Conservative Movement and the Law Committee Vote on Homosexuality in the NY Times

March 6, 2006

Conservative Jews to Consider Ending a Ban on Same-Sex Unions and Gay Rabbis

In a closed-door meeting this week in an undisclosed site near Baltimore, a committee of Jewish legal experts who set policy for Conservative Judaism will consider whether to lift their movement’s ban on gay rabbis and same-sex unions.

In 1992, this same group, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, declared that Jewish law clearly prohibited commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples and the admission of openly gay people to rabbinical or cantorial schools. The vote was 19 to 3, with one abstention.

Since then, Conservative Jewish leaders say, they have watched as relatives, congregation members and even fellow rabbis publicly revealed their homosexuality. Students at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, the movement’s flagship, began wearing buttons saying “Ordination Regardless of Orientation.” Rabbis performed same-sex commitment ceremonies despite the ban.

The direction taken by Conservative Jews, who occupy the centrist position in Judaism between the more liberal Reform and the more strict Orthodox, will be closely watched at a time when many Christian denominations are torn over the same issue. Conservative Judaism claims to distinguish itself by adhering to Jewish law and tradition, or halacha, while bending to accommodate modern conditions.

“This is a very difficult moment for the movement,” said Rabbi Joel H. Meyers, a nonvoting member of the law committee and executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, which represents the movement’s 1,600 rabbis worldwide.

“There are those who are saying, don’t change the halacha because the paradigm model of the heterosexual family has to be maintained,” said Rabbi Meyers, a stance he said he shared. “On the other hand is a group within the movement who say, look, we will lose thoughtful younger people if we don’t make this change, and the movement will look stodgy and behind the times.”

Several members of the law committee said in interviews that while anything could happen at their meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, there were more than enough votes to pass a legal opinion (a teshuvah in Hebrew) that would support opening the door to gay clergy members and same-sex unions. The law committee has 25 members, but only six votes are required to validate a legal opinion. [more]

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