Since there has been an exceptional amount of snark, even from those who count themselves as progressive, I thought I would make available, to those who are genuinely openminded to the possibility that a non-Orthodox authority might be knowledgeable in halakha and that radical reinterpretation doesn’t necessarily make it wrong, the introductory statement at the proceedings, the tshuvah and notes from one of the rabbis who authored it, Rabbi Daniel Nevins.
While I might have done things ever so slightly differently (not that anyone cares), I believe that the Nevins/Dorff/Reisner tshuvah is indeed a well-written tshuvah, and certainly within the boundaries of the hermaneutics of halakha. The fact that many people in the blogosphere don’t like the tshuvah, reflects not on the tshuvah itself, but in many places, on preconceived notions of who are appropriate authorities, and on ideas about the limitations of interpretation (I don’t note that any of them have actually read the tshuvah. The response has been solely, as far as I can tell, a response to the movement of the authors and the content of the decision, rather than knowledge of the halakhic reasoning). Nevertheless, of the tshuvot offered, I believe that this tshuvah is the best of them. It does not make the mistake of attempting to overturn d’oraita halakha, nor does it overvalue the weight of any particular rabbinic commentary, while still taking precedental halacha closely under consideration and giving it appropriate value. The sources are traditional, and it does not ignore the problems presented.
Here is an excerpt from Rabbi Nevins letter
… I decided to collaborate with other rabbis …Rabbi Elliot Dorff had done a wonderful job evaluating the social science literature on sexual orientation; Rabbi Avram Reisner had gone into great depth on Talmudic texts that address various sexual activities, and also on the medieval controversies surrounding the definition of the resulting prohibitions …all of us shared a core commitment to using halakhic precedent, and also to finding a livable solution that would make an inclusive and dignified place for gay and lesbian Jews in our community.
…It is gratifying that 13 out of 25 rabbis on the committee voted for our paper. That may not be an overwhelming endorsement, but in our fractured state, it was remarkably strong support. As has been reported, Rabbi Joel Roth’s paper, “Homosexuality Revisited” also received 13 votes. Since he argued vociferously against our interpretations, and since one rabbi obviously voted in favor of both papers, this is surprising to many. My impression is that the double-yes voter felt it important that our movement preserve equal support for both positions, rather than arguing over majority and minority points of view.
Rabbi Roth’s primary arguments against our paper were as follows:
1. The biblical prohibitions in Leviticus are not necessarily restricted to anal sex.
2. The Midrash claims a broad biblical prohibition on all homosexual intimacy by its interpretations of the verses “do not copy the ways of the Egyptians” and “do not approach nakedness”.
3. Rambam and later legal authorities consider all such acts to be biblically forbidden.
4. Even if Ramban is correct, as we claim, that the broader prohibitions are only rabbinic, our argument based on human dignity cannot sustain a permanent change in policy to include gays and lesbians.
These were strong challenges, described at length in his paper, and we mounted a vigorous defense of our position. We brought great rabbinic authorities from the past centuries to support our readings of the primary texts. You will have to read all of this for yourself and make your own decision, if you care to. We wrote this responsum not for today’s newspaper headlines, but for future generations of Jews and interested others who are seeking to balance the Torah’s mandate to love your neighbor as yourself with its specific mitzvot that govern human conduct