Ban on gays in US conservative Judaism expected to be lifted

Anthony Cuesta | September 11, 2006

NEW YORK — The ban on ordaining openly gay rabbis and on the sanctioning of same-sex marriage will be lifted in the Conservative movement of Judaism by the year's end, a key Conservative Jewish leader announced this week.

Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, says a committee of scholars who interpret Jewish law for the movement will likely loosen the prohibition when they vote in December.

At the same time, Epstein expects the scholars will endorse a policy aiming to keep more traditional congregations within the fold. Synagogues that believe Jewish law bars same-sex relationships still will be able to hire rabbis who share their view.

According to The Associated Press, the vote by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards will test what Conservative leaders call their �big umbrella� - allowing diverse practices within one movement. It will also signal to the wider community how far the Conservative branch will go to reinterpret Jewish law.

�The committee might accept – will accept, I think – two or more� policies, Epstein said at an Aug. 24 meeting of New York Conservative Jewish leaders, The AP reports. �One that actually reaffirms the current position and at least one that will liberalize it.�

The effect of the contradictory actions will be that local Jewish communities have more freedom. Conservative seminaries, along with the movement�s estimated 750 synagogues and more than 1,000 North American rabbis, will get to decide which policy to follow.

�It could cause confusion, it could cause tremendous angst, it could cause tremendous tension, it could cause tremendous disagreement,� Epstein told The AP.

But the spiritual leader of Akron, Ohio�s conservative synagogue, Beth El Congregation, does not anticipate a rift in his house of worship.

�If this becomes official, it is going to be divisive in some areas,� Rabbi Stephen Grundfast told The Akron Beacon Journal. �This is an emotional issue. In some communities, it's going to cause some waves. In some areas, it will cause some ripples. But I think the vast majority of people would be in favor. While I can't speak for everyone, I expect (my) congregation would be receptive.�

The vote comes as the movement is trying to hold on to a shrinking middle ground between innovation and strict tradition in American Judaism. The Conservative branch follows Jewish law, while allowing limited change for modern circumstances.

Rabbi Joel Roth, a leading religious scholar and a member of the Conservative Law Committee, told The AP that he questioned whether people with traditional Jewish views on sexuality will stay, even if the panel allows synagogues leeway to accept or reject gay relationships. Roth said he has been �demonized� for saying that he interprets religious law as barring same-gender sex.

�I know the law as it stands causes pain,� he told The AP. �But pain is not to be equated with immorality.�

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, vice chairman of the Law Committee and also a respected scholar, supports ordaining gays, saying �it is simply not natural� to demand that they remain celibate.

�We have to interpret God�s will in our time,� Dorff told The AP.

Dorff and Roth are traveling with Epstein, with more stops scheduled for Atlanta, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. The trio also spoke last month in Toronto. – Issued by Gay Link Content

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