"Conservative Rabbis To Vote on Gay Issues," trumpeted The Forward last week, inaccurately, about a meeting this week. More correctly (though still less than completely) The New York Times followed Monday with a story headlined: "Conservative Jews to Consider Ending a Ban on Same-Sex Unions and Gay Rabbis."
In truth, it will almost certainly be many months before the Conservative movement decides whether to allow gay rabbis and gay unions, according to Rabbi Sue Grossman, head of the rabbinic subcommittee that has been wrestling with the issue.
Both news stories depicted a meeting of the movement’s Committee on Law and Standards this week as the make-or-break moment for deciding the issue. But according to Rabbi Grossman, "It’s very unlikely we will vote this week."
Under the rabbinic committee’s process, explained the rabbi, proposed rulings on matters of religious law undergo two readings before a vote. The meeting this week is just the first. Further, the second reading is unlikely to take place in less than six months.
There are now four separate proposed teshuvot, or rabbinic rulings, submitted to the committee involving a total of 10 authors, Rabbi Grossman noted. Two would broaden gay acceptance, the others would maintain the current ban. After receiving the committee’s feedback from the first reading, "It takes time for the authors to go back and do revisions," she added. "We’ll see how much revision is needed, and how much time people think they need."
The committee meets quarterly, but a second reading of a proposed teshuvah doesn’t usually take place at the next meeting, Rabbi Grossman noted.
That would kick the decisive vote on gay issues forward to at least next August, unless the committee departs from usual practice, a possibility Rabbi Grossman did not rule out.
"We’re trying to give this the attention it needs as expeditiously as possible," said Rabbi Grossman. "That’s why we’re dedicating the entire two-day meeting exclusively to this issue." The meeting (closed to the public and held at an undisclosed site in Baltimore) allows participants to debate and discuss without worrying "about speaking to the spotlight," she said.
When it does vote, any teshuvah able to attract at least six votes will become a legitimate option for Conservative rabbis considering whether to preside over gay unions or Conservative seminaries as they decide whether to ordain openly gay rabbis. The committee consists of 25 voting rabbis and a number of non-voting lay members who can participate in the discussion. No participant is known to be gay, said Rabbi Grossman. But most "have poignant experiences with congregants, family members and others close to them" who are gay and seeking their place as Jews.
"I think from everyone on committee there is a real sense of rachmonis [compassion], and the awesome responsibility to try to understand God’s will in this particular time," she said.