Friday, October 27, 2006

The Conservative Movement and Homosexuality

In March the Committee for Jewish Laws and Standards (CJLS) of the Conservative Movement postponed their decision on the allowance of Homosexuality in the movement to December. I posted a few times previously regarding my feelings on the issue (here, here, and here).

In deference to a few former roommates and friends that currently attend JTS (one of whom is a very outspoken supporter of the proposal) I try to be as civil as I can. In short I think the issue is very clear: accepting Gays and Lesbians into Rabbinic positions is tantamount to rewriting the Torah.

I re-stumbled across KeshetJTS's website (the Pro-Gay group at JTS) and noticed this article entitled: Does the Old Testament Really Condemn Homosexuality? by Rabbi Michele Brand Medwin of Binghamton, NY.

Quoting the obvious psukim (Vayikra 18:22 etc.) she looks at how the word Toeva (abhorrence) is used in other contexts. They all seem to deal with Avoda Zara. Since, she concludes, "Homosexuality was used as a pagan ritual. God was not condemning the act of homosexuality itself. God was condemning the pagan ritual act of homosexuality and all that is associated with it." But the homosexual act is actually allowed according to Brand.

"In today’s world this prohibition now has no meaning. We are no longer threatened by Canaanite pagan religion and homosexuality today is not a pagan ritual. Homosexuality in Biblical terms is no longer an issue for us today."

I'm sure it's clear that I think she's completely off base here, but this has always been the problem of finding Ta'amei HaMitzvot (reasons for the commandments) - once you "find" the reason, if it no longer applies then what good is it? As was pointed out to me once (maybe in the name of Rav Hirsch) that Ta'amei Hamitzvot really should be translated as flavors of the Commandments. Instead of trying to figure out what God was commanding this for, we've come to understand what the mitzvah means to us. A subtle but importance difference.

Rabbi Brand believes she's figured it all out, and in only four pages too, something that no other Torah scholar in the previous three thousand plus years has been able to do either. Sorry for the sarcasm, but I don't know how else to react.


doob said...

Why do conservative teshuvahs matter to you? you're orthodox. no big deal. plus, rabbi medwin is reform.

but anyway, claiming that the prohibition in vayikra is about avoda zara isn't playing taamei hamitzvot, it's using rabbinic logic. now it's logic that orthodox people don't believe we have the right to use in this post-tannaitic, post-keneset-hagdolah age, but that's what it is.

no need to harass gay people from a completely different world.

doob said...

in case i wasn't clear enough why it's rabinnic logic: she was building a link between the uses of the word "toeva" to delineate the parameters of the issur.

Natan said...

As a large and influential movement who considers themselves halachic I believe it is important to review their tshuvot especially when they will affect the community at large.

If, Rabbi Medwin is Reform, as you suggest then why is KeshetJTS quoting her? The Reform movement doesn't need to make statements like hers, they could easily just say "Torah was written by a man, for a time period, and it isn't apropriate for today".

I was drawing a comparison between the way we look for Ta'amei HaMitzvot and what she was doing. Sorry if it was lost on you. It's quite clear t ome what logic she was using, but I believe her argument is faulty. It's just as easy to suggest that God prohibited the act because it's a form of avoda zara - not that only the Canaanite ritual associated with it is avoda zara.

And I'm not harassing people from a different world, lets just say that it's not as far removed for me as you might believe. And even if I was removed from that world I'm not harassing gay people, I have no issue with Gay people (I know of one good gay friend who reads this blog and shares many of my views on this matter) what I have an issue with is the attempt to call the homosexual act an acceptable practice for Jews - especially Rabbis.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Rabbi Medwin is no longer the rabbi of the Reform shul in Binghamton. Not sure what she's doing now.

Natan said...

I knew someone could fill us in. Thanks Steg.