The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly voted, by a narrow 13-12 vote, to permit the ordination of openly homosexual rabbis, both male and female. The resolution also permits a form of same-sex marriage, called a "commitment ceremony." Its passage led four rabbinical committee members to resign.
Meeting in New York City, the committee also voted, by the same margin, to reaffirm the movement's policy of denying ordination to active homosexuals. The contradiction was reconciled by explaining that individual congregations would be permitted to make their own decisions as to whether to hire such rabbis or not.
A third resolution encourages "reparative therapy" to help homosexuals live as heterosexuals when possible. The Committee turned down proposals to normalize or approve of homosexual relationships and acts.
The resolutions are not considered binding, but are merely "guides so that the gays and lesbians can be welcomed into our congregation and communities and made to feel accepted,” said Law Committee Chairman Rabbi Kassel Abelson. Officials said that individual synagogues could continue to make their own decisions on these issues - leading to no genuine practical change.
The Jewish Theological Seminary, the flagship school of Conservative Judaism, is to take up the issue in meetings of the faculty, the students and the trustees in the next few months.
The New York Sun reported that Rabbi Jerome Epstein, the executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said that the organization - an umbrella group for some 750 North American Congregations - has hired an organizational change consultant to help the movement stay united despite its differences.
The four members who resigned following the votes are: Rabbi Joel Roth, a professor of Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who said the decision was "outside the parameter of halakhic [Jewish legal] legitimacy and reasoning," Rabbi Leonard Levy of the Jewish Center of Forest Hills in Queens, Rabbi Mayer Rabinowitz, a JTS Talmud professor, and Rabbi Joseph Prouser of the Little Neck Jewish Center on Long Island.
"We have compassion and concern for those with homosexual tendencies," the executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, told the Sun. "Nevertheless, homosexual behavior is against the Talmud, the Bible, and the Codes. We cannot see ordaining as a rabbi anyone who flaunts well-established Jewish tradition."
Agudath Israel of America called the decision in favor of homosexual ordination "tragic," saying, "It will no doubt cheer those who place contemporary mores above the Jewish mandate, but in the end, it seals the fate of a movement long mired in muddle and malaise."