Conservatives Postpone Gay Vote

By Jennifer Siegel

Published March 10, 2006, issue of March 10, 2006.

The top lawmaking body of Conservative Judaism has postponed a vote on whether to overturn the movement’s ban on same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay clergy.

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, a 25-member panel of rabbis and lay leaders, held a two-day summit in Maryland this week to consider four separate legal opinions — two that would maintain the historical ban on homosexual sex, and two that would overturn it to varying degrees. The committee, which operates under the auspices of the movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, decided to table the issue until a regularly scheduled meeting in December.

In the days leading up to the meeting, several rabbis not on the law committee objected to what they described as a secretive process that had left them in the dark about the proceedings. Some suggested that the Rabbinical Assembly’s executive committee had improperly raised the threshold for approving certain legal opinions to 20 votes from six.

Typically, a legal decision (known as a teshuvah) only requires six votes to be adopted as an official position of the Conservative movement. But, according to a change in the law committee’s rules, passed in the last 18 months by the R.A.’s executive committee, legal opinions that are classified as particularly momentous would require 80% approval.

Some rabbis questioned whether the new rule was designed only to block reform on the gay issue, and asserted that such a change must be approved by a majority of the entire R.A. — a 1,600-member body.

“It’s sort of the nuclear option here,” said Rabbi Leonard Gordon, who serves Germantown Jewish Centre in Philadelphia. “You don’t change the rules in the middle of the game. This was their way of saying, ‘This is moving too fast.’”

Gordon said that the 80% threshold was approved by the R.A.’s executive committee over the objection of the law committee’s chair, Rabbi Kassel Abelson, and its vice chair, Rabbi Elliot Dorff.

The executive vice president of the R.A., Rabbi Joel Meyers, attributed the decision to postpone the vote to the need to revise all four opinions.

Meyers said that the ongoing search for a new chancellor at the movement’s main rabbinical school, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, did not play a role in the decision to delay the vote. A co-author of the most liberal opinion, Rabbi Gordon Tucker, has been rumored to be a lead candidate for the JTS post. Another pulpit rabbi, Alan Silverstein, also has been mentioned frequently.



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