Vote in favor of ordaining gays draws mixed views
By Kristin Erekson
While some CJLS members resign in protest, other rabbis express support Leaders within Conservative Judaism have taken a radical step forward by voting to allow the ordination of gay rabbis and to recognize same-sex commitment ceremonies.
Though they did not mandate the policies, the 25-member Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly (CJLS) chose on Dec. 6 to let individual Conservative rabbinical schools decide whether to admit gay and lesbian students into their programs. The vote also left individual rabbis to determine how to manage same-sex weddings. Rabbi Kassel Abelson, chairman of CJLS, said that the assembly reached a “pluralistic decision.” “I think that this is a response by the committee to the changing needs and situation of the Conservative community,” Abelson added. “These teshuvot are accepted as guides so that the gays and lesbians can be welcomed into our congregations and communities and made to feel accepted.” At the meeting in New York, CJLS passed three contradictory legal opinions: one that favors gay rabbis and unions but prohibits sodomy, and two that maintain a traditional ban on gay clergy. Immediately following the decision, four CJLS members - Rabbis Mayer Rabinowitz, Joel Roth, Leonard Levy and Joseph Prouser - announced their resignations. “The mood was somber,” said a spokeswoman for CJLS. “One of the rabbis turned to [those who resigned] and said, ‘Our teachers, don’t leave us.’ But this was not done as a sour move. It was a principle decision.” The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City has not yet come to a decision on ordaining homosexuals, but is currently commissioning surveys on the matter, according to the school’s Director of Media Relations Sherry S. Kirschenbaum. Several published reports have suggested that the University of Judaism in Los Angeles is expected to begin ordaining gays soon. In a statement issued by the Rabbinical Counsel of America, Orthodox religious leaders called the verdict “another significant step in the further estrangement of the Conservative movement from Jewish law and tradition.” Yet Conservative Rabbi Carl M. Perkins of Temple Aliyah in Needham said that the decision reflects “the enormous evolution in our society’s understanding of homosexuality.” Perkins added that he hopes to conduct several study sessions during which he and his congregants will explore Jewish law in the Conservative movement and the implications of the most recent decisions made by the committee. Conservative Rabbi David Lerner of Temple Emunah in Lexington said this was a “huge move for Conservative Judaism.” Temple Emunah’s policy has always welcomed homosexuals, and in April, Lerner noted, the synagogue is scheduled to host openly gay Orthodox Rabbi Steve Greenberg. “It is my hope the learning we will do together will allow those on both sides of the issue to feel more comfortable with any possible change we will make,” Lerner added.
© 2006 The Jewish Advocate. All rights reserved.