Rabbi Einat Ramon’s article in this week’s Washington Jewish Week continues to emphasize her position as a student of her teacher Rabbi Joel Roth, as opposing ordination for gays and lesbians at Machon Schechter, the Masorti seminary in Jerusalem.
In this article, as before, she stresses what she considers to be the difference between allowing women public positions of authority and participation, and allowing such positions for homosexual men and women:
Whereas there are no precedents for homosexual marriages or homosexual unions in Jewish sources, there are quite a few precedents for female religious and even legal leadership in the Torah and in the Talmud (Deborah, Hulda, Miriam, Bruriah, etc.).
Discrimination against women in the written and oral Torah often reflected the surrounding cultures, and was less severe than in other cultures. For women to teach, preach and rule on Jewish Law were never a religious problem. Thus, it is not surprising that all Jewish legal changes involving the broadening of women’s participation in the synagogue have been based on clear and documented precedents.
While I’m perfectly happy to grant that there may be halakhic difficulties with homosexual acts following a traditional reading of texts, somehow her entire approach strikes me as, at best, tendentious.
Her earlier memo on this topic noted, “Today in particular, when the traditional family is in trouble, it is especially important that we ordain modern rabbis who are devoted to this institution and identify with this worldview…” and said that, Judaism “regards the union between a man a woman who are sexually and emotionally different from one another as a complementary covenant of friendship and intimacy, which forms the basis for procreation and childrearing… This is why Jewish law has so fervently opposed sexual relations between members of the same sex …and why the heterosexual family has played such a vital role throughout the ages in the transmission of Jewish values and the survival of the Jewish people.”
Nothing personal but… how can I possibly take this seriously?
As a colleague pointed out, her earlier memo did not make any sort of serious halachic analysis. Neither, in fact, does the WJW article. Instead, the first relied on a broad, and, well, ridiculous view of sexuality that as a feminist, I’m surprised Rabbi Ramon managed to say with a straight face. Men and women are sexually and emotionally different? Well, certainly we’re built differently, but that seems a rather trivial point; we’re emotionally complementary? Well, that seems like a rather unsupported assertion, although it is precisely the sort of thing that anti-feminists like to say when they’re telling women why they can’t be leaders and in positions of authority. I believe that before i take that as an argument against homosexuality, I will require something with a bit more support than another go-round of the same-old unsupported folk “knowledge,” thanks.
Also, it seems rather tendentious to me to say that the heterosexual family was the basis for procreation and childrearing – since until recently that was pretty much the only way to do it. If one was being honest, perhaps there would have been room for noting that it might well be a benefit to the Jewish people to encourage gay and lesbian couples to have and raise Jewish children in a loving two-Jewish-parent household. Perhaps intermarriage in Israel is so little a problem that Rabbi Ramon can’t imagine that any two Jewish parent family might be celebrated and welcomed? Certainly here in the diaspora, where heterosexual families are more and more “complementary covenants” of two different religions, and where the offspring do not so often come to identify themselves as Jewish, even were it not a matter of justice, mercy, and love for those whom I hold close to my heart, I would be hard pressed to tell gay and lesbians in committed Jewish relationships that they and their Jewish children aren’t good enough for my community.
If Rabbi Ramon is afraid of looking over her right shoulder, that’s one thing. If she feels that Israeli society is not interested in supporting gay and lesbian rabbis, that’s another. There are all kinds of defensible positions against admitting gay and lesbian rabbinical students that don’t smack of the ridiculous, but surely, she doesn’t really, “believe in the complementary difference between men and women, as an opportunity for deeper intellectual and spiritual family and community bonds?” As best as I can tell, gay men or lesbians partnered together also can be complementary, and there are plenty of men and women partnered who aren’t. I can see no advantage to a feminist to rely on musty old -not to mention vague and thus insupportable- sexist descriptions of men and women as a basis for denying that gay men and lesbians too have a place at our table.