouraged from joining the Conservative movement and has not affiliated itself elsewhere.

In an interview before leaving for a vacation in Spain, Rabbi Cohen, who is 30 years old and heterosexual, said she was being punished for her vocal advocacy on gay rights.

“It’s because I have performed same-sex wedding ceremonies,” Rabbi Cohen said. “I made it clear from the outset that I plan to do it, and I have done it.”

Rabbi Cohen, whose father is Stephen P. Cohen, president of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development, has performed four wedding ceremonies for people of the same sex, having them exchange vows under a chupah, or canopy, and having them sign a ketubah, or marriage contract. Last March, she was interviewed by The New York Times after charges were brought against two Unitarian ministers for performing same-sex ceremonies in New Paltz for couples who did not have marriage licenses. She said at the time that she would “continue to conduct ceremonies, even if illegal.”

Rabbi Joel H. Meyers, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, denied that Rabbi Cohen’s activism on gay issues had anything to do with the charges against her, and added, “She’s no more public about it than other rabbis.”

Rather, he said, she is facing sanctions because of her repeated defiance of bedrock rules on how rabbis get placed, rules that prevent synagogues from poaching one another’s rabbis with lucrative offers.

Rabbi Cohen was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the movement’s fountainhead, in May 2002 and took a job at the unaffiliated Greenwich Village synagogue before being formally granted a waiver to do so. Rabbi Meyers eventually gave her a waiver for two years, but Rabbi Cohen let it be known that the time was insufficient. By July 31, 2004, she should have applied for an extension but did not, waiting two months beyond the waiver’s expiration.

“It’s painful and unfortunate,” Rabbi Meyers said. “Ayelet Cohen is a very good rabbi. She gets people to talk about her positively in terms of her work, and it’s a shame she’s raising this – trying to push this off on the movement and its gay and lesbian stance – rather than looking at her own actions.”

Rabbi Cohen has received a letter of support from eight colleagues, including Rabbi Gordon Tucker of Temple Israel in White Plains, the former dean of the seminary’s rabbinical school, and Rabbi J. Rolando Matalon of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun on the West Side. Noting that the movement has lost gay members and their families, the eight rabbis wrote: “Surely the opportunity to have Rabbi Cohen serve a community of gay and lesbian Jews who seek a Conservative rabbi is too important to be thrown away in favor of punishing her for such a technical error.”

Whatever happens to Rabbi Cohen, the issue is not going to go away. The assembly’s committee on Jewish law and standards is meeting in April and will revisit the issue of gay and lesbian unions.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
JTS Torah

Senior Sermon

This Shabbat I delivered my Senior Sermon at The Jewish Theological Seminary. In the final year of Rabbinical School, each senior rabbinical student is given the opportunity to teach the Seminary community. This is considered to be one of the major milestones on the journey toward rabbinic ordination. On either a Friday evening or Saturday morning, the student presents a sermon based on that week’s Torah portion in the Women’s League Seminary Synagogue.

My sermon on Parshat Vayishlach entitled “Ya’akov Is Left Alone: Wrestling From Darkness to Hope” can be accessed here.

I hope that others will be inspired by my personal message and my Torah.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |