Conservative students split on gay ordination anniversary

Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in J'lem clashes with group of visiting American rabbinic students.

Gay Jewish 88 (photo credit: )
Gay Jewish 88
(photo credit: )
In an incident that underlines the tension between the US and Israeli branches of the Conservative Movement over ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis, the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem clashed this week with a group of visiting American rabbinic students. Schechter's administration refused to allow a group of about 35 students to mark on Wednesday the one-year anniversary of the groundbreaking decision by the Jewish Theological Seminary, the movement's flagship rabbinic school in New York, to accept gay and lesbian rabbinical and cantorial students. According to a press release put out by Schechter, Rabbi Dr. Einat Ramon, dean of the Schechter Seminary, met with the rabbinical students last week and requested that the event include an expression of the more conservative, equally authoritative, halachic opinion adopted by the Law Committee of the Conservative Movement that maintained the status quo by prohibiting the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis. This was the opinion adopted by the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary a year ago. "However, the students who approached SRS stressed that they were interested only in their own personal celebration with their friends, and that they had no interest in noting the second halachic ruling," the seminary's press release read. "Therefore, in joint consultation between Rabbi Ramon, Rabbi Danny Nevins, dean of the JTS rabbinical school, and the students themselves, it was decided that the appropriate venue for such a celebration would be at the park near the SRS campus." Sources opposed to the Schechter decision told The Jerusalem Post that the students were threatened with disciplinary measures if they attempted to celebrate the anniversary on Schechter's premises. As a result, they were forced to move to the woods near the institute, in the Valley of the Cross. The source also said that the students were warned by Schechter not to speak with the news media. Rabbi David Lazar, head of the Conservative Tiferet Shalom Congregation in Ramat Aviv, who supports ordination of gays, said Schechter's demand for equal time was "unreasonable." "I have no inside knowledge of what happened at Schechter," said Lazar. "But just hearing about it, I am surprised that an opposing view was effectively suppressed. "It does not speak well for an organization that claims to be pluralistic." The Schechter Seminary said that it was remaining "true to the moral-halachic principle of 'a person should not deviate from the set ways of a place because of argument' (Mishna Pesachim 4:1). "That is to say, each person must respect the religious customs of the place he or she is in, in order to preserve peace." Schechter's decision to ignore the one-year anniversary sharply contrasted with the festivities at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. On Wednesday, JTS held a full day of programming marking the anniversary. Its Web site quoted Chancellor Arnold Eisner as saying, "This day marks the anniversary of an historic change at JTS. "We celebrate not only the admission of gay and lesbian students to our rabbinical and cantorial schools but also the process of honest outreach and spirited discussion that led up to that decision. "JTS has long known that our differences make our community stronger. In this case, too, may we go from newly added strength to ever greater strength." In Jerusalem, a group of JTS students who are spending a year in Israel as part of their rabbinic and cantorial training were joined by several Israeli rabbinic students at a ceremony that took place during their lunch break. Yonatan Gher, incoming director-general of the Jerusalem Open House, a center that provides support to gays and lesbians, and a former spokesman for the Masorti (Conservative) Movement, was invited to speak about his experiences as a gay Conservative Jew. Other Israeli rabbinic students distanced themselves from the ceremony. Dubi Haiyun, an Israeli studying at Schechter, said that he was hurt by the American students' initiative. "They did not respect the customs of my home. If I host someone who is a vegetarian I won't serve big fat steaks. They did not respect Schechter. The Americans refused to stage a discussion that would express both sides. It was as if they were saying 'In the name of pluralism I force my opinion on you,'" Haiyun said.