Monday, December 04, 2006

History in the Making (Hopefully): An Introduction

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 Yeshiva University responded. The following day, Dr. Robert Michels, former dean of the Cornell University Medical School and a leading expert on psychiatry, discussed the status of psychiatry as a science and a profession. He was joined by Dr. Elizabeth Auchincloss, one of the country's leading experts on homosexuality. I was pleased that I personally was able to host and moderate these panels.

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 U.S., encouraging questions and insight from members of the Conservative Movement across the country.

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.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am really dreading this decision. No matter what its going to hurt Conservative Judaism.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Amishav. This is a no-win scenario for the Conservative movement. One can only hope that they strike a strong balance between intellectual honesty and sensitivity - by no means an easy balance to strike.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this is tough. On a personal belief level, I am all for ordination of LGBT rabbis/cantors. But from a system wide level, I can see how this threatens Conservative Judaism, especially since there are still "issues" in some circles with the ordination of women.

I'm fairly certain that this is a reason to NOT ordain LGBT rabbis and cantors. But that is just my opinion.

Either way, someone is going to be very unhappy.

This is a very nice review of the issue, by the way.

BZ said...

If you think that all homosexual relationships are absolutely wrong and therefore gay/lesbian Jews shouldn't be ordained, then I understand your position, though I strongly disagree with it.

But I don't understand the position of those who are "personally" pro-equality, but don't want to come out too strongly in favor of it because it "threatens Conservative Judaism". What is this thing called "Conservative Judaism" and why is it more important than real live people?

Anonymous said...

This will only be "bad" for Conservative Judaism if the movement does not move forward.

The 'problem' with women is the same 'problem' with gays. A simple and fixed reading of text.

BZ is right on the money here, the problem is if you listen only to the exact words of the Torah...and then woman should not be aloud to do much of anything...let alone be rabbis and we could stone children for being bad...we all know that I would not be writting this blog, I would be stoned...

I wish the Conservative Movement luck. Good luck Conservatives in moving forward towards tolerance. Very well done Jewbiq, as always.

Smeliana said...

Fuck "going to hurt Conservative Judaism." It has been bleeding to death for years and it needs major reconstructive surgery, regardless of how risky it is. They need a giant shock to their system and come out in favor of equal rights if they want to have any relevance in the coming generations.

What would be the point of having a movement that claims to represent something if it's too afraid of confrontation to actually come out with a proclamation of standards? If the committees vote correctly (as my mother would say) then this could do some very important things for the movement. It'll be scary, but it's essential.

Three cheers for Eisen standing up for equality and respecting important processess.

Anonymous said...

I actually feel like I need to clarify my comment. I do strongly feel that conservative judaism needs to ordain LGBT clergy because in my mind it is a civil rights issue. And I am all for it.

I can though see the other side that it will cause a rift. Fear is not a reason to NOT ordain LGBT clergy. The idea of a furthe rift does sadden me but I think it's necessary for conversative judaism to move forward.

babytyrone said...

Whatever the outcome (although I definitely would like to see it come out in favor of ordination) it is really nice and refreshing to see this kind of openness and clarity in making this kind of decision, and Arnold Eisen should be applauded. I knew him when I was studying in California, and cannot think of anyone more capable of changing the tenor of the conversation in positive ways. I believe that history will eventually vindicate the decision to appoint an academic (rather than a rabbi of any stripe) to the post of Chancellor for this very reason.