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Conservative Jewish panel moves toward decision on ordaining gays

While people ruminate over the direction the Catholic church will take on many issues once JPII passes, the fact of the matter is that not much is going to change in terms of its view of homosexuality, celibacy for priests, the ordination of women and openly gay people, or birth control. Since 97% of the 120 cardinals were appointed by the Pope — real change isn’t on the horizon.

For other religions, such as the stone’s-throw-from-Catholicism Anglican/Episcopal church, there has been a great deal of public upheaval since the ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson, an openly gay man in a committed relationship. Most recently, we’ve got an unhinged African bishop willing to spurn $350K of AIDS assistance because it came from a diocese that supported Robinson’s elevation, but the church ordains women, and some churches have blessed same-sex unions. There has been such recent turmoil that a halt to the ordination of bishops has occurred for a year.

Conservative Jews are now meeting to discuss and decide whether they will reconsider a 1992 vote to opposed the ordination of gays and women, and whether to endorse same-sex relationships. There is a familiar pattern you see here, as the most strict branches of the faith see an erosion of its following to those that are willing to revise and review doctrine based on the needs and changes in modern society. (AP via Tucson Citizen):

The vote of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, if taken at this conference, will not be binding, nor will it resolve disagreements over homosexuality among Conservative Jews. …Conservative Jews adhere to tradition but allow some re-evaluation of Jewish law for modern circumstances. The movement occupies a middle ground between the liberal Reform branch, which ordains gays and blesses same-sex couples, and the stricter Orthodox Judaism, which bars gays from becoming rabbis and condemns homosexuality.

Pressure has been building on Conservative Jewish leaders to liberalize core teachings and thus prevent less observant Jews from leaving for the Reform stream, which has overtaken Conservative Judaism as the largest North American branch. Between 5 million and 6 million Jews live in the United States, and Conservative leaders have worried openly about their movement’s dwindling appeal – but they have largely resisted the push left.


Schorsch, Roth, and Dorff mull the impact of changes in the Conservative branch as it considers disagreements over homosexuality.

Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Conservative movement’s flagship institution, declined to comment on next week’s meeting. But he has previously warned that ordaining gays would be such a major break from Jewish law that it could obliterate the distinction between the Reform and Conservative streams. “They would like this, or related issues, to become the bright yellow line that helps everybody understand how Conservative and Reform Judaism differ,” he said. “I think what remains to be seen is whether this is the right issue to use to establish that kind of boundary.”

Jewish opposition to gay sex is based on Leviticus 18:22, “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence,” and a similar verse, Leviticus 20:13. Rabbi Joel Roth, a Conservative expert in Jewish law based in Israel, has said that ignoring these prohibitions “would undermine the integrity of the very legal system which stands as the unassailable foundation of our movement.”

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, the committee vice chairman and rector of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, has argued that the verses in Leviticus refer to promiscuous sex, not monogamous relations between adults. He said telling gays to be celibate would be “cruel” and “un-Jewish” because Jewish tradition says sexual desires should be channeled into “legitimate modes of expression” not completely suppressed.

“I think the general thrust in American society has been toward recognizing not only the right of gays and lesbians to form committed relationships but almost their duty to do so, in the same way that heterosexuals are both medically and morally better off if they form monogamous relationships,” Dorff said in an interview Monday.

For really informed coverage of religious issues from a progressive perspective, I must point you to Faithforward. Pastordan of DKos fame holds the fort there and his writing is highly recommended.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding