Prospective rabbi prays for change in gay policy

Presently, Conservative Jewish practice prohibits ordaining gay rabbis and students who come out while they are in seminary or cantorial schools.

Gay jew symbol 88 (photo credit: )
Gay jew symbol 88
(photo credit: )
There are not a lot of people who are as qualified as Aaron Weininger, 21, of Westchester, New York, to become a Conservative rabbi. Aaron, who is presently in Jerusalem spending a semester at Hebrew University and the Conservative Yeshiva, grew up in a family that takes Conservative Judaism seriously. Shabbat observance, kashrut and regular synagogue attendance were all par for the course growing up. Aaron attended Schechter day school for 13 years and was active in the United Synagogue Youth (USY). He also serves as the High Holidays cantor at Washington University in St. Louis's Conservative minyan. What clinched Aaron's decision to become a rabbi was "USY on Wheels" a six-and-a-half week trek across America that included hands-on social justice projects with various communities, environmental projects and a strong religious component. Aaron ended up becoming a teacher of sorts and took an active role on the bus. Now Aaron wants to apply for rabbinical school at either the Jewish Theological Seminary or the University of Judaism. But there is a problem: Aaron is gay and he is "out." Presently, Conservative Jewish practice prohibits ordaining gay rabbis and students who come out while they are in seminary or cantorial schools and are subsequently expelled. However, ordained rabbis who subsequently say they are homosexual are not excommunicated. In contrast, the movement welcomes homosexuals into the community and leaves it up to individual rabbis and synagogues to decide whether homosexuals could function as educators or youth leaders or receive honors in worship and in the community. In December, the Conservative movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the halachic arm of the Rabbinical Assembly, will review its stand on homosexuality. "There are compelling arguments for preserving the integrity of the Conservative halachic process and recognizing that every person was created in God's image," Aaron says. "It hurts Conservative Judaism when we take a fundamentalist approach, hide behind two verses [in Leviticus that prohibit sexual relations between two men] and allow them to trump the values of compassion and justice which are woven throughout our entire tradition." However, Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, the outgoing Chancellor of JTS fears that compromising on the issue of homosexuality would be the demise of Conservative Judaism. "If the Conservative movement chooses to do something at the expense of the halachic system, then it's going to pay the price down the road," Schorsch said in an interview last week with the Forward. "The erosion of our fidelity to halacha brings us close to Reform Judaism." Asked what he will do if the Conservative movement reinforces its ban on the ordination of gay rabbis, Aaron answers after a short pause, "I really don't know. But I know that hiding my identity is not an option. If you can't be open about yourself it can be self destructive as you prepare to serve the Jewish community with your whole heart, mind and soul."