Current Affairs

US Jews welcome gays and lesbians

Marc Shoffman December 7, 2006
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Conservative Jews in America have welcomed a decision by the movement regarding gay rabbis and same sex marriage.

A two day meeting of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, which gives recommendations on religious doctrine, presented three differing positions that may be adopted by Jewish seminaries, leaving it up to individual seminaries and synagogues, ranging from upholding a ban on lesbian and gay ordination to only allowing non-sexually active gay rabbis.

The ruling also paved the way for each synagogue to decide on blessing lesbian and gay relationships.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents more than 750 Conservative synagogues, with 1.5 million members, today welcomed the movement’s decisions on gay men and lesbians and moved toward changing its own hiring policies.

Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and a voting member of the Law Committee that made today’s ruling, said: “The decisions of the Conservative Jewish movement’s Law Committee, which allows individual synagogues and other institutions the flexibility to embrace the policies they believe are most appropriate for their community, afford Conservative Jews the opportunity to now be even more welcoming of the broad diversity in our community.

“Today’s decisions reaffirm the importance of Jewish law, halacha, in our everyday lives. Regardless of how one feels about this specific issue, the decisions reached today are founded in the deep and abiding respect for halacha.

“I no longer have any reason to believe that halacha stands in the way of fully engaging gays and lesbians in our organisation. Based on that conclusion, I see no reason why we should not revise our hiring policies so we may consider applicants for United Synagogue jobs no matter what their sexual orientation may be. United Synagogue’s leadership will discuss the issue at our next scheduled meeting.

He did however express concern at one ruling which suggested therapy for gay and lesbian Jewish community members, “Although I have the greatest respect for the Law Committee’s decisions, I do not agree with the recommendation that gays and lesbians are best advised to find ‘restorative therapy’ to change their sexual orientation.”

Dr Raymond Goldstein, United Synagogue’s international president, said, “I am proud of Law Committee decision, which demonstrates the pluralism that is one of our movement’s greatest strengths.

“As I travel around North America I am struck by both the diversity and the shared values and commitment of our congregations.

“The Law Committee’s decision, arrived at after much deliberation, argued with both passion and respect, is a prime example of that pluralism in action.”

The UK Assembly of Masorti Synagogues, the US equivalent of the Conservative Movement, told earlier this year 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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