Rabbi Ayelet Cohen: Conservative Judaism's Double Standard

My colleague, Ayelet Cohen of New York's Congegation Beit Simhat Torah wrote an opinion piece in the Forward criticizing the Conservative Movement for its ongoing double standard for gay and lesbian Jews. I recommend that you read her piece which summarizes the issues and potential developments. The Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards will be reexamining issues related to gay and lesbians in positions of leadership in Conservative institutions (primarily--whether they can be accepted into Rabbinical and Cantorial School in Conservative institutions). Like Ayelet, I am a member of the Rabbinical Assembly.

Those who have spoken to me about this issue in the last few years know that I am supportive of reexamining the concensus statement and admitting openly gay and lesbian Conservative Jews into leadership positions. Those who haven't spoken to me since before my ordination are probably suprised by my evolution--since I was often seen as one of the more "right-wing" members of my class.

This complex issue will not be quickly resolved--the CJLS rightly takes its time when considering issues of consequence. For those fighting for change, each day seems too long but I strongly support taking the proper time in such a process. Even if the CJLS changes its position, it will still be up to each rabbinical or cantorial school to change its admissions standards (and there is no guarantee that this will happen quickly).

I continue to grow as a person and as a Jew: since college, my views on the essence of equality in Judaism have continued to evolve. When halachically possible, I believe equality is halachically mandated. When not possible in absolute terms, we have to strive towards it. Still, I am concerned at one part of Ayelet's essay: that individual synagogues and rabbis should not have the power to interpret Judaism in a way that is appropriate for their community. This is the essence of the practice of the rabbi being mara d'atra--the teacher or decisors for the community. It is the basis of Conservative Judaism's approach to Jewish law and the only way halachah has worked.

One of the main reasons I am a Conservative Jew is our embrace of pluralism. My committment to a a lived pluralism (one that embraces more than one way of being a Conservative Jew) probably led to my being labeled a "right-winger" during rabbinical school. Once the movement's institutions allow gays and lesbians to be the Jewish leaders they should be, each community should retain the right to hire appropriate religious leadership. I hope they do the right thing and choose to hire the most capable and suitable candidate regardless of sexual orientation (or gender, or age, or race . . . ) but in a pluralistic movement that remains a community decision. I think I will have to continue to examine this clash of values in future postings.

Other than this methodological point, go get them Ayelet!
Let all our people learn and lead.

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