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April 12, 2007 - Image 32

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2007-04-12

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A Modern Approach To Halachah

Mendota Heights, Minn.


round the time of my ordina-
tion at the Jewish Theological
Seminary of America in New
York in 1985, many people skeptical of the
ordination of women asked, "What's next?
The ordination of gays and lesbians?"
The question angered me. After all,
the issue of embracing the full equality
of women directly affected 50 percent of
the population or, I could well have said,
100 percent of the population, while the
population of gays and lesbians is closer
to 10 percent. Further, the halachic issues
on homosexuality — including prohibi-
tion of homosexual behavior in the Torah
itself — were so much more serious, even
How could anyone compare the halachic
emancipation of women to the status of
gays and lesbians in Judaism, thinking
that the former would necessarily lead to
reconsideration of the latter?
I was wrong. Like many people, I did
not yet know many gays and lesbians, due
at least in part to the difficulty of corn-
ing out at the time. I had not studied the
scientific literature on sexual orientation.
And I did not yet understand the nature
of the suffering that closeted gays and les-
bians experienced in a society in which it

was unsafe to live their lives openly.
At that time, the Conservative corn-
munity could not yet recognize the moral
challenge that discrimination against gays
and lesbians posed to all those devoted to
Torah and to Halachah, or Jewish law.
Since that time, American society has
come to know more about the range
of normal human sexuality, about the
toxic — even lethal — effects of living a
closeted life, and about the yearnings of
vast numbers of gay men and lesbians to
create stable relationships and families,
some of them rooted in their Conservative
During the past 20 years, the
Conservative movement has conducted a
serious investigation of the biological, psy-
chological, communal and halachic issues
related to the status of gays and lesbians.
We have studied the sources, debated rab-
binic teshuvot, or legal rulings, and thor-
oughly considered the potential impact
of granting gays and lesbians fully equal
halachic status in our communities.
Now the Jewish Theological Seminary
has invited gay men and lesbians to
consider bringing their gifts to serve
the Jewish people as rabbis and cantors,
opening a powerfully symbolic door to
this long-marginalized population. This
decision is an impressive demonstration

of the vibrancy of
Conservative Judaism
and its approach to
Halachah as lived in
contemporary society.
We have modeled
again how to balance
devotion to Jewish
law and tradition with
our deepest moral
Amy Eilberg
sensibilities as 21st
century American
Jews. Looking deeply
into the sources of Jewish law, we have
found that there is basis in the sources for
what our hearts tell us: that the halachic
value of human dignity, kvod habriot, can
and must challenge the Torah's legislation
on homosexuality.
Thus we have been able to reject an
unnecessary dichotomy between our
loyalty to Torah and our authentic moral
sensibilities as contemporary Jews. It is
possible — and imperative — to har-
monize these two sets of commitments,
as traditional Jews living in the modern
world must do.
At the same time, we as a movement
have affirmed the legitimacy of ongoing
debate on these profound issues within
our own movement. We recognize that
many Conservative Jews still disagree on

these matters, that some feel strongly that
the recent decision was ill advised, and
that some believe the movement has yet to
go far enough in normalizing the position
of gays and lesbians in our communities.
But we have labored to maintain
respectful dialogue with one another,
honoring the right of good-hearted people
to disagree strongly on these issues and
asserting that we who disagree with one
another can still live together in a single
In this, I daresay, we model what the
world needs most urgently at this time in
history: the possibility of coexisting, of
building bridges of relationship and com-
munity even in the presence of conflict
and disagreement.
It is not easy to live together with those
whose views are at times anathema to our
own —to daven together, to respect one
another's knowledge and character, to con-
tinue to affirm our allegiance to the same
movement. But in doing so, we practice
the fundamentals of coexistence and per-
haps even contribute in a small way to the
cause of peace in the world. II

Rabbi Amy Eilberg, the first woman ordained at

the Jewish Theological Seminary, now creates

Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue programs in
Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn.

Roadblock To Peace



acing international demands to
recognize Israel's right to exist,
renounce terrorism and accept
previous Israeli-Palestinian peace agree-
ments, the new Palestinian unity govern-
ment has responded with a platform that
does none of the above.
The document deflates hopes that the
terrorist group Hamas would moderate its
radical positions in order to form a politi-
cal coalition with Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction. But its
implications are even graver, representing
a full-scale retreat from the most impor-
tant gains achieved during the peace pro-
cess of the 1990s.
The document doesn't simply ignore
calls for the Palestinians to give up vio-
lence. It "affirms that resistance in all
its forms ... is a legitimate right of the
Palestinian people' Thus, a conditional
pledge in the platform to expand the false,
rocket-riddled "calm" in Gaza is suscep-


April 12 • 2007

tible to termina-
tion whenever the
Palestinian govern-
ment decides to exer-
cise its "legitimate
right" to return to
full-blown terrorism.
Recognition of
Israel is nowhere
Howard Kohr
to be found in
the platform. The
document's authors
couldn't even bring
themselves to mention the word "Israel,"
apart from mentions of "Israeli occupa-
tion" and distorted portrayals of "Israeli
policies" in Jerusalem.
Regarding acceptance of previous agree-
ments concluded between Israel and the
PLO, the platform states that the govern-
ment merely "respects the ... agreements
signed by the PLO."
In addition, the agreement only dis-
cusses "respect" of previous internal
Palestinian agreements and resolutions

adopted by the Arab League, not agree-
ments reached between the PLO and
Israel, such as the Oslo accords. The U.S.-
backed roadmap peace plan, moreover,
is singled out for scornful rejection. The
platform states that "the government reit-
erates its rejection of the so-called state
within temporary borders, stipulated in
the U.S.-Israeli plan."
These statements fall well short of meet-
ing the international requirement to accept
and fulfill those accords. And with the
platform's passage, Hamas has solidified
its hold on the Palestinian government.
The terrorist group will continue to hold
a dominant majority in the Palestinian
legislature and a plurality of cabinet seats.
Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas
continues to hold office as well, and there
are no signs he's rethinking his December
statement that "resistance is the only solu-
tion, and the Palestinian government will
never recognize Israel."
Clearly, the Palestinians have yet to meet
the minimal standards laid out for restor-

ing the international aid that was cut off
last year when Hamas came to power and
promptly refused to give up its fundamen-
tal commitment to Israel's extermination.
Fortunately, the Middle East Quartet —
the United States, European Union, United
Nations and Russia —responded to the
formation of the unity government with a
statement reaffirming the boycott.
Additionally, more than three-quarters
of the U.S. Senate and half of the House
of Representatives have signed letters to
the European Union and U.S. Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice urging no retreat
on demands for the Palestinian govern-
ment to recognize Israel, reject terror-
ism and to accept and fulfill past peace
accords. Under U.S. leadership, the Quartet
must continue to firmly insist on full
Palestinian compliance with these three
conditions before resuming assistance and
engagement. 1

Howard Kohr is executive director of the

American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

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