Thursday, March 09, 2006

CJLS on Homosexuality

The Committee of Jewish Laws and Standards of the Conservative Movement has decided to finally judge on the nature of homosexuals and the Conservative Movement. A little history is needed to place this in context:

On March 25th, 1992 the CJLS adopted a "Consensus Statement of Policy Regarding Homosexual Jews in the Conservative Movement" which stated

  1. Conservative Rabbis will not officiate at Homosexual Weddings
  2. JTS will not admit homosexuals, there will not be any "witch hunts" for current students either
  3. Individual Rabbis will have the burden on judging the ability for a homosexual to be a communal figure
  4. Individual Rabbis will have to decide whether to give aaliyot or other honors to homosexual congregation members
  5. The Affirmation that Gay and Lesbians are welcome in their synagogues
This was reaffirmed on April 7th, 2005. There are 25 members on the CJLS, here are selections from three members who are still on the Committee.
Rabbi Joel Roth:
The halakhically committed Jewish community, qua community and acting through its communal institutions, ought not take any act, which can reasonably be understood to imply the halakhic coequality, validation, or acceptability of a homosexual lifestyle. It recognizes the legitimacy of the ongoing union of a couple through the institution of marriage. Where there can be no halakhic legitimacy to the union, no matter how loving and caring, there can be no marriage. The halakhic community, therefore, should not legitimate such unions by performing or recognizing affirmation ceremonies. The focus must be on the behavior, not on the individuals who engage in the behavior. We disapprove of the behaviors, not of the people.
Elliot Dorff:
The tasks would be two-fold, probably accomplished in different ways and by different people: (1) to establish Jewish sexual standards for our time, recognizing in that process the values of the tradition, the social realities of modern life, and the new knowledge we have of the formation of sexual orientations; and (2) to educate our constituency as to the product of our deliberations so that they will at least know that Judaism, in this area as in all others, continues to have something important to say to them even if one is not fully complying with its ideal norms.

I happen to dislike many of Dorff's opinions and this is no different. I don't like his idea that Jewish sexual standards need to be updated. I do agree that the "constituency" needs to be educated and shown that Judaism is still important, but this is not the issue to be the litmus test.
Rabbi Avram Israel Reisner:
The burden of overturning Torah's text, that we act for the survival of Israel, was not met by the private anguish that we heard. I was dismayed, however, by the cavalier dismissal of the voice of Vayikra that was heard in some of our discussions. Others can brand Vayikra as a product of "excessive priestly zeal." We consider it Torah. We choose, as our tradition would have it, to read this very prohibition on Yom Kippur. To disregard this level of commandment is to set every other commandment at risk. We do so at our peril.

Word on the street (121st and Broadway) that the CJLS will approve some measure to state that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle for Jews. Most Rabbinical Students think this is a necessary change for the Conservative Movement (coincidentally students are forbidden to drive on Shabbat), I foresee this is the final straw that will eventually break the movement in two, then again I don't have ruach hakodesh nor am I a prophet, so what do I know?


silversurfer said...

I say the more schisms the better. Let every movement break down into its constituent parts until there's nothing left but real people who believe many different things.

On another point, I think it's interesting how un-rigorous the halachic thinking of people like Rabbi Roth are on the subject of lesbian and gay Jews. For a person who's supposedly standing up for the halachic side of Conservatism, the teshuvah he wrote shows no halachic analysis of the many layers of the question at all.

Natan said...

The problem of schisms, atleast as far as the Conservative Movement (I am not a member of) is concerned is that it will fall apart.

When it falls apart there is no standard of Rabbis, and programs like Camp Ramah and USY will cease to exist. Due to the structure of the Conservative Movement (JTS, RA, USCJ) if there were schisms the structure would disolve. Unlike the Orthodox Movement (it's not really a movement) where schisms are a part and parcel of life, the Conservative Movement would die out with in a few years.

You should read Joel Roth's tshuva. It's a lot more "halachic" than the section I copied.

silversurfer said...

Yeah, I've read Rabbi Roth's teshuva a number of times, and it still doesn't strike me as a product of halachic thinking. He subsumes all the different questions of behavior/gender/sex/society under this made up heading called "homosexuality" and then applies the Issur de-Oraita on mishkav zachar to it.

In my opinion, halachic thinking involves careful analysis, breaking questions up into their components, and understanding the different nafka minas and halachot that apply to each component, as well as where those rules come from and what authority they have over other rules. Rabbi Roth didn't do that with regards to this particular issue. Instead, he confused and conflated many different arenas of halachic abstraction and practical human life, without providing real scholarship on the question, just his fiat.

Natan said...

That's a fair critique.