Religion, Sex & Gender

Breaking News: Social Attitudes Sometimes Influence Halakhic Decision-Making

This just in from the Jerusalem Post:

Disagreement between the Israeli and American wings of Conservative Judaism over same-sex commitment ceremonies, the ordination of homosexual rabbis and other halachic issues reflects, in part, deep sociological differences between the two countries, Rabbi David Golinkin, president of the capital’s Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, said on Thursday.
“I’d say there is no comparison whatsoever between there [the US] and here,” Golinkin said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. “It is like night and day. Israeli society is much more conservative on this issue [homosexuality] and many others. And if you speak to Israeli rabbinical students, almost all are opposed to any changes vis-à-vis homosexuality.
“Most are sabras and many are Sephardi, and I can assure you that they are not interested in changing policy. If we changed the policy they would not be studying in our rabbinical institute,” he said.

More on these isssues, meta- and micro-, here.

14 thoughts on “Breaking News: Social Attitudes Sometimes Influence Halakhic Decision-Making

  1. This is a good thing. Maybe now my local Conservative Rabbi will stop praying to the shul’s stained glass picture of Israel. I hope that maybe once in a while his sermons will stop being updates on the security situation in Israel or how fortunate we are that so many Jews are in Obamas’ cabinet. I hope that maybe once in a while we can start talking about mitzvot and our need to do them.

  2. Jews have always been more reluctant to import their full Leftist radicalism into their own country, just as they have been more reluctant to bring the full-extent of their right-wing radicalism and nationalism into the Diaspora.

  3. American attitudes are different than Israeli attitudes. Here’s an example: Haredi jews want segregated busses. They want to put the women in the ‘back of the bus.’ Good idea or not, it has no overtones other than religious ones.
    Now switch to the United States. Anybody who says ‘sit in the back of the bus’ immediately invokes Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, racism and all sorts of other nasty overtones.
    The Israeli culture just doesn’t include any of this.
    No wonder we have different attitudes.

  4. It’s a tough situation. You have the Torah, you have the reality that homosexuality isn’t a choice, and you have halakhic decisions that decide between the two. Someone’s gotta get thrown off the bus. Modern Rabbinic Judaism effectively doesn’t have the same flexibility as the tannaim did.
    That being said, R’ Dorff’s teshuva does a good job, I think, saying ‘look, gay sex is prohibited, we can’t change that, but we can overlook that in our communal decisions’ and let people do what they want on their own time.

  5. Golinkin says “And if you speak to Israeli rabbinical students, almost all are opposed to any changes vis-à-vis homosexuality. Most are sabras and many are Sephardi, and I can assure you that they are not interested in changing policy. If we changed the policy they would not be studying in our rabbinical institute,” and also says “My goal when deciding Halacha is not to attract X or Y. I take a halachic position because that is the proper decision to make…”
    If the latter is true, then what is the significance of the former? If he really thinks it’s the proper decision, than why does it matter that the Israeli rabbinical students share his bigotry? (Yes, bigotry. I’m not aware of an Ashkenazi/Sephardi or an Eretz Yisrael / chu”l split on this issue in the halachic sources, so I don’t see any other way to interpret “Most are sabras and many are Sephardi”.)

  6. Hacha:
    Golinkin said that homosexuality would not even be an issue in Israel if not for America.
    “In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country,” Ahmadinejad said to howls and boos among the Columbia University audience.
    Separated at birth?

  7. DK writes:
    Jews have always been more reluctant to import their full Leftist radicalism into their own country,
    When I think radicalism, I think going to rabbinical school and getting married!

  8. BZ, I expect that you and I probably agree that there is a right-wing in Israel that you and I would find “radical” if they attempt to impose their ideas on general Jewish communal policy, or the U.S. If so, we agree halfway.
    However, could we also find examples of a powerful Jewish-far-Left in the U.S. that does not exist to the same degree in Israel?
    For instance, why are Israelis not demanding to the same extent:
    !) Rabbinically legislated and recognized gay marriage (see above)
    2) Mass immigration from everyone who wants, since we love the stranger.
    3) Affirmative action in all sectors of the government and the economy for all non-Ashkenazim in order to end “institutionalized racism.”

  9. Since I was quoted in the article – I would like to react on Jewschool.
    I do not think that the significance of this article is the position of SRS (Schechter Rabbinical School) regarding Gays.
    I do not care for their decision to deny Gays ordination – but it is withing the rights of the Marta D’Atra, Rabbi Einat Ramon (the dean), to so decide.
    I am uncomfortable with what I see as an atmosphere that is neither welcoming to Gays (or straights who care about this issue) or to those who have a Halachic philosophy that is outside of the positivist school.
    Why is it a non-issue for most students at SRS? Why are most opposed? Because they are hand picked by Rabbis Golinkin or Ramon. Those that have a different view are either not acceptable to SRS, or they do not bother to apply.
    I would also ask a question to my colleague, Rabbi Golinkin: As an academic, how can you conclude on the basis of anecdotal experience alone that the Gay issue is an American phenomena?
    Gay students are not likely to apply where they can not be accepted. The same holds true for many straight students that support inclusiveness.
    And how many closeted students may have passed through SRS afraid to reveal their sexual identity when the official policy is that “Commitment Ceremonies” are the equivalent of sanctifying a sexual relationship between a brother and a sister? Where the policy is that finding halachic solutions for homosexuality is akin to justifying the eating of treif and violating Shabbat?
    So to say that it is a non-issue in Israel because you know of only one Gay student, over a 20 year period, who wished to apply- is to deny a reality beyond myopic experience.
    But again – the issue is much greater than that of Gay ordination. There must be room at Masorti institutions for a variety of halachic approaches. I am not suggesting ALL attitudes must be tolerated. But certainly those with normative Conservative approaches should be welcomes and feel welcome.

  10. The JPost article lumps the entire North American conservative movement together, despite the fact that some of the biggest Conservative synagogues in Canada are no longer part of the USCJ (they left partly over this very issue).

  11. So Rabbi Golinkin insists that he and Schechter are making decisions about homosexuality solely on the basis of halacha? Oh yeah, right. Despite the obvious question noted above about why he then offers his (false) sociological analysis of Israeli society as part of the reason for his decision, then how does he respond to the public statements by Schechter’s dean, Rabbi Einat Ramon, that made it abundantly clear that she did NOT base her decision solely in halacha?
    Lest anyone already forgot the reasoning she offered, both officially in the statement she wrote as Schechter’s dean, in public forums and in the press, please look back here:
    And here:
    And here:
    For those not inclined to follow the links, the quick summary is a lot of strange verbiage about the threat homosexuality poses to the “traditional family,” the need to strengthen heterosexual gender roles, and how homosexuality is a choice and one easily unchosen by anyone with enough will power (and therefore the only people who stick with the “homosexual lifestyle” are those who through spite or lack of will power have actively chosen to destroy the traditional family and undermine the healthy male/female identities of their straight neighbors, colleagues and friends).

  12. Quickly following up on the comments from Rabbi Sacks: He correctly notes that the issue is NOT simply that Rabbi Ramon and the Schechter leadership decided against allowing openly gay rabbinical students in their program. That is their right. If that decision had been made and grounded in halacha and offered respectfully, with some regard for the pain this causes gay Jews, then the arguments here would be completely different.
    After all, that would be no different than how many respectful Orthodox rabbis discuss this issue – basically, “we do not find room in the halacha to approve of or affirm homosexuality, but we recognize that there are gay Jews who are committed to Torah and we understand the pain this conflict creates for them.” For example, see this recent article quoting Rabbi Shlomo Riskin:,7340,L-3647929,00.html

  13. Re: Golinkin’s statement about the attitudes of Schechter rabbinical students:
    This reminds me of Rabbi Joel Meyers (former executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly) making the assertion in the press a few years ago that no Conservative rabbi had ever performed a same-sex wedding, because he’d asked around and found none who had. Of course, there were plenty of Conservative rabbis who’d officiated at same-sex weddings, but Meyers didn’t ask them. He had a skewed sample.
    As Rabbi Sacks says, the student body Ramon and Golinkin admitted to rabbinical school is also a skewed sample…

  14. Golinkin says “And if you speak to Israeli rabbinical students, almost all are opposed to any changes vis-à-vis homosexuality.
    Unfortunately (actually “and fortunately”), it’s just not true.
    Amongst many of the Israeli rabbinical students, Rabbi Golinkin’s gaze over his right shoulder has come to upset and irritate many who have passed through Schechter to great extent. Anyone who actually talks to those rabbinical students past and present know this – it’s only that Golinkin makes his rules and observations based on “I’m the mara d’atra and you’ll do what you’re told” rulings handed down from above.
    When the students have in years past rebelled against such approaches, he has been -I kid you not- surprised that we don’t just knuckle down and do what we’re told.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.