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"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

Conservative Movement: Cutting the Child in Half

Posted by Oyster on December 6, 2006

Love Thy Neighbor street art

In a complicated conclusion, the Conservative Movement gives the answer of, “Yes and No”. With apologies to Shlomo HaMelekh.

The Conservative Movement has just announced the outcome of their long debate over the role of homosexuals in the Movement. This might be confusing for many Jews, since 1) Reform Jews say, “Who needs a debate? Obviously Judaism has to change with the times!”, 2) Orthodox Jews say “Are you guys nuts? It’s against the Torah!”, and 3) most Conservative Jews, when asked how the Movement ‘evolves’ Halakha, say “Huh?”.

The Conservative Movement, has a Rabbinical Assembly (RA) that decides on these halakhic matters. They can make a decision which is binding to everyone in the Movement (vast majority required), or they can make a decision which is an acceptable one for Movement rabbis (requires a certain minimum number of votes). If there are more than two “acceptable” decisions on a particular issue, it is then up to each rabbi to decide which decision to follow, just like you find in the Talmud (think R. Hillel and R. Shammai) and between various branches of Orthodoxy today.

They also, like Congress, have sub-committees that research specific “bills” before they are brought before the full RA. This avoids a lot of wasted time, as “bills” get refined and improved in committee. Outsiders see this as “dragging their feet”, or “delaying a vote”. Not so. It is our process for making sure we’re not treating our Halakha and tradition in a willy-nilly manner. We take our time to give it the seriousness and thorough study that it deserves.

So, the end result? Two rulings upholding the Torah ban on sodomy, and one ruling allowing for same-sex committment ceremonies to be officiated by Movement rabbis, and also permitting openly homosexual students to be ordained. All three rulings are of the form which leave it up to each local rabbi to decide.

I’ve given you a topic. Now, discuss.

(picture courtesy of JewSchool)

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9 Responses to “Conservative Movement: Cutting the Child in Half”

  1. sarah said

    no contradictions to me. so you can’t have anal sex halachically, but what does that have to do with your ability to be a rabbi, interpret law and counsel others on it? or make a loving lifetime commitment to a partner? nada. bravo.

    and as far as the anal sex thing, whatever. it’s not like hetero couples aren’t doing it, and so far, i haven’t heard that they’re going to hell.

  2. Oyster said

    Bravo to you, Sarah. You very neatly summarized my ramblings. 🙂

    In fact, it is alluded to in the Talmud (these wise old men, and Beruriah, were fearless in their topics of discussion!) in their discussion of intimacy. They refer to it as “flipping the table”. They generally say that it is frowned upon, but they acknowledge that they really can’t enforce what a married couple do in their home…

    One could say, that when it came to discussion topics in the Talmud, everything was “on the table”. :-p

  3. Oyster said

    My comment on the JewSchool discussion on this issue:

    we’ve been missing you since the 1980s when the Refs and the Recons made this leap against bigotry.

    Yes, true. You are so avant garde and ahead of the curve. I mean, my Conservative synagogue doesn’t even have a choir or a pipe-organ yet! When will we silly cavemen C Jews ever learn?

    In fact, we’re gonna leap-frog y’all. I’m starting a petition for CJ to quit the bigotry against Jews who wish to marry their pets. 🙂 Silly Torah commandments…

  4. Julia said

    I am proud that the Conservative movement takes these matters seriously and looks at the various sides of the issue.

    However, the solution contradicts itself. A homosexual couple is allowed, but according to text are not allowed to consumate their marriage. According to text, a lesbian couple is permitted, but not a gay couple. It seems to be a gender discrimination. How can we not allow both types of homosexuality?

  5. Oyster said

    The Talmud prohibits lesbian relations. That situation is less complicated, because there is not the issue of “the Sin of Onan”. Lastly, it is more strict for same-sex male relations because that prohibition is found in the Torah, and not in the Talmud. There’s a general halakhic expression/concept that, “for the Mitzvot from the Torah be strict; for the rulings from the Talmud be lenient…” .

  6. Amanda Orrin said

    The line from the Torah actually refers to the act of a man lying with another man as abomination. Abomination? A very strong word used by G-d for us to just turn around and say he’s discriminating against genders…

    Since G-d created us all, assuming that the Torah is correct (which we, as Jews, do) than I don’t think it’s our place to call G-d sexist. Just a thought.

  7. shiduri said

    “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives.” (Lev 20:13)
    basically, the sin is for one to assume the passive role – in essence, become feminized. (and lets face it, the men of antiquity – who wrote the laws in the first place- just like many men of today, did not have a problem with two hot women getting it on…) but i digress… apropo of this biblical prohibition, in ancient greek society, it was very common for a pre-pubescent boy to be the ‘passive’ in a homosexual relationship. once the lad reached sexual maturity, however, and became ‘a man’ he could no longer be on the receiving end of the relationship (pun intended.) — the young man, then, would be allowed to assume the ‘male’ role with another pre-pubescent youth, who would play the ‘female.’

  8. Oyster said

    Shiduri, are you suggesting that what the Torah is really prohibiting is the institutionalized form of pederastry? The kind found in the Hellenistic world & (to a degree) in Egypt?

    Another interesting perspective to pull into this conversation is Rabbi Steven Greenberg, an Orthodox rabbi who came out & published a book on a critical re-evaluation of traditional Jewish texts, and their take on homosexuality.

  9. Oyster said

    Yo, check out the photo I just added to the post. 🙂

    Also, it turns out that my shul, Congregation Beth David, will be having a discussion on these developments this Shabbat morning as part of the D’var Torah. Wow, this ought to be a big draw! 🙂

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