Politics, Religion, Sex & Gender

Conservative Movement Release Cohen Survey on Homosexuality

With only a few minutes to post, this is just a first look at the survey. The key findings (as defined by its author, Steven M. Cohen) are outlined below. The full press release and study are here.
I’ll leave a fuller rant to BZ, since he’s so good at it, but will note with exasperation that respondents’s observance levels were ranked “very high, high, moderate, and low” depending on their answers to questions about their prayer, Shabbat, Tisha b’Av (?!), etc. ritual practices. As is typical, the questions about “observance” failed to ask anything about respondents’ tzedakah practices or any other mitzvah that is bein adam lachavero. Why do we persist in measuring observance (a bit of an absurd endeavor to begin with) solely by ritual practice? A mitzvah is a mitzvah. And it is no more or less quantifiable to ask about respondents’ charitable giving practices, for example, than about their observance of Tisha b’Av.
I also find the enormous gender gap fascinating: 60% of men surveyed were in favor of gay ordination vs. 86% of women).
More to come…

5,583 responses were received; 4,861 from invitees, and 722 who responded to a public access website.
Major findings include:
Large majority favors gay and lesbian rabbis and cantors:
* Rabbis are largely in favor (65% in favor to 28% opposed, with others unsure), as are the cantors by a similar margin (67% to 27%), while lay leaders split 68% to 22%.
* JTS students also favor admitting gay and lesbian rabbinical students: (58% to 32% for the rabbinical students; 58% to 21% for the cantorial students, and 70% to 21% for all other JTS students.
* Among Conservative educators, executive directors, and other professionals are in favor (76% to 16%), while lay leaders split 68% to 22%, and students, USY and others (largely public access respondents) divide 70% to 20%.
Substantial variation by country, gender, age, and observance. Support for gay ordination is:
* Higher in the US than Canada, Israel, or elsewhere in the world.
* Higher among women than among men.
* Higher among younger people than among older people (among those 25 and over).
* Higher among the less observant than among the more observant.
Gender Gap:
* Men divide on the issue of gay rabbis and cantors 60% in favor to 33% opposed.
* Women are more heavily pro-acceptance, by a margin of 86% to 10%.
The survey also found that large majorities of respondents are united on the centrality of halakhah to Conservative Judaism, support of women as clergy, and opposition to both patrilineal descent and rabbis officiating at mixed marriages. These areas provide the basis for shaping consensus and direction in the future.

30 thoughts on “Conservative Movement Release Cohen Survey on Homosexuality

  1. * Higher among the less observant than among the more observant.
    i just threw up in my mouth a little bit. I feel like we should add hand quotes to that when reading it.
    Still, I would love to be there somewhere as Levy’s head explodes.
    On a more serious note, do we know if the full thing will be made available online? RR, the link is to the press release, but the main report is not in sight.

  2. I wonder if the age gap may have widened the gender gap even further: the survey was sent to Conservative rabbis and other leaders, and Conservative rabbis above a certain age are all male, while younger ones are split between men and women, so the sample of men taking the survey is probably older.

  3. If the full survey makes its way online we’ll find out. Personally I’m more interested in the survey as a whole and the age/gender/profession breakdowns of the non-gay related religious observance questions.

  4. I think that’s a good point on the possible link between gender and age, BZ, but I also think that there is probably something else going on. Women are often thought of as the logical allies of homosexuals because they so recently experienced ( continue to experience?) various forms of discrimination or halachic marginalization

  5. Interesting stuff. I’m a Reform Jew. My girlfriend wants to convert, but we’re worried about acceptance as a lesbian couple at a Conservative congregation. This will help us.
    She knows about the issues of Reform conversion not being accepted. Also we are planning to have children and she wants to bear at least one of them. We want our children to be considered Jewish.
    I grew up secular in an atheistic house (father an atheist from Xian background with Xian traditions, mom an atheist/secular Jew), so Judaism is as new to me as it is to her even though I am “technically” Jewish. I would take her classes with her and welcome the chance to learn more.

  6. We’re fighting sociological labels again? For god’s sake. Its shorthand. Everyone knows what “observant” means in a sociological context. There’s nothing we can do about it, and we just have to live with it.

  7. On the gender divide, yes, SarahChaya, part of it does stem from the experiences of marginality shared by women and by LGBT people within the Jewish world. But don’t forget that Rabbi Einat Ramon, dean of the Schechter Rabbinical School and someone who has been inspired by feminism, is opposed to ordination and to approval of homosexuality generally (as Mobius reminded us in a post here a couple of days ago). Clearly, some people have a hard time making the connection between the exclusion of women and the exclusion of LGBT people.

  8. Quick clarification on my comment above: The post that references Rabbi Ramon was POSTED by Mobius, but not WRITTEN by Mobius. Sorry for any confusion (I had forgotten about the absurd debate on this very point in the comments around that post).

  9. SarahChaya-
    For sure. Especially since, as George Lakoff writes, homophobia often goes hand in hand with a model of the family and of society in which males are dominant. So it’s not just solidarity among oppressed populations, but a substantive connection between equality among people of all sexual orientations and gender equality.

  10. We’re fighting sociological labels again? For god’s sake. Its shorthand. Everyone knows what “observant” means in a sociological context. There’s nothing we can do about it, and we just have to live with it.
    Sure, “everyone knows” this. Likewise, everyone knows that Orthodox Jews care about preserving Jewish tradition the way it has been observed for all time, and everyone knows that Reform Jews don’t care about Torah but just act according to their whims. Everyone knows that Republicans care about national security and family values, and everyone knows that Democrats want to give aid to terrorists and to destroy the family. It’s shorthand!
    It’s not just about labels, it’s about cognitive frames, and every time we use one of those labels, we invoke the frames. If liberal Judaism wants to develop its own sense of authenticity (rather than see itself only in relation to Orthodoxy), then it must use its own frames rather than using Orthodox frames.
    If you want to refer to a sociological category (which certainly exists), use a term like “Orthoprax” or “frum”, rather than a value-laden one like “observant” or “religious”.

  11. Thanks, BZ.
    And sorry, everyone. I hadn’t realized the full study wasn’t yet freely accessble via the internet. I’m trying to figure out how to link to a word doc– anyone have any ideas? I can’t just cut and paste because a significant part of the document consists of charts and tables whose formatting gets messed up in the transition.

  12. BZ – I’m not sure you’re in the right here when it comes to labels like “observant” in this particular context. The survey was meant to be (I believe) a survey of Conservative-affiliated Jews by a Conservative body. It doesn’t seem weird at all to use “frames”, catchwords, etc, in this case. For the purposes here, “observant” means “observant of Conservative halacha, especially in the ritual field which is the source of most sexual halacha”.

  13. Alan-
    My comment about framing was more in response to Amit’s general defense of using “shorthand” like “observant” than to this specific survey. As for this survey, I’ll leave the definition of Conservative halacha to Conservative Jews and won’t get too involved, but I think the Rooftopper Rav’s critique still stands — it was my impression that the Conservative movement had not officially abrogated the mitzvot bein adam lachavero (though you wouldn’t know it from reading a certain book billed as a “guide to Jewish religious practice”; I’m waiting in vain for volume II).

  14. Again: mitzvot bein adam lachaveiro are not insignificant. They just happen to be insignificant to gage a certain individual’s connection with a set of observances SOCIOLOGICALLY known as “halakhic observance”. checking “charity” and “careful driving” doesn’t give you much of a parameter at all if you want to see the breakdown of individuals who condone/condemn homosexuality in the conservative movement.
    And I think Klein carries a section on tzedaka.
    Its OK to nitpick, but nitpick where it matters.

  15. BZ –
    “observant” is not nearly value/judgment-laden as “religious.” “observant” is short hand for “halakhically observant.” specifically, in a Conservative context, this refers especially to observing shabbat/chagim, tefillah and kashrut according to Conservative standards. this is an obervation (haha), not a judgment.

  16. big question – I just started reading the report, but I so far I have not seen “jts faculty” as one of the groups whose opinions are reported on. maybe I haven’t gotten there yet?? anyone know about whether these stats are reported?

  17. I’m looking at a copy of Klein right now, and there’s no section on tzedakah (at least none that appears in the table of contents or the index).

  18. big question – I just started reading the report, but I so far I have not seen “jts faculty” as one of the groups whose opinions are reported on. maybe I haven’t gotten there yet?? anyone know about whether these stats are reported?
    The JTS faculty is going through their own process, with regular speakers and discussions. Word out of today’s faculty meeting was that he would announce his decision “in about a month.”

  19. ruby k– yes, and halakhot all too often ignored.
    But, I suspect they vary more individually than denominationally. So I’d say the question (that is, seeing how attitudes toward LGBT stuff correlate with practices that often vary by general approach to halacha) is better than the wording (“more observant”)

  20. the jts faculty are going through a closed process? huh… Is that necessary, as far as folks who are closer to jts can see? It seems a bit secretive to me, but maybe I am missing something. Is it a tiny faculty, and therefore releasing percentages on their beliefs would be too invasive?

  21. Yes- JTS isn’t a big place, and the faculty is relatively small, with fewer than 75 voting faculty members. For reasons I don’t entirely understand, the JTS minhag is that the entire faculty (which, remember, includes the secular graduate and education schools) gets to determine all sorts of questions (ordination of women and gay folks, the rabbinical school curriculum) that seem to me like larger policy or religious issues.
    I do know that Arnie Eisen is a committed academic and behaves that way. He has publicly expressed his belief in the need for a separate and closed faculty process in order to show the faculty respect. It’s probably also about self-preservation: starting one’s tenure by pissing off the faculty by denying them their usual autonomy seems like a recipe for an unsuccessful chancellorship.
    Still, the lack of transparency about the faculty process is uncool. And, as usual, students have had absolutely no say in the matter.

  22. BZ, a teacher of mine in [jewish] high school had one pasuk he used to quote from the Torah more than any other: “Ve-asita hatov vehayashar be’enei hashem”. Lines like that, and like “kedoshim tihiyu” are totally the soul of Torah – and yet their applications exist in the divine amorphous fuzz between “Don’t be an Asshole” and “Help others play fair” that applies to EVERYTHING IN LIFE but is a lot harder to quantify than something like, say, how many candles go on your chanukah menorah (an externally meaningless act, which as part of our Judaic symbol-system has meaning but only because the Rabbanim chose to give it one).
    Most people on Earth subscribe to a religion that says “Don’t be a jerk”. So a book about religious practices specific to Judaism would naturally zero in on the halachot whose parameters are clearest and which differ from what might be expected (the good old Hava Amina factor). I’d say that problem comes (and it’s a big problem) when people forget that for most of Jewish history, rebbeim would give their talmidim dirty looks when someone tried to “justify” dirty deeds “halachically”, and take the relative paucity of sources on just acting Kadosh and doing the Tov and the Yashar as meaning that halacha/Torah/God just doesn’t care about those arenas.

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