West Coast Seminary Opens Doors to Gays

By Rebecca Spence

Published March 09, 2007, issue of March 09, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In the wake of Conservative Judaism’s historic vote to permit the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis, the movement’s West Coast seminary has accepted its first openly gay students.

Two gay applicants — one man, one woman — have been accepted for the fall by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. The move reflects the school’s longstanding position that it would immediately begin considering gay candidates once the movement’s top lawmaking body — the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards — sanctioned gay and lesbian clergy.

The decision comes as the movement’s flagship institution, the New York-based Jewish Theological Seminary, is still weighing whether or not to accept gay and lesbian students. A decision, insiders say, could come within the next several weeks.

Last December, the 25-member law committee approved a rabbinic opinion, known as a teshuvah, in favor of gay ordination and same-sex unions. At the same time, the committee passed two opinions upholding the ban on gay ordination, leaving it up to individual congregations and educational institutions to choose which decision to adopt.

Advocates of the newly liberal policy, which was passed after a hard-fought battle spanning more than 15 years, say the move signals that the law committee’s decision is having an impact on the ground.

“It means that there wasn’t just a change in writing,” said Rachel Kobrin, a fifth-year student at the Ziegler School who serves as co-coordinator of the school’s pro-gay ordination group, Dror Yikra. “It’s a change that’s going to have some follow-through.”

Kobrin portrayed the admission of gay students at U.J., which launched its rabbinic training program in 1996, as a first step toward what she hopes will be the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in Conservative Jewish life. While Kobrin and other gay ordination activists took December’s law committee vote as a victory, they say that the rabbinic opinion that passed didn’t go far enough, since it upheld the biblical ban on anal sex.

Ultimately, pro-gay activists say, a more liberal teshuvah should be passed containing no restrictions on homosexual behavior. Meanwhile, traditionalists in the movement have criticized the liberal opinion that was approved.

An opinion that sanctioned gay ordination and lifted the ban on homosexual anal sex was first submitted to the law committee in 1992 by the dean of the Ziegler School, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson. That paper failed to pass. The opinion that ultimately opened the door to gay and lesbian ordination was co-authored by another U.J. faculty member, Rabbi Elliot Dorff.

According to Artson, despite the passage of Dorff’s opinion, “not that many” gay and lesbian students have applied. Artson, citing federal privacy regulations, declined to say exactly how many applications were received from either gay or straight students. And the school refused to identify the two gay students who were accepted.

Dorff said the fact that the school was not inundated with applications from gay candidates simply reflected that gays are a minority. “The sheer number of gay and lesbian students who want to become rabbis is very small, because the population in general is very small,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Reconstructionist movement — a liberal breakaway from Conservative Judaism — is set to elect a lesbian rabbi, Toba Spitzer, to serve as president of its rabbinical association. Spitzer will be the first openly gay or lesbian rabbi to head a national rabbinical body.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.