Note: The material below is taken directly from the website of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the central legal body of the Conservative Movement. The following proviso is included on the website: “Please note that not all of these responsa are here in their final edited form….Paper versions of these or any other CJLS materials can be requested from the Secretary of the Law Committee at the RA office, 212-280-6066.”
1. CJLS Consensus Statement of Policy Regarding Homosexual Jews in the Conservative Movement
On March 25, 1992, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards adopted the following consensus statement of policy, by a vote of nineteen in favor, three opposed and one abstention. Voting in favor: Rabbis Kassel Abelson, Stanley Bramnick, Elliot Dorff, Richard L. Eisenberg, David Feldman, Sam Fraint, Arnold M. Goodman, Jan Kaufman, Reuven Kimelman, Aaron Mackler, Herbert Mandl, Lionel E. Moses, Mayer E. Rabinowitz, Avram I. Reisner, Joel Rembaum, Chaim A. Rogoff, Joel Roth, Morris Shapiro and Gerald Skolnik. Opposing: Rabbis Dov Peretz Elkins, Howard Handler and Gordon Tucker. Abstaining: Rabbi Ben Zion Bergman.
Note: Four teshuvot were also adopted, providing differing philosophical and legal rationales for these agreed upon policies. Those teshuvot are “Homosexuality” by Rabbi Joel Roth (14-7-3), “Jewish Norms for Sexual Behavior: A Responsum Embodying a Proposal” by Rabbi Elliot Dorff (8-8-7), “Homosexuality and the Policy Decisions of the CJLS” by Rabbi Reuven Kimelman (12-7-4), and “On Homosexuality” by Rabbi Mayer Rabinowitz (8-5-10). Two concurrences, “The Status of Homosexuals in the Synagogue” by Rabbi Kassel Abelson and “On Homosexuality and Biblical Imperatives: A Concurrence” by Rabbi Avram Reisner, and a dissent, “In the Image of God: A Dissent in Favor of the Full Equality and Acceptance of Gay and Lesbian Jews into the Community of Conservative Judaism” by Rabbi Howard Handler were also submitted for the CJLS record.
The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of The Rabbinical Assembly affirms the following policies:
- We will not perform commitment ceremonies for gays or lesbians.
- We will not knowingly admit avowed homosexuals to our rabbinical or cantorial schools or to the Rabbinical Assembly or the Cantors’ Assembly. At the same time, we will not instigate witch hunts against those who are already members or students.
- Whether homosexuals may function as teachers or youth leaders in our congregations and schools will be left to the rabbi authorized to make halakhic decisions for a given institution within the Conservative Movement. Presumably, in this as in all other matters, the rabbi will make such decisions taking into account the sensitivities of the people of his or her particular congregation or school. The rabbi’s own reading of Jewish law on these issues, informed by the responsa written for the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards to date, will also be a determinative factor in these decisions.
- Similarly, the rabbi of each Conservative institution, in consultation with its lay leaders, will be entrusted to formulate policies regarding the eligibility of homosexuals for honors within worship and for lay leadership positions.
- In any case, in accordance with The Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue resolutions, we hereby affirm gays and lesbians are welcome in our congregations, youth groups, camps, and schools.
2. Joel Roth, “Homosexuality”
The halakhically committed Jewish community, qua community and acting through its communal institutions, ought not take any act which can reasonably be understood to imply the halakhic coequality, validation, or acceptability of a homosexual lifestyle. It recognizes the legitimacy of the ongoing union of a couple through the institution of marriage. Where there can be no halakhic legitimacy to the union, no matter how loving and caring, there can be no marriage. The halakhic community, therefore, should not legitimate such unions by performing or recognizing affirmation ceremonies. The focus must be on the behavior, not on the individuals who engage in the behavior. We disapprove of the behaviors, not of the people.
3. Reuven Kimmelman, “Homosexuality and the Policy Decisions of the CJLS”
Religious legitimation of extra-normative sexual relationships threatens to undermine the privileged position of normative marriage. Such legitimation tends to equalize the status of the two especially in the eyes of children. Instead of being a social ideal, family-centered marriage would become simply another alternative. Reduced to an option for some, it would lose its status as social ideal. Already a besieged institution, it is questionable whether its protective walls can withstand much more battering.
What should be done? I move that: we affirm the privileged position of the family as the key to Jewish life and continuity; we express our concern for the humanity and the plight of the homosexual; we ban all homosexual activity for candidates and members of the rabbinate and cantorate thereby setting standards for the Conservative Movement as a whole; we not ordain self-declared homosexuals nor accept them into our professional organizations; and we prohibit any involvement with ceremonies which serve to confirm Jewishly homosexual relationships.
4. Mayer E. Rabinowitz, “On Homosexuality”
- Judaism’s view of the will of God as expressed in the Torah and by the Rabbis is that of heterosexuality.
- The only way to change the halakhah concerning homosexuality is by means of abrogating biblical law–la’akor davar min haTorah. In order to do so, the needs of the majority of the community must prevail, and it must be shown that such abrogation is for the overall good of the Jewish community.
- We hereby declare that it is an issur – a prohibition – to discriminate against gays or lesbians in all areas of life.
- We hereby declare that it is an issur – a prohibition – to discriminate against gay and lesbian individuals in synagogue membership.
- Homosexuals who advocate homosexuality as an acceptable alternate Jewish lifestyle are prohibited from holding positions of leadership in our synagogues, institutions and schools.
- It is a hiyuv -an obligation- for our synagogues, institutions and schools to welcome homosexuals (non-advocates), and to offer them the same privileges offered to all other members, many of whom have conflicts between their personal lives and needs, and their commitment to halakhah.
5. Elliot N. Dorff, “Jewish Norms for Sexual Behavior: A Responsum Embodying a Proposal”
I strongly recommend that we table action on Rabbi Roth’s and Rabbi Artson’s tshuvot and engender a movement-wide discussion of appropriate Jewish standards of sexuality for our age. I am convinced that it would not take all that long to devise such standards — maybe two or three years – and that whatever time, money, and energy it would take would be more than worth it. We would be addressing something which, in some form, is part of literally everyone’s life, and we would be doing it openly, Jewishly, and, hopefully, intelligently.
I have no special wisdom as to the most effective format for this discussion; that is a matter we should discuss among ourselves and with the educational arms of the Movement. The tasks would be two-fold, probably accomplished in different ways and by different people: (1) to establish Jewish sexual standards for our time, recognizing in that process the values of the tradition, the social realities of modern life, and the new knowledge we have of the formation of sexual orientations; and (2) to educate our constituency as to the product of our deliberations so that they will at least know that Judaism, in this area as in all others, continues to have something important to say to them even if one is not fully complying with its ideal norms. Lay leaders of various ages should be involved on both levels to give us rabbis some input as to both the practices and views of those not as involved with the tradition as we are. Moreover, given that at some point we will want to apply the tradition to homosexual sex, gays should be specifically included in the discussion.
6. Kassel Abelson, “The Status of Homosexuals in the Synagogue–A Concurring Opinion”
Our rabbis and our congregations should not accord new status to homosexual/lesbian relationships.
Our rabbis should not be involved in affirmation nor separation ceremonies for gay couples.
Synagogue facilities should not be made available for gay ceremonies.
Gay individuals should be accepted as members of our congregations. Two individuals living in the same household should be eligible to join the synagogue with seperate membership.
If gay couples raise children, the children may be named in the synagogue, become bar/bat mitzvah, or be confirmed, for they are Jews in their own right. Special ceremonies for the acting parents will have to be worked out, acknowledging their roles in the lives of the children, while avoiding any hint of sanctifying their relationship to one another.
Individuals who become active in congregations should be allowed to be elected to office and to head committees, but it should be made clear that their significant other will not be given special recognition.
Gay individuals who openly profess their homosexuality, should not be admitted to Rabbinical or Cantorial school, for Rabbis and Cantors serve as exemplars of the Jewish way of life.
7. Avram Israel Reisner, “On Homosexuality and Biblical Imperatives: A Concurrence”
The burden of overturning Torah’s text, that we act for the survival of Israel, was not met by the private anguish that we heard. I was dismayed, however, by the cavalier dismissal of the voice of Vayikra that was heard in some of our discussions. Others can brand Vayikra as a product of “excessive priestly zeal.” We consider it Torah. We choose, as our tradition would have it, to read this very prohibition on Yom Kippur. To disregard this level of commandment is to set every other commandment at risk. We do so at our peril.
8. Howard Handler, “In the Image of God: A Dissent in Favor of the Full Equality of Gay and Lesbian Jews Into the Community of Conservative Judaism”
Conservative rabbis and the Conservative movement through all of its branches, basing themselves on sources from our tradition, can and should:
- Welcome gays and lesbians into our synagogues by reaching out them with offers to participate in our services to the fullest extent of their capabilities.
- Encourage gays and lesbians to assume lay leadership roles for which they are qualified, i.e. board member, youth leader, Hebrew school teacher, synagogue executive director, et. al.
- Admit qualified candidates who are gay or lesbian to the rabbinical and cantorial schools of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
e the importance and holiness of committed gay and lesbian relationships by performing commitment ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples.
9. Kassel Abelson, “Placing Homosexual Rabbis in Congregations”
In accord with the apparent intent of the consensus statement, the Joint Placement Commission should not recommend “avowed homosexuals” for placement in congregations.
10. Arnold Goodman, “Placing Homosexual Rabbis in Congregations”
Given the silence of the 1992 statement on the question of placement of homosexual colleagues and give the importance of placement privileges, the Joint Placement Commission should recommend “avowed homosexuals” who were members prior to 1992 to be recommended to Congregations.
11. Aaron L. Mackler, “A Concurring Opinion to Arnold M. Goodman’s ‘Placing Homosexual Rabbis in Congregations’”
It is conceivable that a situation might arise in which an argument could be made for singling out the class of avowed homosexuals, or avowed violators of another specific Jewish norm, as forfeiting access to the placement system. Such an argument would need to be very powerful to overcome the costs involved in being more severe with this halakhic prohibition than other comparable prohibitions. Both the compelling reasons for the blanket denial of placement, and the failure of any alternative to achieve the desired result, would need to be set forth with great care. In my judgment, the case for a specific policy against placement for avowed violators of the halakhic prohibition of homosexual behavior in particular has not been adequately made.
12. Ben Zion Bergman, “The Gay Placement Question: A Dissenting Opinion”
Without stating my own personal views, let it be said that the alternative could be the expulsion of the avowed homosexual from membership in the RA. That, however, is not the prerogative of the CJLS and, besides prejudging and preempting the result of the Study Commission, has serious policy and public relations implications. Failing that step, however, the RA cannot deny the avowed homosexual member access to any of its services which are available to every other member.