The New York Times reported Sunday that the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of Conservative Judaism (one of American Judaism’s three main branches) is to meet this week near Baltimore in order to consider a proposal to lift barriers to homosexual rabbis and same-sex unions.
As the paper reports:
In 1992, this same group, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, declared that Jewish law clearly prohibited commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples and the admission of openly gay people to rabbinical or cantorial schools. The vote was 19 to 3, with one abstention.
Since then, Conservative Jewish leaders say, they have watched as relatives, congregation members and even fellow rabbis publicly revealed their homosexuality. Students at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, the movement’s flagship, began wearing buttons saying “Ordination Regardless of Orientation.” Rabbis performed same-sex commitment ceremonies despite the ban.
The direction taken by Conservative Jews, who occupy the centrist position in Judaism between the more liberal Reform and the more strict Orthodox, will be closely watched at a time when many Christian denominations are torn over the same issue. Conservative Judaism claims to distinguish itself by adhering to Jewish law and tradition, or halacha, while bending to accommodate modern conditions.
That is quite a claim — and one undoubtedly hard to pull off. The tension between “adhering to Jewish law and tradition” and “bending to accommodate modern conditions” is the problem.
At least as presented in The New York Times, it certainly appears that the accommodationist motivation is winning the day. Consider this statement:
“This is a very difficult moment for the movement,” said Rabbi Joel H. Meyers, a nonvoting member of the law committee and executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, which represents the movement’s 1,600 rabbis worldwide. “There are those who are saying, don’t change the halacha because the paradigm model of the heterosexual family has to be maintained,” said Rabbi Meyers, a stance he said he shared. “On the other hand is a group within the movement who say, look, we will lose thoughtful younger people if we don’t make this change, and the movement will look stodgy and behind the times.”
From an even more worrisome section of the report:
Many students at the [Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan] say they find the gay ban offensive and would welcome a change, said Daniel Klein, a rabbinical student who helps lead Keshet, a gay rights group on campus. “It’s part of the tradition to change, so we’re entirely within tradition,” he said. Mr. Klein said that even if the law committee did not lift the ban this week, change would come eventually. “Imagine what will happen 10 years from now when some of my colleagues are on the law committee, when people from my generation are on the law committee,” he said. “It’s not going to be a close vote.”