Current Affairs

US Jews to discuss gay behaviour

Marc Shoffman November 30, 2006
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The Jewish Conservative Movement in the US is preparing for a vote on the issue of gay rabbis and same sex marriage next week with members of the community predicting that ordination and unions will be given the nod.

It comes in reaction to rabbinical students pushing for “ordination regardless of orientation” and many rabbis coming out or performing same sex ceremonies despite a ban.

Arnold Eisen, head of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), has provided advice to the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly whose 25 members will vote on the issue

He is known to favour ordination, he told the committee in a letter, “This could be a precious opportunity for learning and dialogue.”

His view appears to have been backed by the executive vice-president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Rabbi Jerome Epstein, he has been touring America sounding out the views of synagogue congregations, “It could cause confusion, it could cause tremendous angst, it could cause tremendous tension, it could cause tremendous disagreement.

“The committee might accept, will accept, I think, two or more policies, one that actually reaffirms the current position and at least one that will liberalise it.”

Previously the group, which is in the centre of Jewish thought between liberal and orthodox movements, has banned gay rabbis.

Conservative Judaism believes in Jewish law and tradition (halakhah,) while adapting to modern conditions.

In 1992, the last time the movement discussed the issue of homosexuality, it decreed that gays and lesbians would be welcome in its synagogues but that it would not condone gay behaviour, ordination or marriages.

Religious think-tank, the National Jewish Centre for Learning and Leadership, believes the committee will approve a more “liberal understating of the law.”

The group’s president, Rabbi Irwin Kula, told Reuters: “The way it looks, it will be decided on a more liberal understanding of the law.

“It would be a very big, big surprise if that’s not the case.”

But Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, is unsure which way the vote will go, he told Reuters: “I really don’t know what will happen. Many of my colleagues are betting they will have two opinions at the end – that rabbis can maintain the prohibition on homosexual behaviour and another that says it normalises homosexual behaviour.”

The UK Assembly of Masorti Synagogues, the US equivalent of the Conservative Movement, told that it is not up for discussion at the moment.

Michael Gluckman, executive director, said: “You can never say never but at the moment we are not considering this. It is way outside halakhah.”

The Liberal Jewish movement in the UK does provide same sex union blessings and ordains gay and lesbian rabbis.

The issue of gay ordination and same sex marriage has caused a rift within the US Church over the last few years after sections the Episcopal movement backed gay clergymen and same sex unions.

This has reverberated into the worldwide Anglican Communion leading to talks of a split between liberal and conservative denominations.

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