In the week since gay-friendly Conservative rabbis organized themselves, for the first time, into a public group (called Keshet Rabbis) their numbers have nearly doubled.
Last week, 75 members of the movement’s Rabbinical Assembly signed up to offer counseling and consultation to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Conservative Jews. This week the number stands at 137, just under 10 percent of the RA’s 1,500 members.
The emergence of Keshet Rabbis comes at a critical moment for the Conservative movement, with the recent announcement of the retirement of Ismar Schorsch, the longtime chancellor of Jewish Theological Seminary, and the Law Committee’s reconsideration of its current ban on ordaining gay rabbis.
Keshet (Hebrew for rainbow) Rabbis plans to advocate on behalf of the GLBT population and try and make the movement a more welcoming place for them, said one of its founders, Rabbi E. Noach Shapiro of Congregation Shomrei Emunah, in Montclair N.J.
In 1992 the Law Committee voted against ordination of openly gay rabbis but encouraged the movement to welcome gay and lesbian congregants. The RA also forbids members from officiating at same-sex commitment ceremonies, but has not censored rabbis for doing so.
"We want to activate the parts of the [ruling] and statements by the Conservative movement to be welcoming. We want to make those statements less empty," said Rabbi Shapiro.
Another of Keshet Rabbis’ creators, Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Temple Israel in Sharon, Mass., said "the time for this has come. Too many rabbis have seen too many people in needless pain," he said. "We’re really at the threshold of a new Conservative movement and at the threshold of a new definition of family," added Rabbi Creditor. "People are opening their eyes to the fact that you can have a healthy family with a new definition" of who is part of it, he said.
Ad-hoc groups of Conservative rabbis spring up every time the gay issue is at the top of the Law Committee or RA’s agenda, though they haven’t reached out to the public before. The conflict over women’s ordination more than two decades ago was the last time there was a publicly visible, organized group of RA members, according to Rabbi Joel Meyers, the RA’s executive vice president.
"On every major halachic issue the movement is diverse in its approaches," Rabbi Meyers said. "I understand and appreciate that Rabbi Creditor and others want to push harder. There are people on the other end of the spectrum who want to push the other way. That’s the nature of the Conservative movement."