Students preparing to become Conservative rabbis and cantors may soon be required to adhere to a new set of policies issued by the Jewish Theological Seminary detailing how to observe Shabbat and keep kosher, among other things.
It may also require that they not live with a partner before marriage and addresses the ongoing question of gay and lesbian ordination by restating that the rabbinical and cantorial schools at JTS "do not ordain candidates who are gay or lesbian."
A first draft of the "Guidelines on Religious Observance and Behavior" was introduced to students earlier this month and has been met with concern and confusion by rabbinical school students, said Rachel Kahn-Troster, president of the rabbinical school student organization.
"They are attempting to define what Conservative Judaism means for rabbinical school students," she said, "but students are getting a lot of mixed messages."
While much of the statement is a reiteration of existing denominational policy, "once you put things in writing it clarifies things but also creates an element of having someone looking over your shoulder," said Kahn-Troster.
The four-page document covers topics including "Shabbat and Holy Days," "Kashrut," mitzvot between people, prayer, religious leadership and "personal and family matters."
It is that last section that addresses people living together outside of marriage, and gay and lesbian ordination.
"There was some concern among students that the language about homosexuality in the draft did not reflect the consensus statement that says openly gay and lesbian students will not be admitted, and this just says gay and lesbian students," said Kahn-Troster.
The consensus statement issued in 1992 by the movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards in fact says that the rabbinical and cantorial schools "will not knowingly admit avowed homosexuals."
Most rabbinical students living with partners before marriage do so when their lease on student housing is up and they are a few months away from their wedding, Kahn-Troster said.
Calls to the rabbinical school’s dean, Rabbi Bill LeBeau, were not returned. Through a JTS spokesperson he said "it’s been a positive process and it’s too early to share" anything further about them.
"It’s not clear to students whether these are admission guidelines or a community covenant we’re expected to live by," said Kahn-Troster. "Some students want it to be more of a community covenant and also include a sense of obligation of the school towards the students."
Three rabbinical and two cantorial students have been invited to participate in the next draft.