Israel’s Conservative Seminary Accepts Gays and Lesbians on Yom Hashoah

The Schechter Institute in Jerusalem is the Israeli affiliate of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). It has publicly been holding out on changing its policy concerning the admission of gays and lesbians into its rabbinical ordination program (the only such program for the Conservative movement in Israel). That policy has caused much tension for rabbinical students from the Jewish Theological Seminary when they spend a year in Israel during the course of their study (gay and lesbian rabbinical students from JTS are allowed to take classes at Schechter). In fact, rabbinical students from the Conservative Movement’s West Coast seminary, the Ziegler School at the American Jewish University, study at the Conservative Yeshiva during their year abroad.

The big news coming out of Israel is that the Schechter Institute’s policy has just officially changed. It has been announced that at a board of trustees meeting last night, Schechter’s leaders voted to allow gay and lesbian students into its ordination program. That this policy change occurred on Yom Hashoah, the international day of commemoration for the millions who perished at the hands of the Nazis is especially meaningful as homosexuals were among those targeted by the Nazis in their extermination attempts.

While Israeli society in general is known to be tolerant of gays and lesbians, the Schechter Institute seemed determined to maintain its policy. JTS officially changed its policy concerning the admission of gays and lesbians following a vote in December 2006 by the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.

A seminary statement said the decision comes following a “long process”:

The Schechter Rabbinical Seminary views the serious process leading to this decision as an example of confronting social dilemmas within the framework of tradition and halachah, or Jewish law, Hanan Alexander, chair of the seminary’s Board of Trustees, said in the statement. “This decision highlights the institution’s commitment to uphold halachah in a pluralist and changing world.

Students are ordained by a beit din, or rabbinical court, made up of three members of the Rabbinic Advisory Committee of the seminary, all of whom are members of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Masorti/Conservative movement. The beit din members are chosen by the candidate and subject to the approval of the seminary’s dean. They have different opinions regarding the ordination of gay and lesbian students, according to the seminary.

This unique mechanism is an expression of halachic pluralism, one of the founding principles of SRS, the seminary said in its statement. The Seminary is a religious institution of the Masorti/Conservative Movement, bound by Halacha, whose inclusive approach allows for a variety of Halachic opinions.

The Conservative Movement’s Seminario in South America still maintains a policy barring affirmed gays and lesbians from matriculating in its rabbinic ordination program.

While it is odd that it took an additional five years from the time JTS opened its doors, I’m glad to see the Schechter Institute finally following suit.

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