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Old 11-30-2006, 10:55 AM   #1
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gay rabbis?

once again, American Jews at the helm of the battle for civil rights:



[q]US Jewish movement moves to allow gay rabbis


10.00am Thursday November 30, 2006

CHICAGO - The Conservative Jewish movement, the faith's American-based middle ground between liberalism and orthodoxy, is nearing a leadership decision that seems likely to permit openly gay rabbis and same-sex unions.

The Rabbinical Assembly Committee on Jewish Law and Standards which last tackled the issue in 1992 meets in New York next week, its 25 members reviewing an issue that has already rent many Christian churches and simmers across Judaism.

"The way it looks, it will be decided on a more liberal understanding of the law," Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of the National Jewish Centre for Learning and Leadership, told Reuters. "It would be a very big, big surprise if that's not the case."

Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, said: "I really don't know what will happen. Many of my colleagues are betting they will have two opinions at the end -- that rabbis can maintain the prohibition on homosexual behaviour and another that says it normalises homosexual behaviour."

The assembly said in announcing the December 5-6 meetings that the committee's function is to advise rabbis on Jewish law or Halakha affecting Conservatives, who number 2 million of the world's 13 million Jews. The rabbis are not bound by its statements which in the past have sometimes offered multiple interpretations on issues.

While the topic may be couched in gay rabbis and same-sex unions, the crux of the issue really is "how one views homosexual behaviour," Meyers said in an interview.

That is the subtext of the committee's 1992 statement which welcomed homosexuals to congregations, youth groups, summer camps and schools but prohibited same-sex commitment ceremonies and the knowing admission of "avowed homosexuals" to rabbinical or cantorial schools.

"That is cowardice," says Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of New York's Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, whose 800 members comprise what is called the largest gay synagogue in the world.[/q]



one has to wonder when the Christians will catch up.
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Old 11-30-2006, 02:15 PM   #2
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My Rabbi was excommunicated in the 80s for performing commitment ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples.
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Old 11-30-2006, 02:23 PM   #3
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questions: why is Chrstianity, as a whole, moving in the opposite direction? also, why are American Jews (generally speaking) the most ardent defenders of civil rights for other non-Jewish groups? is it something to do with Judaism as a religion, or the history of what might be deemed "the Jewish people"?
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Old 11-30-2006, 02:42 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally posted by Irvine511
also, why are American Jews (generally speaking) the most ardent defenders of civil rights for other non-Jewish groups? is it something to do with Judaism as a religion, or the history of what might be deemed "the Jewish people"?

From what I understand (I'm just recently trying to recconnect with my Jewish heritage), yes. Social justice seems to lay at the heart of Judaism. Torah teaches us that the guiding principle for achieving social justice is shalom -- the establishment of true, positive peace among family, neighborhoods and nations -- secured by the respect for the dignity of everything created in God's image, especially the poor, the weak and the vulnerable.
An example everyone may be familar with the breaking of the glass at a Jewish wedding....That action of stomping on a glass is to serve as a reminder that in times of personal joy one must remember there are many who are broken.
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Old 11-30-2006, 10:40 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally posted by Irvine511
questions: why is Chrstianity, as a whole, moving in the opposite direction? also, why are American Jews (generally speaking) the most ardent defenders of civil rights for other non-Jewish groups? is it something to do with Judaism as a religion, or the history of what might be deemed "the Jewish people"?
Do the statistics really bear out that Christian denominations are "as a whole, moving in the opposite direction", or is it just that they're moving more slowly? There are major denominations that already have gay union ceremonies, Episcopalians for example, although ordination is a more contested matter. Also, as far as "The" Civil Rights Movement is concerned, keep in mind that churches were obviously crucially involved in that--it's true that Jews were proportionally more involved than other "white religious people" (for lack of a better term), but there were a lot of white Christians involved, too.

Anyhow, I don't know that any differences in civil rights tendencies can be pegged on innate religious differences; all three Abrahamic faiths share emphases on protecting and pursuing justice for the weak, the poor and the vulnerable, and I don't think you could credibly argue that any one of them "values" that teaching more than the other two in a theological sense, even if the conceptual vocabularies, traditional charitable practices, and so on associated with that have diverged over time. If theological differences tie into it to any significant degree, I'd be inclined to locate it in the fact that Judaism differs from Christianity and Islam in not being a universalizing religion--which, broadly speaking, inclines us towards a more hands-off attitude where civil rights that might theoretically be constrained by Jewish law are concerned (in a diaspora context, anyway). For example, Conservative Judaism has formally supported full civic equality for gays and lesbians for 15 years now, even though specifically Jewish same-sex unions and openly gay rabbis were not permitted. (Ironically, and despite the strong ultra-Orthodox influence, the state of Israel is more progressive on gay rights than the US is--gay civil unions have been recognized since the '90s, and now gay marriages performed in other countries are recognized as marriages as well.)

So yeah, I guess I think ultimately historical factors have more to do with it. Jews have centuries of experience being a vulnerable minority in a generally hostile larger society (with or without formal civil rights on paper) and that's left its mark on how we interpret the Golden Rule, "Justice, justice shalt thou pursue", and all the other doctrines associated with both of those, tikkun olam, shalom, etc. Having lived through the Holocaust was certainly a prime motivator for my parents to be involved in the Civil Rights Movement. I don't know what my father would've thought about gay Jews, as he died before all of that became a mainstream debate, but my mother has come around largely through my younger brother, a liberal Orthodox rabbi, talking to her about gay Jews he knows and how they just want the opportunity to have religiously sanctioned monogamous marriages and families, so they can live full, loving, observant Jewish lives like the rest of us. She was never opposed to gay rights in a civic sense.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a major Jewish figure in the Civil Rights Movement and a huge hero to my parents, used to say that the best thing that ever happened to the Sephardim was getting kicked out of Spain and Portugal, because otherwise their heavy involvement in trade and finance (for the usual historical reasons--not allowed to own property, "dirty work" that no one else wanted to do, etc.) would almost certainly have meant their extensive profiting from the slave trade, with all the moral compromise that entailed. Instead, they got a lasting reminder of what happens when you're weak and marginal--even if simultaneously well-off--and have no one to speak for you. Being Jewish is a historical and cultural identity, not just a religion, and I think it's as much memories like that as anything specifically religious that tend to motivate us to be more "progressive". And perhaps the existential predicament of being a diaspora people, as well--having to contend with diverse stories of who you are and where you've come from, trying to bring what one story tells you into dialogue with another, and reconcile the many parts of each that never quite seem to fit. Translating an originally theocratic approach to "the good society" into two millennia worth of diaspora existence has interesting consequences; in some ways you get the best of a theocratic mindset--a holistic approach where faith inherently entails certain obligations towards others--with the best of a very different sort of mindset, where it's understood from the beginning that those obligations can't be realized through force nor through self-imposed isolation. An optimistic way to see it, I know...

I'll be following the USCJ proceedings closely as they unfold--I've read most of the responsa the various rabbis voting on the issue have authored over the years, and some of them have influenced my own views profoundly. As the article notes, whatever happens, it's likely that individual rabbis will vary quite a bit in how precisely they apply the rulings for the immediate future, just as Reform rabbis have varied in the past...but one way or the other, it looks to be a no-turning-back, watershed moment. Fingers crossed...
Quote:
Originally posted by Varitek
My Rabbi was excommunicated in the 80s for performing commitment ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples.
An actual cherem, you mean? Wow, I've never heard of anything like that. The only cases I've ever heard of involved men who wouldn't grant their wives a get.
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Old 12-01-2006, 08:24 AM   #6
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I'm not totally sure if it's an actual cherem, I haven't seen him much since I was 13 (haha) and I don't remember the details beyond the word "excommunicated" - its why he's operated as an independant rabbi for years.
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Old 12-01-2006, 08:36 AM   #7
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As for the Jewish concern for civil rights and social justice, I think it's a combination of religious principles and collective history and memory. You can't discount the religious aspect, though, of Teshuva, Tefilla, and Tsedaka (to return/turn (in) - to repent, to reflect or to pray, and to commit to charity). My upbringing in secular Judaism was light on God but secular Sunday school taught about both history and the meaning behind holidays and concepts, giving me as an atheist Jew the feeling that I can still draw on Judaism and its guiding principles without believing in God. The history is a big, big part of that, but the traditional religious aspects cannot be discounted for shaping how we have responded to and learned from that history. (This is why I get so angry about Israel and Palestine, but that is for another thread.)

Judaism also places a much greater burden on the individual than Christianity does, from what I understand. For example, in Judaism forgiveness cannot be granted by God unless the person wronged has also forgiven. Personal responsibility to ourselves and others is thus more ingrained in the religion in a very subtle way - not 10 commandments to follow but charging people to think for themselves and in the very nature of the 10 days of Awe and Yom Kippur. That I think can lead, along with other teachings of the religion and history, to more concern for social justice in and of itself, but also for a resistance to the megachurch evangelical follower mentality (or the extremist Islamic terrorist mentality) by forcing every Jew tohave an individual relationship with god and the religion but also with every other human being. Not saying there aren't Jewish extremists or followers, just that there are probably fewer and that might be why.
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Old 12-01-2006, 12:48 PM   #8
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Fascinating post, yolland.
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Old 12-06-2006, 06:24 PM   #9
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Confusing news.

link

Quote:
The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, which interprets religious law for the movement, adopted three starkly conflicting policies that nonetheless gave gays the chance to serve as clergy. Four committee members who wanted to uphold the ban on ordaining gays resigned in protest after the vote.

One policy upholds the prohibition against gay rabbis. Another, billed as a compromise, maintains a ban on male sodomy but permits gay ordination and allows blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples. The third policy upholds the ban on gay sexual relationships in Jewish law and mentions the option for gays to undergo therapy aimed at changing their sexual orientation.

Well that's really clear isn't it?

Luckily the WaPo does a better job explaining things:

link

Quote:
It takes the votes of just six of the panel's 25 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 interpretation. As Wednesday's vote made clear, it is possible to approve contradictory answers.

Because the papers are contradictory it will be up to individual rabbis and seminaries to decide what to do. Some Conservative Jewish leaders predicted that some rabbis will continue to refuse to allow same sex ceremonies and they said no rabbi would be required to perform them.

...

There are four main Conservative Jewish seminaries. One of them, the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, is expected to begin ordaining gays in the near future. The movement's flagship seminary, the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, is likely to take more time. Its new chancellor Arnold Eisen, has said he personally favors the change, but will allow the entire faculty to debate and vote on a recommendation. Two other seminaries, in Israel and Argentina, are more traditional in their outlook and may adopt the change slowly, if at all.
overall I think
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Old 12-06-2006, 08:23 PM   #10
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Yeah, by the end of last week it was clear they were going to aim for issuing mutiple teshuvot rather than any takkanot, i.e., issuing divergent legal interpretations rather than attempting to amend the law itself, which would've required 13 votes instead of 6. Classic Talmudic outcome, and the expected one too, really--the main thing was for Dorff's middle-of-the-road teshuva (the one that first story calls a "compromise") to pass, which it did. There was a more liberal proposal submitted very late (only just last week) by Tucker, which directly challenged the traditional sodomy interpretation on ethical grounds and would've avoided the don't-ask-don't-tell approach to gay male partners' private sex lives that Dorff's effectively takes, but predictably it wound up getting classified as a takkanah proposal, which killed it.

On the down side, I'm not sure whether to feel more saddened that 4 members resigned in protest because Dorff's teshuva passed, or that Levy's head-in-the-sand teshuva suggesting "therapy" as the solution to gay Jews' difficulties did pass--that much was not expected. He got only the bare minimum number of votes needed to pass, well less than half the number of votes the other teshuvot got, but still that was such an extreme proposal and no one thought beforehand it would have any chance of passing.

On the bright side, this does clear the way for Jewish-sanctioned unions for gay and lesbian couples, as well as for ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis, within Conservative Judaism. Not all rabbis were ever going to go along with whatever was resolved anyway, nor are they required to; the Committee is an advisory body, not the Vatican. But at least this gets the ball rolling. It took many years for a consensus on women rabbis to be achieved; this process, too, has several more years--at least--of unfolding left as well.
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Old 12-06-2006, 09:23 PM   #11
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This is cool. Jewish people always seem to be ahead of the rest of us in terms of social justice. Being a scientist, my father worked with and knew alot of Jewish people, as the number of Jewish scientists is way beyond their percentage of the populace. Last year I went to the funeral of one of his colleagues, and this Jewish scientist's commitment to social justice was a big part of everyone's speech, including the rabbi's. When one of these scientists died Diane McWhorter, the historian of the Birmingham civil rights movement, wrote an article about the scientists of the local university. She pointed out that they didn't just change Birmingham and the South with their science, they also did it with their politics. Their support of the civil rights movement was crucial. It would have been alot harder to make progress without these scientists, many of whom were Jewish.
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Old 12-06-2006, 10:29 PM   #12
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The third policy upholds the ban on gay sexual relationships in Jewish law and mentions the option for gays to undergo therapy aimed at changing their sexual orientation.
Lovely how religions continue to engage in mindnumbing pseudoscience, just to make themselves feel good.
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