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Mixed Messages on Homosexuality & Jewish Law

On December 6, the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards–known in short as the Law Committee–passed a number of contradictory teshuvot (legal opinions) that variously allow and disallow same-sex commitment ceremonies, participation of gays and lesbians in synagogue life, and the ordination of homosexuals as Conservative rabbis. In practice, the Law Committee punted–allowing Conservative institutions (synagogues, schools, camps) to pick and choose which opinions to follow and, by extension, taking no real position at all.

Oh, I know some people will argue that the decisions are a step forward for gay and lesbian Jews–and they are, since the movement’s more liberal American seminary, the University of the Judaism, has indicated its intent to ordain openly gay and lesbian rabbis. But there’s something that sits badly with me about a decision that essentially institutionalizes the right to discriminate, that says that individual Conservative congregations can explicitly refuse to hire gay rabbis if they prefer, or that a Conservative day school may refuse to hire a teacher because she is a lesbian. A document put out by the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly argues that this split decision is actually a triumph of pluralism, but enshrining the right to discriminate isn’t pluralism–it’s as though the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Ed had said that they’d prefer that schools not be segregated but, in order to be pluralistic, if you really wanted to keep the black kids out then it was OK.

So yes, there’s progress. But personally, I find it disheartening that the Conservative Movement was unwilling to take a strong position on either side–either to say that Conservative values demand full inclusion of gays and lesbians in all facets of Jewish life as a matter of moral principle or, on the contrary, to say that Conservative Judaism’s commitment to halachah (Jewish law) and Jewish tradition forbids extending equal status to homosexuals in ritual matters. With their conflicting decisions, the Law Committee said neither. In essence then, it actually said that individual institutions are free to do whatever they want–meaning that it is actually providing no moral guidance at all and is effectively acknowledging its irrelevance to how any individual Conservative Jew or institution would come to make a decision on this important issue.



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Marian Neudel

posted February 12, 2007 at 6:05 pm


I believe in mixed messages, and divided loyalties, and the vast territory In Between. I think Judaism rests on that territory–the space between ritual and ethics, between religion and peoplehood, between free will and predetermination, you get the idea. Trying to build a Jewish ethic from a single viewpoint is like trying to hang a hammock from a single nail. I’m not super-pleased with the Conservative non-decision, but it’s a lot better than most of the alternatives.



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Dave

posted February 13, 2007 at 5:30 pm


Rabbi Waxman says Conservative Judaism shouldn’t discriminate. Does Rabbi Waxman perform interfaith weddings? Would Rabbi Waxman perform a committment ceremony for a man and 2 wives (the prohibition of which is weaker than the prohibition of gay male sex)?



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jethro

posted February 14, 2007 at 4:42 pm


Dave For the sake of argument, the examples that you give are not analagous. When a Jewish male, for example, marries a non-Jewish female, he is not violating his orientation. He could have theoretically found a Jewish female to marry. So rabbis can, imho, expect heterosexuals to marry Jews of the opposite sex, and can decide whether or not they will officiate at such weddings. Refusing to do so does not discriminate against the couple or the non-Jew on the basis of fixed biological status. Whereas allowing commitment ceremonies for same-sex relationships is reversing misguided discrimination against people who cannot help feeling the way they do and to whom they are attracted. Every religion to some extent discriminates. A non-Jew can’t read from the Torah in shul, and I cannot partake of the Eucharist in a Catholic Church. But discrimination against status in the faith/tribe/cult is changeable with conversion, and is different than discrimination against people for gender ( banning female rabbis) or orientation.



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Dave

posted February 14, 2007 at 5:51 pm


There are lots of Jewish men who are sexually-oriented to blonde blue-eyed buxom bimbos (examples too many and too obvious to name). Would that be an excuse to allow an intermarriage? As the Hollywood saying goes, the more Aryan looking the woman, the more Jewish looking the man. And to head off a response, conversion for the sake of marriage is not a valid conversion



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jethro

posted February 14, 2007 at 6:22 pm


Dave On what basis can you possibly make the definitive statement that conversion for the sake of marriage is not a true conversion? Until you devise an instrument to gauge the kavannah residing in someone’s soul, I would recommend that you tread carefully. If conversion allows someone to marry someone that they love and the children are raised as Jews and hence as members of the community, I think that one could argue conversion for marriage is hardly a sin. I am not arguing that any type of lust is permissible by Jewish tradition and law. You are confusing attraction (blonde bimbos) with orientation (towards a specific gender.) The former can be expected to be controlled by conscious decisions (I will not date blonde bimbos), the latter cannot.



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Dave

posted February 15, 2007 at 6:49 pm


Are you saying that a conversion to ‘seal the deal’ is valid? A conversion to ‘seal the deal involves coercion and not faith. People who are attracted to people of their own sex can also be controlled by conscious decisions (I will not stick my organ in another man’s anus).



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Marian Neudel

posted February 15, 2007 at 7:37 pm


As an impeccably Jewish blonde blue-eyed buxom retired bimbo, I’m not sure Dave’s question is valid. And “lying with a man as with a woman” may or may not mean anal intercourse–it wasn’t exactly what the Greeks did, if my sources are accurate. I rather like Art Waskow’s read on this–grabbing all the covers and snoring!



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Sam

posted February 15, 2007 at 8:54 pm


Jethro – You speak about a person’s soul. Do you believe that people have a soul given to them by God? You mean you beleive in God? Well then, if you beleive in God, why would you encourage people to engage in activities that God specifically prohibits. Oh, that’s right, you don’t really believe in God, you beleive in you own personal self-serving interpretation of what YOU think God wants. You have no faith in anything but your own arrogance.



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Sam

posted February 15, 2007 at 9:21 pm


Because a lot of us don’t believe God dictated the Torah. If some of guys want to be fundamentalist Xtians, be our guests. But the vast majority don’t buy the “fire from the sky/Charlton Heston” giveing of the Torah. And for you you to make a statement like your last one shows me your arrogance is what you believe in most.



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Scott

posted February 15, 2007 at 9:22 pm


I have no idea why that last post says Sam – probably because I started addressing you in the “Name” row by accident. I wrote the last post; I stand by it completely.



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curiouser and curiouser...

posted February 16, 2007 at 4:02 pm


Nice comparison, Dave – NOT! “Would Rabbi Waxman perform a committment ceremony for a man and 2 wives” This discussin is NOT about polygamy. Committed gay couples seek the exact same rights, freedoms and obligations as you betterosexual couples. We are NOT seeking mutliple partners. Taht is a heterosexist male fantasy, not to mention a bald faced LIE. Let the ploy crowd make their own arguments if they so choose, but it ain’t what’s up for discussion here.



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curiouser and curiouser...

posted February 16, 2007 at 4:03 pm


Dave, “(I will not stick my organ in another man’s anus).” Wow! Bully for you. Was someone trying to force you to? I’m a gay man, and neither will I. Yer point?



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jethro

posted February 16, 2007 at 4:15 pm


Sam I am glad that you can read so much into a few brief posts on an blog. I suppose that we could argue that any belief is personal and perhaps related to a person’s own arogance but I don’t think I am worshipping myself. There is a difference between believing and worshipping God and believing that the Torah needs to be interpreted literally.



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Dave

posted February 16, 2007 at 5:28 pm


1/ If you read what jethro wrote, my comment about anuses was in direct response. 2/ The prohibition regarding gay male sex is in the Torah. No where in the Torah or Talmud is there a prohibition against polygamous marriages. Logically if a rabbi will commitment ceremony two men he can’t refuse to commitment ceremony a man and two women. 3/ As to the Jewish bimbo, the orientation of many Jewish men is to a Gentile blonde, blue eyed not Jewish ones as the latest news and examples from the past too numerous to mention shows.



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Scott

posted February 17, 2007 at 10:40 pm


# 3 really has racist overtones.



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David

posted February 18, 2007 at 2:32 am


What racist overtones? Did Arthur Miller marry Marilyn Monroe or this Howard K Stern guy have a relationship with Anna Nicole Smith so they could discuss multi-dimensional physics? Let me explain-guys are attracted to woman who emit signals of fertility, that means youth, a large hip to waist ratio and bulging mammaries, and no obvious physical deformities. For many Jewish guys add on very non-Jewish appearances (forbidden fruit/no competition on the brain front/ won’t end up looking like Mom when she gets older/ kids who won’t look like nerds, etc)



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Scott

posted February 18, 2007 at 2:45 am


And that’s also sexist. What do women look for – the same thing. How many of us look like Abercrombie or Calvin Klein models? Let’s face it – Jewish men haven’t traditionally looked liked the caveman type who will slay the tiger and rescue the mate. P.S. Marilyn Monroe converted.



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Dave

posted February 20, 2007 at 6:53 pm


1/ Not sexism. Biology 2/ MM converted. Then she started relationships with a couple of non-Jewish philandering brothers. In more modern times Jenny McCarthy also converted. Now she is often photographed with a big cross around her neck. Can’t recall if the late Anna Nicole converted, but do any of these Hollywood conversions mean anything?



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Scott

posted February 20, 2007 at 7:53 pm


Jenny McCarthy is not a convert. Neither did Anna Nicole Smith. Anne Meara has been a Jew for over 40 years. So has Elizabeth Taylor.



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David

posted February 25, 2007 at 6:52 pm


Jenny McCarthy did convert as did MM. Anna Nicole did not. Liz Taylor’s parents were born Jewish and coverted to Christian Science (of all things), and after Eddie Fisher, she never married another Jew. Anne Meara’s son Ben Stiller married out.



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