The Dean of the H.L. Miller Cantorial School at the Jewish Theological Seminary called me this week. I had just walked out of the Barnes & Noble at Lincoln Center, and when he told me that I had been accepted into cantorial school I jumped up and down on the sidewalk, drawing interesting looks from the people walking around me.

As I wrote last week, I had not expected that the Conservative Movement would start accepting openly gay & lesbian rabbis and cantors in my lifetime. So it was all the sweeter that the change came so soon after my rejection from Hebrew Union College, when I was realizing just how much I didn’t belong there.

In addition, I was accepted to school during the week when we read parshaiot Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. Why is this so significant? Because this week we read the lines that are commonly translated as “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence” (18:22) and “If a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing; they shall be put to death — their bloodguilt is upon them.” (20:13) These lines have been the source of the struggle for GLBT rights within our religious communities, and while the Reform Movement changed their understanding of these lines long ago, and the Reconstructionist Movement has always been inclusive, the Conservative Movement has been struggling with these lines for years.

I’ve struggled with these lines as well, as have many others, and a wealth of new interpretation has called into questioning the traditional interpretations we hear so frequently. I’m particularly intrigued by this week’s drash on Mosaic, by Rabbi David Greenstein, which reinterprets the Hebrew to reveal a very different prohibition. And I’m sure I’ll continue to struggle with these lines and others over the coming years, especially as my Hebrew improves and I get the opportunity to study with people from very different backgrounds than mine.

And in the end, that’s the most important thing to me – that I have the same opportunity to study and learn as anyone else. By excluding a whole community from pursuing rabbinical and cantorial training, the Conservative Movement was losing out on some of the most inventive, brilliant minds that came out of their Hebrew schools and youth groups. Traditional Judaism values diversity of scholarship, and this step towards inclusivity is absolutely aligned with Jewish tradition. As more queer Jews get the chance to be part of the leadership of the Conservative Movement, and more Conservative Jews start to come out of their movement-imposed closets, I think it’s only going to strengthen and reinvigorate the whole Jewish community.


For more by Marisa on this subject, click here.