Conflict in the ranks of the Conservative movement. A group of 10 visiting American rabbinical students studying at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies (SIJS) in Jerusalem asked to hold a special event marking the one-year anniversary of the groundbreaking decision by the Jewish Theological Seminary, the movement's flagship rabbinic school in New York, to accept gay and lesbian rabbinical and cantorial students.
Israeli students at the school objected, however, noting that holding such an event would contradict a halachic ruling stipulated by the Conservative movement in Israel.
Rabbi Dr. Einat Ramon, dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, met with the students and asked that the event also be sensitive to the Israeli Conservative movement’s point of view.
The American students refused, however, and ultimately a decision was reached to hold the event outside the school. Ramon assured the students that no other school activities would take place at the same time.
The anniversary ceremony eventually took place last Wednesday at the Valley of Rehavya in Jerusalem, and included not only the American students but some of their Israeli counterparts as well. Also attending the event were the director-general of the Jerusalem Open House For Pride and Tolerance, and member of Kehillat Tiferet Shalom, affiliated with the Masorti movement, Yonatan Gher, who spoke about the unique problems faced by Conservative gays and lesbians.
Gher viewed the Schechter’s Institute’s insistence in presenting both the viewpoints of the American and Israeli contingents of the conservative movement during the ceremony as utterly preposterous. “`Would one invite the (vehemently anti-Zionist) Satmar Hasidism to a ceremony marking Israel’s 60th anniversary?” he mused.
'Steak on a vegetarian’s plate'
Some, however, harbor a far more positive view of the compromise offered by the institute.
“The Schechter Institute, its leadership and most of its student body adamantly object, purely from a halachic point of view, to the ordination of gays and lesbians,” said Dubi Hayun, one of the teachers at the school. “The American students' request is thus utterly disrespectful. It is tantamount to coming to a vegetarian’s home and eating a big, fat steak.”
Hayun also stated that he has nothing against gays and lesbians, and objects to their ordination purely from a halachic point of view. “Gays should, and must, receive equal rights from the state, it is wrong not to do so. However, one cannot circumvent halacha, or Jewish law, as painful as that decision may be.”
The SIJS noted put out a press release stating that “the institute decided to grant equal forum to the perspectives prevalent within the Conservative movement in the true spirit of the school, and our Jewish sages who respected each other’s rulings and opinions in spite of conflicts and disagreements.
"The Schechter Institute wants to provide a warm and welcoming environment for all of its students, but also adheres to the moral-halachic principle of 'a person should not deviate from the set ways of a place because of argument' (Mishna Pesachim 4:1). This means that one is obligated to respect the religious customs of a place that hosts him in order to preserve peace and harmony.”