The blog world is abuzz about the Law Committee meeting at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America tomorrow and Wednesday to discuss the ordination of LGBT rabbis and cantors. When I graduated the seminary, I wore one of the pins posted on Jewschool, who cover Keshet’s programming, which JTS will host Tuesday and Wednesday as the committee deliberates. Chancellor Eisen has focused on an open discussion and emphasized procedure in the hopes that this process will be accepted with less defection than the 1984 decision to ordain women, which was widely criticized as over-stepping both the halakhic process and imposing an controversial decision on the movement from the top down. Throughout the past semester, he’s hosted panels and learning sessions with the faculty and students. A week and a half ago, he sent out a memo to the entire community, summarizing these efforts, outlining the process, and urging “careful and thoughtful consideration.” Among the steps he lists to ensure that due care is followed in this process:
1. Student input: planning a series of forums to clarify policy, give students a place to express their views, and respond to student concerns
2. Faculty consideration: open debate “to foster a fair, honest, and mutually respectful discussion in an arena where opinions differ and people feel strongly”
3. Faculty vote: because JTS acts both as the center of a movement and an academic institution, they have a responsibility to their faculty as academicians, who advise on the best course of action for their institution, while also bearing responsibility to the movement, who will feel the effects of their ruling as Conservative Jews. As an academic institution, JTS is free to ordain whomever they deem has met the qualifications of Rabbi/Cantor/PhD, but as the compass of a movement, they also must be conscious of the fact that those they education will lead the movement and the decision they make in this matter will alter the make-up of the denomination. JTS faculty make the educational decision, but the halakhic work “rests solely with the RA and its law committee.” In addition to faculty research and debate, Eisen hosted faculty seminars and panels on the issue:
Professor Moshe Halbertal, one of the world's leading experts on the philosophy of law and Jewish law, already addressed the faculty on November 15 on the subject of how law changes. Rabbi Saul Berman of
4. Community Input: to address the controversy and disagreement that will meet the Law Committee’s decision (regardless of its content), Eisen’s been communicating with the Board of Trustees, Conservative Movement Institutions, and individuals. To this end, he conducted a “listening tour” throughout the
Regardless of my personal opinion, I think that Chancellor Eisen’s sensitivity and care in dealing with this issue (and pushing it to the fore so soon into his tenure as Chancellor) bespeaks great things for the Conservative Movement. Maybe it’s not so dead, after all.