Conservative Rabbis Split
By Amiram Barkat, Haaretz Correspondent
A new study has revealed that Conservative rabbis and cantors in the United States support ordination of homosexuals at a much higher rate than do their counterparts elsewhere, including Israel.
The most dramatic difference of opinion turned up between rabbis and cantors in the United States, where 70 percent support accepting gays into their ranks, and in Canada, where 80 percent were opposed.
The survey, undertaken by Prof. Steven Cohen of the Hebrew University, found an overall rate of approximately 65 percent of Conservative rabbis and cantors worldwide to be in favor of the ordination of homosexuals. In Israel and elsewhere, approval rates were found to be roughly equal to proportion opposed.
The survey, which polled thousands of rabbis, cantors and activists from around the world, aimed to gauge the sentiment in local Conservative communities regarding the decision last December by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards in the U.S. to authorize the ordination of openly homosexual rabbis. The committee decided to give individual synagogues, rabbis and rabbinical schools discretion as to whether to adopt that policy.
Following the decision, both the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, the central Conservative rabbinical training institution, and the smaller seminary at the Los Angeles University of Judaism announced they would permit the enrollment of homosexuals.
Deciding not to change
By contrast, the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies (SIJS) in Israel decided against changing its current policy banning homosexuals from its rabbinical program at the institution.
"Jewish law is completely opposed to sexual relations between individuals of the same sex, and the seminary will accept only students who are committed to the halakha and the way of life it dictates," Rabbi Einat Ramon, dean of the school’s seminary, told Haaretz.
Rabbi David Lazar, one of the promoters of the initiative to allow the ordination of homosexual rabbis in Israel, responded by saying that the movement needed to recognize alternative forms of life "that have become a norm in Israeli society." According to Lazar, the Conservative Movement "should bring these people closer instead of driving them away."
Conservative Judaism (called Masorti in Israel) is a modern stream that arose out of intellectual currents in Germany in the mid-19th century and took institutional form in the United States in the early 1900s.