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December 14, 2006 - Image 22

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2006-12-14

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

'To r Id

SPECIAL REPORT

Change To Come from page 21

Photo by Rebecca Weiss Photography/Reprinted from Lilith

Magazine, summer 2006

Conservative rabbinical students welcome the new decision.

To explain the process and the
decision to Jews in Detroit, the
Rabbinical Assembly will hold a
community meeting Thursday,
Jan. 18, at Adat Shalom.
Rabbi Nevins will lead the dis-
cussion and other Conservative
rabbis will speak to the subject.
He plans to focus more on "what
we're doing intellectually and
spiritually. And I'll insist upon
respectful dialogue even though
there is disagreement."
In a letter to his congregation,
Rabbi Nevins sees the decision
playing out this way: The split
decision allows local congrega-
tions, schools and other affiliated
institutions and their rabbinic
leaders to study the "papers care-
fully and come to conclusions
appropriate for their local context."
"We do not know yet which,
if any, of the rabbinical schools
will begin to ordain openly gay
and lesbian students:' Rabbi
Nevins wrote. "Some rabbis may
soon use the inclusive paper as
a basis to perform commitment
ceremonies without the actual
wedding liturgy for gay and les-
bian couples.
"Regarding Adat Shalom
Synagogue," the rabbi's letter
said, "there is no immediate
impact other than sending a
stronger message to the larger
community that gay and lesbian
Jews are fully welcomed into our
congregation, as are all Jews.
"There are no plans to allow
gay commitment ceremonies
within our building. If such a
change were to be considered, it
would be with full consultation
among the professional and lay

22

December 14 2006

leadership of our congregation!'

Rabbinic Ordination?
At the University of Judaism in
Los Angeles, leaders long have
made clear their intention to
ordain gay rabbis if the law corn-
mittee allowed it. At the Dec. 6
meeting, Rabbi Dorff, rector of
UJ's Ziegler School of Rabbinic
Studies, said he expects the semi-
nary to announce a final decision
within weeks.
In New York, the Jewish
Theological Seminary has been
less forthcoming. Though he has
said publicly that he supports gay
ordination, incoming Chancellor
Arnold Eisen promised to con-
sult with faculty, students and
the community before making
a decision he emphasizes is not
halachic in nature. A survey of
opinion within the movement is
to be conducted before reaching
a final decision.
"We are going to consider
what we think best serves the
Conservative movement and
larger American Jewish com-
munity," Eisen wrote in an e-mail
following the decision. "We know
that the implications of the deci-
sion before us are immense. We
fully recognize what is at stake!'

Commitment Ceremony?
Momentum has been building
for years for a more permissive
Conservative attitude toward
homosexuality. Despite the com-
mittee's 1992 decision upholding
the ban on gay rabbis and com-
mitment ceremonies, a number
of Conservative rabbis do per-
form such ceremonies.

iN

That number is
expected to grow
now that rabbis have
received halachic
sanction from the
movement's highest
legal body.
"I think there
will be a significant
change,' said Rabbi
Ayelet Cohen, a JTS
graduate and leader
of Congregation
Beth Simchat Torah,
a Manhattan syna-
gogue for lesbians
and gay men.
An outspo-
ken proponent
of changing the
traditional prohibi-
tion on homosexuality, Rabbi
Cohen performed commitment
ceremonies for gay couples even
before the committee's decision.
She said opponents of change no
longer would be able to use the
law committee's 1992 statement
on homosexuality as an excuse to
continue excluding gay men and
lesbians from the movement.
"According to the current posi-
tion of the movement, gay men
and women are lesser human
beings than heterosexuals," she
said. "Gay people can be kept out
of every level of lay leadership in
our movement. Until now, rabbis
have been able to say, 'There's
nothing I can do. My hands are
tied!"
But by deciding that continuing
the ban on gay ordination and
commitment ceremonies also is a
legitimate position, the committee
has ensured that local rabbis who
oppose a change in policy will
have a halachic authority to cite in
making their case.
There is considerably less ambi-
guity at the movement's seminar-
ies, where much of the agitation
to change policy has originated.
KeshetJTS, a student advocacy
group, says a survey showed that
eight out of 10 members of the
JTS community would support
ordaining gay rabbis.
"I think that congregants are
ahead of their rabbis on many
issues, and this is one of them,"
said Rabbi Steve Greenberg, an
openly gay Orthodox rabbi and
senior teaching fellow at CLAL-
the National Jewish Center for
Learning and Leadership. "1 can

tell you that there are people who
have wanted to go to the semi-
nary to become a rabbi and have
chosen to go elsewhere and will
be thrilled that that option will
now be open to them."
One such person is Aaron
Weininger, an openly gay senior
at Washington University in St.
Louis and a lifelong member of
the Conservative movement. His
decision on where to apply to
rabbinical school hinged on the
law committee's decision.
"I would like to be able to
apply to a Conservative seminary
and, for both ethical and person-
al reasons, right now that's not
an option;' Weininger told JTA
before the vote. Weininger said he
would apply to the University of
Judaism, but would also consider
JTS if that became an option.

Ways Of Interpretation
Like other advocates of liberal-
ization, Weininger said what's at
stake is not just the status of les-
bian and gay men in Conservative
Judaism but the movement's
entire approach to interpreting
Halachah. He hopes the decision
will lead to greater clarity in the
way movement authorities negoti-
ate the line between fidelity to
tradition and the demands of con-
temporary life. -
"Morality is at the very core of
law, and that law really drives us
toward our aspiration of holiness
and justice,' Weininger said. And
so if we, in turn, interpret law to
exclude people, we really violate
the intent of the law"
Rabbi Alan LaPayover, one
of very few openly gay rabbis
who have served as the spiritual
leader of a Conservative syna-
gogue — he was ordained by
the Reconstructionist Rabbinical
College — called the decision "a
very big step!' Given the nature
of the Conservative movement's
process, "they did the best they
were able to do:' said Rabbi
LaPayover, the former rabbi at
Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley, Pa.
Given the multiple opinions
allowed by the law committee,
neither advocates nor opponents
of change will feel compelled to
adjust their positions. Still, many
observers are hopeful that the
decision will open a vital discus-
sion within a movement that
once was America's largest Jewish

denomination.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh
Weinreb, executive vice president
of the Union of Orthodox Jewish
Congregations of America, sees
the decision as "another example
of the Conservative movement's
failure to adhere to any reason-
able definition of Halachah.
"We lament a view of Judaism
that allows for the rejection of
the values dictated by authentic
Torah traditions:' he said in an
official statement.
Rabbi Menachem Creditor,
a leading advocate for change
within the movement, said JTS
Chancellor Eisen's use of the
committee debate as an oppor-
tunity for discussion at the
seminary is a step in the right
direction.
"That's a revolution',' Rabbi
Creditor said. "It might be quiet,
but I think it's going to change
things on the ground because rab-
bis can't ignore the inclusion of
whichever teshuvot will be accept-
ed. We can't ignore it. There's no
hiding it. It's transparent"

To see Rabbi Daniel Nevins' personal

journal about the decision, do to

JNonline.us and click on NEWS on the

left menu.

JN Story Development Editor Keri

Guten Cohen contributed to this

story.

For an Op-Ed column by Rabbi
Jerome Epstein, see page 28.

Two upcoming events on
the topic:
• Rabbi Elliot Pachter will
discuss the decision at a
Stay and Learn session at
12:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec.
30, following services at
Congregation B'nai Moshe,
6800 Drake Road, West
Bloomfield. The session is
open to the community.
• The local Rabbinical
Assembly will hold a com-
munity meeting on the
decision at 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Jan.18, at Adat
Shalom Synagogue, 29901
Middlebelt Road, Farmington
Hills. Rabbi Nevins and
other Conservative rabbis
will weigh in.

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