This upcoming Sabbath is Aharei Mot, which refers to the section of the Torah that is read which among other things contains the verse Leviticus 18:22. I used this occasion last year to write a series of posts discussing some interpretations of that verse and the views of Conservative Judaism on homosexuality in general. I thought I would start this year by providing a quick update on the situation. As I mentioned then:
The Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards (the central halakhic authority of the Conservative movement) is revisiting this issue as we speak.
Those words are still true today. Most recently the CJLS met a few weeks ago in Baltimore to present draft teshuvot. I have herad that it will probably be in October when they will actually take votes on them, but the Rabbinical Assembly did issue a press release (.doc) The main body of it reads as follows:
The Conservative movement is concerned with maintaining its bonds to Jewish tradition and halakhic integrity even as it undertakes a topic of great social relevance and controversy. While the committee has met several times over the past two years in consideration of this matter, this week’s meeting is the first in which the teshuvot, responsa on various aspects of the issue, were presented.
“It was an intense and constructive meeting,” commented Rabbi Kassel Abelson of Minneapolis, chair of the CJLS, in the aftermath of the gathering. “We are involved in the very process which will lead us to important decisions. Because it is an halakhic process, it requires careful study and will therefore extend into the coming months.”
Although there are a range of views currently held by members of the Committee, the spirit of the latest discussions was one that seeks to involve gay and lesbian Jews in Conservative Jewish communities in much fuller ways, obliging them to religious and communal responsibilities, and extending to them membership and leadership rights to the greatest extent permitted by halakhah (Jewish law).
At the conclusion of its meeting, the CJLS drafted a four-point Statement for the Conservative Community. It reads as follows:
- At the heart of the Torah is the concept of holiness (kedushah) expressed in its command, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord am holy.” Flowing from this declaration are policies regulating the spiritual, ritual, social and sexual lives of Jews. Kiddushin, the sanctification of love in heterosexual marriage, is a centerpiece of Jewish life.
- For a variety of reasons, the Jewish ideal of heterosexual marriage is unrealistic for many Jews. We emphatically recognize the human dignity (k’vod habriot) of all such individuals, and invite them to participate within our religious communities.
- Recalling the Torah’s command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord,” we rededicate our movement to making its congregations and educational institutions inclusive and welcoming of all Jews regardless of their marital status or sexual orientation.
- The parameters of sexual conduct for gay and lesbian Jews, their eligibility for admission to rabbinical and cantorial school, and commitment ceremonies remain the subject of a lively debate within the ongoing deliberations of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.
I was particulary heartened by the second point. Once we recognize that heterosexual marraige is unrealistic for some Jews the question is raised how should they be guided to live their lives. Alone? In a committed, but celibate relationship? Or in a committed monogamous, but not necessarily celibate relationship? These are some of the questions with which the committee is wrestling.
So that's a summary of what has happened with regards to last year's post on Aharei Mot. I thought I should write something this year as well. This year Aharei Mot falls on a special Sabbath, Shabbat Hagadol (The Great Sabbath). This is a day which commemorates the great miracle that happened as the Jews were preparing to leave Egypt. They were able to sacrifice a lamb (the Paschal Lamb or Karbon Pesach) without being hindered by their Egyptian masters for whom the lamb was sacred. We were instructed to partake of this sacrificial meal as a family (see Exodus 12:3), and even today when the sacrifice is no longer made we still view the Seder meal as the centerpiece of the holiday and still find it important to celebrate it as a family.
Family is extremely important to Judaism, and marriage is extremely important to family. A marriage changes three families. Each spouse, at that point, joins the other's family while togther they start a new family of their own. Among other things marriage does, it marks and celebrates this definite point at which one becomes a part of a new family. There is a big difference between a "boyfriend" and a "husband" and "son-in-law". Certainly not every family is always so welcoming when someone comes out, but fortunately more and more are. It is important for these families to be able to mark and celebrate the moment in time when they welcome someone new into the Mishpacha.
I won't be posting or commenting for several days because of the upcoming holiday. Over this week when we think of family, I ask that we not only "rededicate our movement to making its congregations and educational institutions inclusive and welcoming" but also our families. Please check out the Keshet web site for more information on the issue of homosexuality in the Conservative movement as well as guides for making our synagogues more welcoming to gays and lesbians. Hag Sameach.