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Monday, January 8, 2007

Conservative Judaism's Survey Regarding Rulings on Homosexuality

Before Shabbos yesterday, I received a survey from the Jewish Theological Seminary asking me for my opinions regarding the recent contradictory decisions accepted by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards:
"three teshuvot accepted by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards embrace a wide range of conclusions. They may be described succinctly in simplified form as follows:

One teshuva reaffirmed the prior position of the CJLS, which denied ordination as clergy to active homosexuals and also prohibited same-sex commitment ceremonies or marriage.

One teshuva, while retaining the Torah’s explicit prohibition as understood by the rabbis banning male homosexual intercourse, argued for the full normalization of the status of gay and lesbian Jews. Under this ruling, gay and lesbian Jews may be ordained as clergy and their committed relationships may be recognized, although not as sanctified marriage.

A third teshuva upheld the traditional prohibitions, argued that homosexuality is not a unitary condition, and urged the development of educational programs within the community to achieve understanding, compassion, and dignity for gays and lesbians. Each of these positions is now valid within Conservative Judaism, and individual rabbis will choose which position to follow.
The survey also asked my opinions on issues such changing from being Jewish because your mother is to either parent, whether Conservative Judaism should be based on Halacha, should rabbis be able to perform "intermarriage" ceremonies. and a few other issues like that.

I dutifully filled out the survey, but it was the click the box type, so I felt compelled to write longer answers to send to the professor taking the survey and to you folks.

Thank you for including me in the survey about the recent rulings regarding Homosexuality. If I may, I would like to add some comments to my survey answers.

The survey uses the term Openly Gay. To be honest, I have a bigger problem with the term Openly than the term gay. I do not think that Clergy, Religious School Principals, Shul Presidents etc, should be open in their sexuality whatever their preference. No I am not a prude. But there certain people that you do not want to hear about their sexuality and I think that goes with any sort of "teacher" or other "parental" figure.

The ruling brings up another problem, that is not addressed in the survey. If we to "recognize committed" relationships with gay rabbis, does their partners have to be Jewish? On one hand because it is not a "sanctified marriage" it doesn't matter. But on the other, in reality the sanctified marriage thing will end up being a matter of semantics so if they are "openly gay" then it should matter because we will be teaching our children that intermarriage is ok.

This homosexuality ruling, like the counting women in the minyan , or music in some shuls on Shabbos before that is an indication of the problem with the Conservative Jewry movement and why it is shrinking.

We have absolutely no idea what it is. The movement tries to be all things to all people and there is no consistency between shuls. It is only defined as in-between orthodox and reform--and that is a problem. When you try to please everyone you please no one.

It comes down to halacha. JTS has a Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, it should be a Committee on Halacha. If you take away the halachic laws and traditions of the Talmud you take away the heart and soul of Judaism. Part of that tradition is that the Talmud isn't finished. It is allowed to be continually debated and reinterpreted to allow for new halachic decision. It seems to that many of the decisions coming from JTS is based more on political correctness than the Talmud. This is not to say I do or don't have a problem with the ruling, but it has more to do with the methodology.

Before my Rabbi made the decision to allow women count in the minyan in our shul he spent three month teaching the congregation about the Talmudic discussion pro and con and the rich tradition of women involved in the service. This ruling was based on my Rabbis interpretation of halacha. The recent announcement on homosexuality was like a Camel, an animal created by a committee.

All of these issues are executional. The leaders of the conservative movement need to sit down and define itself. Is it going to be one movement based on Judaism's rich Talmudic History, or is it going to continue to be a hodgepodge, a little of this a little of that with no clear halacha--Where every shul can be drastically different and Jewish law is based on political correctness rather than Talmud.

Because in the end the survey was nice, but my opinion does not matter. If that was the case, steak would be pareve and I would be having ice cream much more often. The opinions that matter are our great Talmudic minds today interpreting law based on the opinions of the great Talmudic minds of old.

Remember the heritage of Conservative Judaism. It came about as a rebellion against Reform by people who felt it had shed too much halacha. What then would be the Conservative movement's continued justification it stops making its rulings based on halacha?

Without that connection to Halacha Conservative Jewry will continue to be defined as "somewhere between Orthodox and Reform" and will continue to loose people to those movements also.


Ocean Guy said...

I took the survey too... Did you try to download a copy? The download function did not work for me.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Fern R said...

I have to admit that the reason I can't daven in a conservative shul, even though I support religious egalitarism and sometimes I even like mixed seating, is that I don't understand how conservative Judaism sees Jewish law. Like you, it seems to me that conservative Judaism determines Jewish law by hosting a straw poll. Also, there is no difference between the conservative and reform shuls near me. The conservative congregants don't keep any form of kosher, don't wear kippot outside of shul, work on Saturdays, etc, etc, etc.

I think the right wing of the conservative movement and the left wing of the orthodox movement have a lot to offer the larger Jewish community, but as it stands now, the conservative movement just doesn't make any sense. To me at least.

NewsGuy said...

By: NewsGuy | Posted: Saturday, January 6th, 2007 @ 8:31pm PST

Does anyone have any statistics on how the Conservative movement is doing, i.e., growth, in comparison with the Orthodox and Reform

FrumWithQuestions said...

I received the survey by email last week from JTS and filled it out. I think the questions were king of straight forward and don't understand what they are trying to accomplish. The questions seemed like they were set up in a way which they knew what the answers would be and they just wanted to get a number so they know exactly how people feel even though they already know based on their questions.

Yid With Lid said...

I am not sure what you mean can you please expand?

Jill said...

Yid with Lid - fascinating post. As a person who attends and belongs to a Conservative shul in Cleveland, I'm fascinated by the discussion here (I also didn't know about the survey! thanks for the tip). I hope the results are made public.

NewsGuy - I don't have statistics but I'm quite sure that the Conservative movement has been losing members for a long time now - I don't know in what proportion to any other changes in allegiance to one movement or another, but at least this is what I've been told and what I've read. My experience in the movement for the last few years supports that - we see more members migrating to Reform, Chabad or Reconstructionist than to anywhere else. This could also be a Cleveland thing - we have a very dynamic Jewish population right now, saturated with options.

I was raised in the Reform movement in Connecticut in a very hippie shul that's still only had two rabbis since the mid-1960s. I went to Georgetown, decided to go on Sherut La'am after doing volunteer work on a United Methodist Church mission during college and eventually came to Cleveland for graduate school. I met my husband here and he was raised Conservative. We're both very active in our shul and I'm even on the board - there are over 1000 member units.

But...I still question the movement all the time. I'm actually encouraged to do that and for me, that's actually exactly what I love about it.

As much as I loved the many, many days I spent observing with Orthodox relatives in Israel (Tel Arza), I couldn't wrap my head around a lot of the traditions.

What kind of a Jew does all this make me? I can't say. But I know I love the religion.

FrumWithQuestions said...

The survey was done for JTS to have an excuse as to why they are going to start ordaining openly gay and lesbian students. They know the majority of the people of the conservative movement want this too happen they just need a survey so they can tell the people who are against it, see, this is what the conservative movement wants. Its unfortunate because this survey was only sent to a specific target market and if you would ask Canadians or Israelis you would get a much different answer since they are very traditional conservative when it comes to these issues. I cannot list specifics about the survey since I no longer have it infront of me but the questions were all black and white and they tried to fool people by thinking it is not.