'Sociological differences explain division in Conservative Jewry'

Rabbi David Golinkin says movement in US and Israel totally different.

By MATTHEW WAGNER
January 24, 2009 22:37
4 minute read.
'Sociological differences explain division in Conservative Jewry'

david golinkin 248.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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Disagreement between the Israeli and American wings of Conservative Judaism over same-sex commitment ceremonies, the ordination of homosexual rabbis and other halachic issues reflects, in part, deep sociological differences between the two countries, Rabbi David Golinkin, president of the capital's Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, said on Thursday. "I'd say there is no comparison whatsoever between there [the US] and here," Golinkin said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. "It is like night and day. Israeli society is much more conservative on this issue [homosexuality] and many others. And if you speak to Israeli rabbinical students, almost all are opposed to any changes vis-à-vis homosexuality. "Most are sabras and many are Sephardi, and I can assure you that they are not interested in changing policy. If we changed the policy they would not be studying in our rabbinical institute," he said. Golinkin added, however, that the differences in approach between the international and American branches of Conservative Judaism regarding homosexuality could not be explained solely on the basis of a sociological analysis. "It is true that one should take sociology into consideration when making a halachic decision. But there is a biblical prohibition [against homosexual intercourse] and we don't see any way of changing it." Golinkin made the comments in the wake of a decision by the Conservative Movement's Los Angeles-based rabbinical seminary to discontinue it residency program with Schechter. Two weeks ago the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies announced to staff and board members of the North American Conservative Movement's United Synagogue that beginning this fall its third-year students will not spend their Israel year at Schechter. Instead, the students will study at the Conservative Yeshiva, a coeducation institute for Diaspora Jews housed at the Fuchsberg Center of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism in Jerusalem. The yeshiva is not directly affiliated with the Israeli Masorti (Conservative) Movement. Rather, it belongs to the Conservative Movement's North American synagogue umbrella. Ziegler did not specify the reason for its decision. Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Ziegler's dean, said in a statement, "The Ziegler School and the Conservative Yeshiva share a common pedagogical philosophy - integrating academic rigor, emotional engagement and spiritual yearning." The move was seen as another step in the growing theological rift between the American and international wings of Conservative Judaism. In 2006, the Jewish Theological Institute in New York and Ziegler in Los Angeles changed their policies to admit openly gay and lesbian students following a decision by the Conservative Movement's Jewish law authorities. In contrast, Jerusalem-based Schechter, which trains rabbis for Israel and Europe, and the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano, located in Buenos Aires, declined to change their policies. Some Israeli insiders claimed that Schechter's conservative approach was also creating a schism within Israel. A senior member of the Masorti Movement who is Israeli said this week that the halachic position taken on homosexuality by Golinkin, who was born and raised in Arlington, Virginia, and made aliya in 1972, and Rabbi Einat Ramon, the first Israeli-born woman rabbi and the dean of Schechter's rabbinical school, was alienating Schechter from the vast majority of the Masorti Movement's members. "Israelis are very open to homosexuality," the source said. "Very few countries are so accepting of homosexuality. In the IDF, 'out' gay soldiers are given total equality. In the Foreign Ministry, gay couples are sent to represent Israel in embassies around the world. "And there are 'out' homosexuals like [singer] Ivri Lider and Leon [Schneiderovsky of Big Brother], who appear on prime time TV. "Golinkin is taking a sociological gamble that left-wing modern Orthodoxy will join forces with right-wing Conservative Judaism. But if you step outside Jerusalem and go to places like Kiryat Bialik [near Haifa] or Omer [near Beersheba] 80% of our members are nowhere near halachic adherence. Most are ambivalent about their Jewish identity." Golinkin rejected the claim that his halachic approach was influenced by his interest in attracting left-leaning modern Orthodoxy to the Masorti movement. "My goal when deciding Halacha is not to attract X or Y. I take a halachic position because that is the proper decision to make, not because I want to attract modern Orthodox Jews. There is a great deal of affinity between left-wing Orthodox and more traditional Conservative Jews. But that has nothing to do with determining our policy." Golinkin said that of about 550 master's students at Schechter between 20% and 25% were modern Orthodox. "Will that mean that some will continue to the rabbinical school? Could be." He also denied that Schechter was losing touch with the Masorti Movement's members. "Rabbi Ramon maintains contact with numerous Masorti communities throughout the year. She has visited about 15 communities, usually spending an entire Shabbat. She found people very receptive to things we are doing," he said. Golinkin said that homosexuality would not even be an issue in Israel if not for America. "In my 22 years at Schechter I can think of only one example of a homosexual who applied to the rabbinical school. It is a non-issue." However, Rabbi Andrew Sacks, director of the Masorti Movement's Rabbinical Assembly, said he knew of at least three people, two openly gay and a third who was not 'out,' who wanted to apply but did not because they knew that they would not be accepted. "If you know you are not welcome you are not going to apply. So there is no way for Rabbi Golinkin to know how many people never even bothered to apply. "I think that if someone reads the position papers that hold that homosexuality is sinful, that halachically it cannot be justified, that gays cannot be full participants in Jewish life, that their relations cannot be blessed with a Jewish ceremony, that no homosexual is halachically worthy of being ordained, than it follows that it would be difficult for people to study to be a rabbi, to get married in same-sex ceremonies, to go to couples' events. "The environment created by Schechter's approach keeps Jews secretive and in the closet," Sacks said.

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