Thursday, December 7, 2006

Got our foot in the door.

Conservative Judaism's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards held a vote yesterday that allows for same-sex "commitment ceremonies" and the ordination of gay rabbis. They passed three teshuvot, one gay-affirming (to a point) and two not (one apparently decidedly so); all of these are now considered halakhically acceptable, so basically anyone can choose which decision to follow.
The complicated decision by the Conservatives Movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards leaves it up to individual seminaries whether to ordain gay rabbis and gives individual rabbis the option of sanctioning same-sex unions. Reform Judaism, the largest branch of the faith in the United States, has ordained openly gay men and lesbians since 1990 and has allowed its rabbis to perform same-sex commitment ceremonies since 2000. Orthodox Judaism does not countenance same-sex relationships or the ordination of gay rabbis.


After years of discussion and two days of intense debate behind closed doors at a synagogue on Park Avenue, the law committee accepted three teshuvot, or answers, to the question of whether Jewish law allows homosexual sex. Two answers uphold the status quo, forbidding homosexuality.

But a third answer allows same-sex ceremonies and ordination of gay men and lesbians, while maintaining a ban on anal sex. It argues that the verse in Leviticus saying "a man shall not lie with a man as with a woman" is unclear, but traditionally was understood to bar only one kind of sex between men. All other prohibitions were "added later on by the rabbis," Dorff told reporters.

Naturally, not everyone was pleased with the outcome:
Four of the law committee's 25 members resigned in protest of the decision.

These four included the two authors of the anti-gay positions:
In protest, four conservative rabbis resigned from the law committee, saying that the decision to allow gay ordination violated Jewish law, or halacha. Among them were the authors of the two legal opinions the committee adopted that opposed gay rabbis and same-sex unions.

One rabbi, Joel Roth, said he resigned because the measure allowing gay rabbis and unions was "outside the pale of halachic reasoning."

Roth was the author of one of the anti-gay positions.

Some apparently were just confused:
It takes the votes of just six panel members to declare an answer to be valid -- meaning that it is a well-founded interpretation of Jewish law, not that it is the only legitimate position. Thirteen members voted in favor of allowing gay ordination and same-sex ceremonies, and 13 voted against -- meaning that at least one rabbi voted for both positions.

This wasn't all well and good for gays, of course. The pro-gay position only barely passed, while the other two passed handily:
Levy’s paper passed with six votes - the minimum number required - while the other two garnered more widespread support, each passing handily with 13 votes.

And ones that were completely gay-affirming were flatly rejected, according to the NY Times:
The committee also rejected two measures that argued for a complete lifting of the prohibition on homosexuality, after deciding that both amounted to a "fix" of existing Jewish law, a higher level of change that requires 13 votes to pass, which they did not receive.

And the pro-gay law that did pass says that same-sex couples can be "recognized but not blessed", and gays ordained as rabbis, as long as they don't engage in male-male anal sex. Of course, as some pointed out, "in practice, it is a prohibition that will never be policed."

The very anti-gay position apparently holds that "gay men and lesbians are best advised to find 'restorative therapy' to change their sexual orientation."

So there's a modicum of progress there. I especially enjoyed co-author of the pro-gay position's rationale:
Though stopping short of endorsing same-sex marriage, the rabbis wanted to allow commitment ceremonies "because in Jewish sexual ethics, promiscuity is not acceptable either by heterosexuals or by homosexuals, and we do in fact have both a Jewish and a social and a medical need to try to confirm those unions," said Rabbi Elliot Dorff of Los Angeles, one of the authors of the change.

At least someone recognizes that there's an inconsistency between deriding same-sex relationships for being "promiscuous" while at the same time refusing to affirm monogamous relationships.

I don't believe the full positions have been released; hopefully they will be soon. In the meantime, let's all have a good laugh at this comment on the Washington Post article, in response to someone saying that there should be a "happy medium" between religions changing with the times and maintaining tradition:
The "happy medium" between heaven and hell is what, exactly? Hard to fathom how salvation ever could cease to be relevant.

Yes, because Heaven, Hell, and Salvation are so central to Judaism.

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