The Conservative movement's central halakhic authority approved three contradictory teshuvot - halachic opinions - on Wednesday regarding homosexuality and Jewish law. Two received majorities in the 25-member Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS), meeting at a synagogue on Manhattan's Upper East Side. One submitted by Rabbi Joel Roth, a professor at Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, reaffirmed the movement's current position, which denies ordination to homosexuals and prohibits same-sex commitment ceremonies or marriages.
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The second, drafted by Rabbis Elliot Dorff of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, Daniel Nevins of Farmington Hills, Michigan, and Avram Reisner of Baltimore, retains the prohibition against homosexual intercourse but allows ordination for gays and lesbians, and for their committed relationships to be recognized, although not sanctified as marriages.
The third teshuvah, written by Rabbi Leonard Levy, upheld the traditional prohibitions and urged the development of educational programs within the community to promote understanding for gays and lesbians. This motion passed without receiving a majority, as a teshuva only requires support from six out of the 25 voting members on the panel to be considered an acceptable interpretation.
The advisory nature of the CJLS means that each rabbi and congregation has the authority to decide whether to follow the new rulings.
One of the four main Conservative Jewish seminaries, the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, is expected to begin ordaining gays in the near future.
Four members of the committee - Roth, Levy, Mayer Rabinowitz of New York City and Joesph Prouser of Little Neck, New York - resigned after the vote because they believed the legal reasoning employed in the decisions went beyond the limits of halachic reasoning, Roth said.
"We would hope that this would be a model for other religions to learn how to deal with this topic seriously and be able to agree to be one and yet have disagreements," Dorff said.
It is hoped the rulings will help with the demographic problem, Dorff said, hinting that he hoped the couples would have children and raise them as Jews.
The debate centered on whether to reverse a long-standing prohibition of male sodomy. The prohibition stems from Leviticus 18:22, which says, "Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman: it is an abomination."
Conservative Judaism allows for limited updating of religious law. Homosexuality was last addressed by the movement in 1992 when a proposal to ordain gay and lesbian rabbis was rejected.
One issue at the two-day-long closed meeting was whether lifting the ban on homosexual intercourse would constitute enough of a break with halakhic tradition to require a takanah, a legislative overturn of tradition. A takanah requires an 80 percent majority (20 votes) in order to pass.