Jewish Keshet

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 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 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 | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |