The Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards took up the debate over the status of gays within the denomination this week, restarting its formal discussion of the contentious issue that has fragmented the movement for the past decade.
The Law Committee devoted its entire two-day meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday to discussion of the nine position papers, or teshuvot, submitted by members of the group, according to Rabbi Kassel Abelson, its chairman. The issue of gays and lesbians in the movement –– specifically their ability to serve as rabbis, cantors, educators and even as lay leaders, and the issue of religious marriage ceremonies for them –– threatens to permanently tear the movement apart, some say.
The movement’s current position was decided by the Law Committee several years ago, and emphasizes the need to respect gay and lesbian synagogue members while barring those who are openly homosexual from positions of leadership. The movement’s Rabbinical Assembly prohibits its 1,600 members from officiating at same-sex wedding ceremonies but has not removed anyone for doing so.
Rabbi Abelson declined to comment on whether the majority of the teshuvot lean to one viewpoint. “The positions people take are not necessarily congruent with either side,” he said.
Some of the papers were drafted by rabbis who have contributed teshuvot on the issue in the past, including Rabbi Joel Roth, a professor of Talmud and Jewish Law at The Jewish Theological Seminary who is a proponent of the traditionalist ban on the ordination of gays, and Rabbi Gordon Tucker, the spiritual leader of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, who has in the past backed a more progressive approach.
“It is a very difficult, very sensitive issue,” said Rabbi Abelson in a telephone interview as he headed into Tuesday’s meeting. “We have worked together on this and I expect that we will continue to. “The process generally moves toward consensus, and it’s premature, with a first reading of the papers, to predict where it will wind up,” he said.