Thursday, April 19, 2012

Israel's Conservative Seminary Accepts Gays and Lesbians on Yom Hashoah

The Schechter Institute in Jerusalem is the Israeli affiliate of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). It has publicly been holding out on changing its policy concerning the admission of gays and lesbians into its rabbinical ordination program (the only such program for the Conservative movement in Israel). That policy has caused much tension for rabbinical students from the Jewish Theological Seminary when they spend a year in Israel during the course of their study (gay and lesbian rabbinical students from JTS are allowed to take classes at Schechter). In fact, rabbinical students from the Conservative Movement's West Coast seminary, the Ziegler School at the American Jewish University, study at the Conservative Yeshiva during their year abroad.

The big news coming out of Israel is that the Schechter Institute's policy has just officially changed. It has been announced that at a board of trustees meeting last night, Schechter's leaders voted to allow gay and lesbian students into its ordination program. That this policy change occurred on Yom Hashoah, the international day of commemoration for the millions who perished at the hands of the Nazis is especially meaningful as homosexuals were among those targeted by the Nazis in their extermination attempts.

While Israeli society in general is known to be tolerant of gays and lesbians, the Schechter Institute seemed determined to maintain its policy. JTS officially changed its policy concerning the admission of gays and lesbians following a vote in December 2006 by the Conservative Movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.

A seminary statement said the decision comes following a "long process":

The Schechter Rabbinical Seminary views the serious process leading to this decision as an example of confronting social dilemmas within the framework of tradition and halachah, or Jewish law, Hanan Alexander, chair of the seminary's Board of Trustees, said in the statement. “This decision highlights the institution’s commitment to uphold halachah in a pluralist and changing world.

Students are ordained by a beit din, or rabbinical court, made up of three members of the Rabbinic Advisory Committee of the seminary, all of whom are members of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Masorti/Conservative movement. The beit din members are chosen by the candidate and subject to the approval of the seminary's dean. They have different opinions regarding the ordination of gay and lesbian students, according to the seminary.

This unique mechanism is an expression of halachic pluralism, one of the founding principles of SRS, the seminary said in its statement. The Seminary is a religious institution of the Masorti/Conservative Movement, bound by Halacha, whose inclusive approach allows for a variety of Halachic opinions.

The Conservative Movement's Seminario in South America still maintains a policy barring affirmed gays and lesbians from matriculating in its rabbinic ordination program.

While it is odd that it took an additional five years from the time JTS opened its doors, I'm glad to see the Schechter Institute finally following suit.


Y. Ben-David said...

Hello, I am new here at your blog.
Since you support this new policy, and I, living in Israel, am not familiar with the arguments that have been used to have Conservative Judaism now justify homosexuality, I would appreciate it if you could briefly explain how your movement, which is bound to follow Jewish Law, can do so, seeing how the Torah quite clearly states that it is forbidden, using the word "Toeva" (abomination) to describe such behavior. This word "toeva" is used also in other cases to condemn dishonest business dealings (i.e. dishonest weights and measures) and idol worship. This seems pretty clear to anyone who reads this that the Torah does not leave any way out of this prohibition.

Thank you for your time.

Reb Barry said...

Y. Ben-David -- the halachic rationale is fairly involved, but the essential concept is human dignity -- k'vod ha'briot. See CJLS teshuvah for more information. You can also see my blog post on the decision here

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

Y. Ben-David: Here is a link to the teshuva by Rabbis Nevins, Dorff and Reisner that allowed Conservative rabbis to officiate at same-sex commitment ceremonies and for the Conservative rabbinical and cantorial seminaries to open their doors to gays and lesbians.

As Reb Barry Leff explained, al regel achat the essential concept of this opinion is k'vod habriyot.



Yosef Baruch said...

This is not a halachick Tshuva, it is simply a long involved ramble of nonsense to bore the reader into believing that they just want to accept anyone who is willing to pay and say that Judaism is open to everyone. You cannot accept this as an excuse for offending HaSehm and claim to follow Halacha. You should just say "We don't care what the Torah or G-d says, we are just going to do whatever we want" - Masorti. I guess that Rabbi Dorf thinks there is nothing wrong with robert, incest, or anything else the Torah prohibits, as long as they sign up for his school. What's next?

Y. Ben-David said...

Given this decision regarding homosexuals, is the Conservative movement prepared to reinstate polygamy? I am aware people will claim that that is not permissible since it supposedly "exploits women" but that is not a relevant argument. Muslims want polygamy and so do some break-away Mormon sects. If everyone involved in the relationship accepts it, how can the Rabbinate oppose it, using the "kvod habriot" arguments used to approve homosexual arrangements?
It is only a matter of time until Muslims in the US and Europe start formally demanding these societies formally accept polygamous marriages. How can Judaism stay behind, especially since Judaism, in principle, accepted polygamy in the past? In some Eastern Communities it was accepted into the 20th century.