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Whose Conservative Movement?

Whose Conservative Movement?

While an emerging grassroots network of Conservative Jews met in Manhattan on Sunday to reinvigorate their movement with new leadership, a senior Conservative legal scholar warned that ordaining gay rabbis could lead to an onslaught of other potentially schismatic issues being brought to the law committee.

Rabbi Joel Roth, a 30-year member of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, former dean of the Jewish Theological Seminary rabbinical school and author of a paper against ordaining gay rabbis the last time the issue was taken up, in the early 1990s, says that if the position is reversed now the Law Committee may be faced with considering patrilineal descent, intermarriage and remarriage without a Jewish divorce. Any of those issues, he warned, could tear apart the movement. The gay ordination issue is important but “doesn’t have an earthquake effect, such as who is a Jew and who may marry whom.” In a lecture Sunday night at the Conservative yeshiva in Jerusalem and in a subsequent interview, Rabbi Roth said he has written a new paper opposed to ordaining gays. One of the several position papers being considered by the Law Committee argues for the ordination of homosexuals based on Jewish law, he said, and he doesn’t accept its reasoning. While he spoke in Jerusalem, about 90 Conservative rabbis and lay people were meeting at what was billed as the first annual conference of the Shefa Network.

The gathering, at Congregation Ansche Chesed on the Upper West Side, focused on building a sense of common cause apart from any particular issue. “There is a thus-far unanswered cry for visionary leadership in the Conservative movement,” said founder Rabbi Menachem Creditor, and Shefa — which means “abundance” — hopes to respond to that.

Speakers included Rabbi Ira Stone, a Philadelphia congregational rabbi; Rabbi Judith Hauptman, a JTS professor of Talmud and rabbinic culture and lay leaders.Rabbi Creditor, 30, is also a founder of Keshet Rabbis, a coalition of 218 colleagues advocating full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Conservative Jews.

Rabbi Roth has overstated the danger of a vote to ordain gay rabbis, said Rabbi Creditor. He “is greatly exaggerating the emotionality of this topic in order to prevent any honest engagement with it,” he said. Rabbi Roth, for his part, said he might leave the Law Committee if it approves ordaining gays. But he said he would not leave the JTS faculty or the movement. “I know that my views on the subject cause people pain, and no decisor likes to cause people pain,” Rabbi Roth added. “But causing pain does not necessarily make the decision wrong or immoral.”

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