The mainstream Jewish community has not been in a hurry to embrace gay Jews as full participants in Jewish communal life.
A cursory reading of the Orthodox press reveals the vile and outrageous statements made by too many Orthodox rabbis. There are all too few Orthodox shuls where gays may feel comfortable if they are out of the closet.
The Reform (and Reconstructionist) Movement has been far more open and welcoming. But many observant gay Jews prefer to pray in a more
Most ambiguous has been the position of the Masorti and Conservative movements in Israel and the U.S. Trying to be faithful to both Jewish law and to modernity, the Conservative Movement has sat squarely on the fence. In 1992 the Conservative Law Committee issued a Consensus Statement of Policy Regarding Homosexual Jews in the Conservative Movement, in which it announced, "We hereby affirm gays and lesbians are welcome in our congregations, youth groups, camps, and schools."
Yet, that same statement included the following:
- We will not perform commitment ceremonies for gays or lesbians.
- We will not knowingly admit avowed homosexuals to our rabbinical or cantorial schools or to the Rabbinical Assembly or the Cantors' Assembly. At the same time, we will not instigate witch hunts against those who are already members or students.
- Whether homosexuals may function as teachers or youth leaders in our congregations and schools will be left to the rabbi authorized to make halakhic decisions for a given institution within the Conservative Movement. Presumably, in this as in all other matters, the rabbi will make such decisions taking into account the sensitivities of the people of his or her particular congregation or school. The rabbi's own reading of Jewish law on these issues, informed by the responsa written for the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards to date, will also be a determinative factor in these decisions.
- Similarly, the rabbi of each Conservative institution, in consultation with its lay leaders, will be entrusted to formulate policies regarding the eligibility of homosexuals for honors within worship and for lay leadership positions.
Making gays welcome
How could a gay Jew be made to feel welcome in a Conservative shul knowing that the rabbi may deny him honors? How could a gay congregant feel at home knowing that she could never aspire to be ordained?
The Movement's Law Committee is reexamining a variety of issues relating to gays and Jewish law. Even as this process goes on, nearly 200 rabbis have signed on to the new group, Keshet-Rabbis (keshet is the Hebrew word for rainbow, symbol of gay organizations). The members of Keshet-Rabbis hold that GLBT Jews should be embraced as full, open members of all their
congregations and institutions.
Their website states, "Through our understanding of Jewish sources and Jewish values, we affirm that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews may fully participate in community life and achieve positions of professional and lay leadership."
Not all Keshet-Rabbis think alike. Some favor commitment ceremonies, some huppah, others do not. Keshet-Rabbis does not take an official position on this issue.
Younger rabbis signing on
Will Conservative rabbinical schools accept "avowed homosexuals" into their schools? Time will tell. But for now these rabbis, well over 10 percent of all Conservative rabbis worldwide, have added their names to a list that says that they will be available for counseling and/or advocacy.
The Rabbinical Assembly director, Rabbi Joel Meyers, has pooh-poohed this group. But if the numbers of young rabbis who have signed on is any indication - then a direction for the future is beginning to emerge and the Rabbinical Assembly leaders may be out of step with the will of much of their own membership.
So as the Orthodox fight against WorldPride and gay parades, and as the Reform embrace gay Jews, the Conservative/Masorti world has now taken a leap forward. Soon their Law Committee will decide. But the rabbis need not wait for a ruling to be welcoming to gays.