Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Keshet, yay for justice

i am a bit conflicted on the big fight in the conservative movement on whether or not to ordain gay folks. Keshet is doing some great programing and sums up the situation thusly:
On December 5th and 6th, the Conservative movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) is poised to make a potentially historic decision about the equality of lesbian and gay Jews in Conservative Judaism. Because Jewish tradition teaches us to study, pray, and engage in healthy dialogue about issues that are dear to us, Keshet invites the whole community to a learning program designed to coincide with the CJLS deliberations. It is our hope that the conversations begun during this learning will create a strengthened, inclusive Conservative movement.
Given that their movement has the antiquated (deeply offensive, if you will) position of not ordaining openly gay students, attacking the position is the right thing to do. So why am I conflicted? Well, to start with I was two years old when the Recon movement did the right thing and opened it seminary to gay folks. It is hard for me to get incensed about a movement that is still having this fight several decades later.

For comparisons sake, other things which happened in 1985:
To clarify, when the recons got this issue right, they were still using MS-DOS, if you mentioned Calvin and Hobbes they'd assume you meant John and Thomas, The USSR was a Going Concern, South Africa still had a ban on inter-racial marriage, and The Ford Taurus was still being designed. Production of the Taurus ended October 27, 2006. More Tauruses were sold than Model-Ts.

A part of me wonders why folks are still in a movement that has it wrong on so many progressive issues. I suppose you could argue that it has a unique position on merging halachah and modernity. I respect the discourse and the degree to which they stake out a claim on conventional jewish learning and language. What troubles me is that they tend to reach the same conclusions but several decades late and without moral voice. Even if they get this right, they will still be 20-some years behind. That said, 20-some years behind would certainly be better than 40-some. When the old guard go perhaps modernization will be rapid.

So, kudos to my comrades over in the big-c movement, insofar as i have a position, it is that of the Keshet crew. They are fighting the good fight. Many grew up in the movement and feel a loyalty and connection to it. To them, i say, amen, kick some ass. I understand we all have loyalties which defy rationality, lord know, i sure do. If this is a loyalty you hold, you ought to be on the front lines.

One of the e-mails i read implied that people were starting to talk about leaving JTS over this issue, leaving the synagogues, and leaving the movement. I wonder if this is their fish-or-cut-bait moment. When that moment comes, I will be happy to fight, i guess my reticence comes from my worry that this is just another incremental fight. Either way, kick some ass keshet! Let me know if i can help from afar.

Following is breaking news from JTA — The Global News Service of the Jewish People. For in-depth coverage of the latest developments affecting Jews all over the world, click:

Conservatives open to gays

The Conservative movement’s highest legal body moved to allow commitment ceremonies for gays and the ordination of gay rabbis.
The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards endorsed three opinions Wednesday on homosexuality.
Two opinions upheld earlier prohibitions on homosexual activity, but the third endorsed commitment ceremonies and the ordination of gay rabbis, while retaining the biblical ban on male sodomy.
Two other opinions that were under consideration, which would have removed all restrictions on gay activity, were declared takanot, or substantial breaks from tradition that would require an absolute majority of the committee members for adoption.
They were defeated.

An important fight has finally be won. Let's see if JTS will accept this decision. If it does not, i wonder what will happens to students of goodwill. Will they go to the UJ? HC? RRC? The Academy? Lastly, yay Keshet!


At 12/06/2006 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The difference is that the Reconstructionist movement(as far as I understand it) views G-d and halakha as originating from the people, so they can make whatever secular moral decision they want and Recon-halakha has to go along with it.

The Conservative movement still claims to believe in some form of divine origin for halakha. So no matter what people want, you still have to work within the halakhik system.

Some people may want this to change, but they fit into the Gillman category of the Conservative movement no longer being halakhik. Once that change happens there really is no difference between Conservative and Reconstructionist Jews.

At 12/06/2006 , Blogger ZT said...

when you talk about divine inspiration things get murky.
for the most part it seems that the C movement doesn't buy torah m'sinai (the idea that torah was dictated by God to Moses at Mount Sinai). this is one of the reasons source criticism has flourished in that movement. once we aren't talking about torah as dictated by god we begin to think of it as inspired by god. once we are talking about divine inspiration we are into waters which are not praticularly different from conventional recon viewpoints. i am under the impression that we aren't far from reform views either, though i don't know as much about them.
it seems that the big difference between the recon and conservative processes is time rather than result. the results tend to be the same though at different times. for instance the inclusion of women rabbis. this makes me wonder whether the different rhetorics used in the processes are actually differences in spin rather than actuality. my sense is that "commitment to halacha" describes more fully how different folks articulate their decisions than it impacts their actual decisions.

At 12/06/2006 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, in regards to the homosexual issue, I'll reserve final judgement until I read the t'shuvot(assuming they are published online), but I have yet to see a halakhik argument for inclusion.

At 12/06/2006 , Blogger tikkunger said...

Hey thanks for an interesting post.

Let me begin by saying as a reform affiliated Jew this really isn't an issue in my neck of the woods (so to speak).

However I do have two remarks to make, with the first related to the two opinions regarding/related to the earlier decision about the ban on male sodomy. Why does it stipulate male sodomy? Was/is man on woman's sodomy considered halachicly acceptable? This is a serious inquiry, as I'm a little confused by the wording.

Secondly I agree with anonymous #2, I'll believe it when I see it because I also find it difficult to believe that a valid workaround is doable short of rejecting it.

At 12/07/2006 , Blogger ZT said...

well, my impression of why male sodomy got specified has to do with conventional halachic jewish sex ethics. it is generally held that sex acts that have the potential to lead to procreation are acceptable. this is why oral sex is in. there is a connected set of issues arising from the biblical story on Onen that excludes seed spilling. The seed spilling is a non-issue, as far as rabbis seem concerned, with regard to women, however it is forbidden for men to engage with other men in sex acts which are not in a gender combination that could result in procreation and involve ejaculation.

sorry to get so clinical. there are a few problems with this conventional halachic approach.
1) why are men having sex with men any different than men having sex with post-menopausal women in terms of it's relationship with procreation? there is no ban on anal sex between men and infertile women. why not?
2) how does this differ from having vaginal sex using condoms? it would seem that such an act would also "spill seed".

all this to explain why i assume the ban is still active and why i think it is silly and internally inconsistent.

lastly, i think the basis of jewish sex ethics ought not be what will lead to procreation but rather what will lead to the deepening of relationships and connection between people (obviously consenting people).

At 12/07/2006 , Anonymous rebeca m said...

I believe that's why the general ortho position is that condoms are assur.

Yeah, I've seen some problems coming out of that one...

At 12/07/2006 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, the Orthodox position is that oral sex and condom use are also assur because of spilling of the seed. For post-menapausal women, the husband has an obligation to pleasure his wife. This overrides the spilling seed issue(very week argument I know). But if the wife no longer wishes to have sex the only option for the husband is to take another wife.

The gay issue is more directly related to the quote in Leviticus 18:22 "do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman." The Rabbis understood that to mean male anal sex, and extended the prohibition to lesbians also. So the Dorff t'shuva took the approach of upholding the biblical prohibition, while allowing everything else.


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