Virtual Talmud

Virtual Talmud

Not Every Problem Has a Solution in Jewish Law

posted by Virtual Talmud

When thinking about the recent decision on the part of the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards to allow gay ordination and marriage, I try to remind myself that I really don’t like criticizing people and institutions when I don’t have better answers than the ones they’re proposing. It’s not like Orthodoxy or other forms of rabbinic Judaism have had anything more productive to offer in the ongoing discussion about the incredibly complex subject of homosexuality in religious life. Kudos should be given to the Conservative movement for attempting to take a moral stand on this issue. Still, I think the Conservative movement took a very bold step–one that I understand and I am sympathetic to, but one that I am not sure was necessary or ultimately productive.

No, I am not really bothered by Rabbi Waxman’s age-old sigh that the Conservative Movement is wishy-washy. They are trying to create a big tent, and sometimes that means being wishy-washy. We all are wishy-washy; it just depends on the issue.

My problems with the Conservative movement’s decision to permit the ordination of gay rabbis and to allow rabbis to officiate at gay weddings are threefold: (1) Contra Arnold Eisen’s elite sociological surveys, Conservative laity itself does not really care much about the issue (perhaps I am mistaken, but there is less than a handful of women rabbis working at major (over 500 families) Conservative congregations… if it’s been that hard for women to get positions, I can’t imagine it will be any easier for homosexuals); (2) yet again, the Conservative movement–a movement that prides itself on stressing the social and communal dimensions of halakhah (Jewish law)–created a law that no one can follow; and (3) perhaps ironically, the Conservative movement is caught, to use Heschel’s term, in a “pan-halakhic” game, continuing to think that every issue is one to be decided by halakha.

In some ways, to allow homosexuals to participate in homosexual relationships but not engage in anal sex is like the Conservative movement’s 1950 decision to allow Jews to drive to and from synagogue on Shabbat but not allow them to take a detour to the mall on their way home. To be put it bluntly, ain’t nobody gonna follow that. While the law makes sense in theory, it is totally socially disingenuous. It is astounding how a movement built around a concept of “Catholic Israel” could so miserably fail to take into account the way people behave.

Why did the Conservative movement feel the need to halakhically justify itself? Why, for example, did it have to make the ordination issue into a halakhic one? Could they not have said that this is a matter of public policy? No one at JTS gets the halakhically orientated “smicha” degree when they become a rabbi. Rather, the actual degree is just a professional degree of “ordination,” which does not necessarily have to have any halakhic implications. So why make the gay ordination issue a halakhic matter? Likewise, on the issue of marriage, why couldn’t the movement have created a different Jewish marriage ceremony, one that recognizes the uniqueness of the commitment being made?

Not everything has to have a halakhic answer–why the Conservative movement thinks it has to, I have no idea.

– Posted by Rabbi Eliyahu Stern

Comments read comments(10)
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posted February 15, 2007 at 11:18 pm

Who wroter this? No one signs of on their paragraphs anymore.

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Doug from PA

posted February 16, 2007 at 3:11 am

Following the logic of the Conservative rabbis, it presumably is OK for people to engage in all sorts of sexual activity short of intercourse with sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, etc. since only that activity is specifically prohibited by the Torah.

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Grethel Jane Rickman

posted February 16, 2007 at 3:48 am

Geez! Talk about a HUGE fallacy! Things are getting a bit “slippery” around here. What?! I mean “slippery slope.”

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posted February 16, 2007 at 12:06 pm

Doug, Maybe you need to read the Cnservative ruling some more.

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leta calvert

posted February 16, 2007 at 1:11 pm

I’m trying to understand why there is so much indecision about homosexuality. We say that God is the same yesterday today and forever more. The Bible is very clear on homosexuality being an abomination in the old and new testament. God does love the person but hates the sin. Most importantly God is a Deliverer! We make God appeart to be weak when we began to comprimise truth. Homosexuality is a spirit of deception and I have seen it in action on many of occasions. The key to bringing deliverance to them is to understand where the deception entered in. Many homosexuals have been molested or abused in some kind of way. We should love them as a person and also respect them and most importantly pray for them that their eyes would be opened to the truth.

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curiouser and curiouser...

posted February 16, 2007 at 3:59 pm

keta, Shame on you for promulgating vile, viscious, hateful untruths – it’s called bearing false witness against G-d’s gay and lesbian children. “The Bible is very clear on homosexuality being an abomination” So is eating lobster. “God does love the person but hates the sin.” Too bad Her ‘followers’ reverse that concept and bash the persons. “We make God appeart to be weak when we began to comprimise truth.” What you have posted is only your version of “truth”; it does not even approximate THE TRUTH, let alone reality. “Homosexuality is a spirit of deception” Ugly, ugly, ugly and untrue. “and I have seen it in action on many of occasions.” You will, no doubt, be posting a few vivid examples to bolster your opinion, won’t you? “The key to bringing deliverance to them is to understand where the deception entered in. Many homosexuals have been molested or abused in some kind of way.” Another untenable lie. At long last, have you no sense of decency? “We should love them as a person and also respect them” You couls start by stopping your false witness. What you have posted is in NO WAY “loving” OR “respectful”. “and most importantly pray for them that their eyes would be opened to the truth.” Hon, MY eyes have been open since I was 5 years old and knew I was attracted to other boys, despite my extremely religious upbringing. I DO know the truth. Too bad YOU don’t.

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curiouser and curiouser...

posted February 16, 2007 at 3:59 pm

sorry, leta, not keta. Still lies though!

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Grethel Jane Rickman

posted February 16, 2007 at 4:23 pm

Quite frankly, there isn’t an old or a new testament. There is a Sinai covenant which is still in effect today. Correct. HaShem hasn’t changed nor has his instructions to Israel. HaShem is not a man! Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad! Prayer is also not magic. It is not begging. It is not about requesting something from God. Prayer is connecting with God. It is upward. It is bringing God close. It is a sacred service of the heart. It is not centered on the self.

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posted February 16, 2007 at 5:52 pm

There is no “new” testament. On that all Jews can agree.

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posted February 17, 2007 at 4:48 pm

I appreciate the deep thought Rabbi Stern has given to this complex matter and what he has stated here. Homosexulaity and religion present a matter of deep concern to anyone who is religious, loves God, and loves people. One struggles. I believe the person who cares about relationship with God has an innate concern that religion will cease to hold us to any standard, just as a child does not want to be punished by a parent for misdoing but deep inside is comforted by knowing the parent cares because the parent has requirements. I I believe that a real concern to thios

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