Conservative rabbi: I'm being punished for gay marriages

Rabbi David Lazar accuses his movement of discrimination.

gay marriage 88 (photo credit: )
gay marriage 88
(photo credit: )
As the theological debate within Conservative Judaism over the status of homosexuals heats up, a Conservative Israeli rabbi has accused his movement of discrimination. Rabbi David Lazar, of congregation Tiferet Shalom in Ramat Aviv, said Wednesday that he feels his pro-gay stand has disqualified him from running for official positions in the Masorti (Conservative) Movement's institutions in Israel. "I feel I have been singled out as a persona non gratis by the Schechter Institute [of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem]," said Lazar, who has conducted 10 same-sex weddings in Israel since 2001, in violation of Conservative directives. "I do not know for sure," said Lazar, "but it is strange that I have not been invited to speak to rabbinical students at Schechter since I began doing same-gender weddings." Lazar said he felt the Schechter Institute's administration wants to prevent him from influencing rabbinical students with his opinions on homosexuality. Lazar added that he refrains from running for official positions in the movement because he feels he has no chance of being elected. Schechter Institute president, Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin, who opposes same-sex marriages and the ordination of homosexuals, denied the charges. "It is not true at all," said Golinkin. "I think the whole thing is in his head." However, Rabbi Andrew Sacks, director of the Masorti Movement's Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, said there was substance to Lazar's claims. "Anybody who is a pioneer and is daring enough to break new ground ends up paying a price," said Sacks. "David is a pioneer who is helping to open doors for others." The Conservative Movement in Israel has publicly distanced itself from Lazar's conduction of same-sex marriages in the past, but has denied taking punitive action against him. "Lazar's same sex-marriages are a clear violation of the the Masorti Movement's stand as dictated by the Rabbinic Assembly," said the movement's spokesperson. "Nevertheless, the movement has no intention of punishing Rabbi Lazar since samesex marriage is a controversial issue not included in the list of standards set by the assembly that obligates punitive measures if violated." Only four transgressions are grounds for the defrocking of a Conservative rabbi: being present at a wedding between a Jew and a gentile, authorizing a marriage without a divorce certificate for a previous marriage, converting without immersion in a mikve (ritual bath) and circumcision (for men) and recognizing patrimonial lineage in determining one's Judaism. Lazar's accusations came as hundreds of rabbis gathered at an annual Conservative Movement parley in Mexico City to debate whether to block a motion that would radically change the movement's stand on homosexuality. In December, the Conservative Movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS), composed of 30 members, 25 with voting rights, is slated to decide whether to keep the prohibition on same sex-marriages and the ordination of gay rabbis. There are four separate motions or halachic opinions (tshuvot) that will be considered by the committee. One of the motions, the most radical, authored by Rabbi Gordon Tucker, is a wholesale rejection of the ban on homosexuality. In an attempt to block Tucker's tshuva, the Rabbinic Assembly's executive council voted that since it calls for a major break from Conservative practice, it would need at least 80 percent of the CJLS vote (20 votes). This type of reform in practice is known as a takana (amendment). In Mexico City the 80% requirement was tabled in favor of a threshold of more than 50% of the vote (13 votes). The other three tshuvot range from defining homosexuality as a sickness that needs to be treated to an acceptance of all homosexual unions except anal penetration. All tshuvot must grapple with biblical passages in Leviticus that seem to unequivocally prohibit male homosexual intercourse, such as: "Thou shalt not lie with a man after the manner of a woman." Lazar, who accepted Tucker's tshuva, interprets the preceding verse to be restricted to a relationship between two men that is based on humiliation. "In biblical times that was the only known type of homosexual relationship," said Lazar. "But the minute I've established that that passage is not about a ban on homosexuality, rather a call to treat the other as a being created in God's image, I can support same-gender marriages and the ordination of gays and lesbians. "I am not involved with apologetics, about arguing these people have no choice and therefore must be allowed to do what they have to," he said. "I am saying something more radical: The whole prohibition needs to be totally rethought."