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]

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