Masorti Movement won't be bound by US group's gay ruling

The Central halachic authority for the Conservative Movement is expected to decide Wednesday what will be Conservative Judaism's official position on homosexuality.

gay pride rally 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
gay pride rally 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
The Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel will not be bound by the Committee of Jewish Law and Standards' (CJLS) decision to be made in New York on Wednesday on the halachic status of homosexuals, said Masorti Movement leaders Tuesday. "There is a wide consensus among rabbis and leaders here that we are not obliged to adhere to the CJLS's decision," said Rabbi Prof. Chanan Alexander, chairman of the Schechter Rabbinical School's Executive Committee. "Obviously, we will respect the decision, whatever it is, but we also believe that the Torah should be taught from the land of Israel." Alexander, who will be instrumental in setting up the Israeli decision-making apparatus and, as a result, has made an effort to remain impartial on the homosexuality issue, said Israeli and American views on homosexuality were very different. "The Israeli public is in a different place from the US on this issue," said Alexander. "We have to be responsive to our public." Alexander said people in the Masorti Movement had very passionate views on both sides of the issue. "But we have a chance to conduct the decision-making process openly and honestly and thus teach the State of Israel another way of considering potentially divisive halachic decisions of this magnitude." The CJLS, the central halachic authority for the Conservative Movement, which represents 2 million Jews worldwide, is expected to decide Wednesday what will be Conservative Judaism's official position on homosexuality. The movement advocates complete civil rights equality for homosexuals. However, a "Consensus Statement" that guides Conservative policy rejects both the rabbinic ordination of gays and lesbians and same-sex commitment ceremonies. This policy will be reconsidered on Wednesday by the 25-member CJLS. The CJLS will discuss at least five different halachic opinions ranging from complete acceptance of homosexuality to maintaining the status quo. However, at least one opinion, authored by Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, Rabbi Daniel S. Nevins and Rabbi Avram Reisner, which opens the way to ordination and to same-sex commitment "celebrations," has a strong chance of being accepted as a legitimate halachic option. Rabbi Einat Ramon, dean of the Schechter Institute's Rabbinic School in Israel and a stark opponent of giving halachic legitimacy to homosexuality, joined Alexander in insisting that the Masorti Movement make its own decision. "From our very beginning we were a Zionist movement that is not bound by decisions made in New York," said Ramon. "We have promised the CJLS not to discuss the issue of homosexuality here until they make their decision. But in coming months we will set up the bodies necessary to deliberate and decide the issue." Ramon and other leading rabbinic figures in Israel, such as Rabbi David Golinkin, president of the Schechter Institute, are strongly opposed to any change in the status quo. In contrast, Rabbi Andy Sachs, director of the Rabbinic Assembly in Israel, has publicly supported a more liberal halachic position on homosexuality and Rabbi David Lazar, head of Congregation Tiferet Shalom in Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv, already performs same-sex commitment ceremonies. At least a dozen Israeli Masorti rabbis are members of Keshet, a Conservative organization advocating a more progressive view on homosexuality. Deciding on the issue of homosexuality in Israel is expected to take at least several months. In the first stage, a three-person committee charged with the task of putting together a faculty handbook for the Schechter Rabbinic School will also determine how the homosexuality issue will be decided. The two probable options are either entrusting the decision to the Israeli Halachic Committee, which is chaired by Golinkin and has not met for several years, or conducting a vote among all Israeli Rabbinic Assembly members. Professor emeritus of English literature at Hebrew University Alice Shalvi, who has supported a liberal approach to homosexuality, Ramon and an undesignated Schechter faculty member chosen by Ramon will make up the faculty handbook committee. In parallel, Alexander, Rabbi Barry Schlesinger, president of the Rabbinic Assembly in Israel, and Moshe Cohen, chairman of the Masorti Movement, will make up a three-person advisory council to the dean who will inform Ramon of the various opinions on the issue of homosexuality after meeting with the Masorti members, faculty and rabbis they represent. Sachs said he was confident that, "voices for more progressive positions will be given the same weight in the decision-making process. I'm sure Chanan [Alexander] will be listening to all the opinions. No doubt it will be a difficult decision."