CBST Rabbis’ Sharon Kleinbaum and Ayelet Cohen, leaders of the largest LGBT synagogue in the world, have offered one of the best concise responses I’ve seen thus far in noting the outcomes of the Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards decision this week. I say concise because while I agree with a lot of it, I still, however, wish that there was more contesting, rather than reaffirming, of the “Levitical prohibition” since the text itself is more complicated than that–particularly as I mentioned on jspot when you look at the root verbs and because the gender is more than male and female (because yes the Torah has more than two genders in its narrative). We aren’t gaining anything by reaffirming their narrative and not publicly challenging this interpretation.

With that, I want to share their letter.

Dear Congregation Beth Simchat Torah members,

Yesterday the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards announced the outcome of their decisions on the status of gay men and lesbians in the movement. As you have probably heard by now, three papers were passed: two reaffirming the anti-gay policies of the movement and one that allows for rabbinical ordination and some kind of religious ceremonies for same-sex Jewish couples. The two papers that called for more comprehensive visions of equality and change were defeated.

There is no question that this vote opens the door for significant change in the official policies affecting GLBT people of the Conservative Movement and its synagogues and other institutions. The rabbinical and cantorial schools will now review their positions on barring admission to openly gay students. United Synagogue, the congregational arm of the movement, has already announced that it has changed its anti-gay hiring policies.

However, the responsum that passed continually stresses that heterosexual marriage is the Jewish ideal, and maintains the Levitical prohibition on anal sex between men. It stops far short of a statement of the moral value of religious equality for people of all sexual orientations. One of the papers that passed, albeit by a significant minority, asserts that “reparative? therapy should be pursued in many cases. As with the decision to ordain women more than twenty years ago, equality is presented as an option, not a moral imperative.

Functionally, the option of equality for gay men and lesbians has been achieved. A religious ideology of equality is still far away.

B’virkat Shalom,

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum
Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen

“It’s absolutely a step in the right direction. But justice demands full inclusion of gay and lesbians in Jewish life with no conditions attached. Functionally, the option of equality for gay men and lesbians has been achieved. A religious ideology of equality is still far away.? — Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum