Politics, Religion, Sex & Gender

I once was lost, but now am found

An announcement from our friends at Keshet:

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards is meeting March 7-8 to discuss the Conservative Movement’s stance on homosexuality.
In preparation, Keshet invites all JTS students, faculty, and staff to:
Lost (and Found?)
a candid talk with the
affected by our policies
Gabriel Blau
Jarah Greenfield
Kate O’Brien
Wednesday March 1, 12:15-1:15
Beit Midrash
Gabriel Blau is an author, educator, and founder of God and Sexuality: an Academic Conference on Religion and Issues of Sexuality and Gender at Bard College.
Jarah Greenfield is a rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College who could not apply to JTS because of the policy prohibiting lesbian and gay ordination. She serves on the board of Rabbis for Human Rights, and has studied at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education.
Kate O’Brien attended the JTS Rabbinical School from 2001-2004 before being forced to leave due to the policy prohibiting lesbian and gay ordination. She is currently studying for masters’ degrees in Jewish Education and Bible at JTS and serves as director of Alma NY, a new progressive learning community.

This Wednesday, at JTS. All are invited, and I hear there is free food!
Background: the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards is the Conservative movement’s version of the College of Cardinals, but not as transparent. Demonstrating its commitment to halachic innovation, the CJLS has created the new halachic category of “homosexual” out of whole cloth. In the spirit of the rabbis who extended the Torah’s “Do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk” to prohibit eating, cooking, and deriving benefit from any mixture of meat and milk, the CJLS has taken an opaque biblical verse that chaza”l understood as banning a specific sex act between two men, and extended it to exclude anyone of either sex who identifies as “gay” or “lesbian” (with no actions necessary) from various communal roles. This is the part where Moses shows up to Rabbi Akiva’s classroom and says “What are you thinking???”
Even when the CJLS is at its most inclusive, it says “We emphatically recognize the human dignity (k’vod habriut [sic]) of all such individuals, and invite them to participate within our religious communities.” (Who is “we”? Who is “them”? Whose religious communities?)

10 thoughts on “I once was lost, but now am found

  1. not to be rude, but the biblical verse prohibits the specific sexual act of anal sex between two men (we assume, since what does “lying with a man as one does with a woman” mean, anyway?) the rabbis, in the talmud and codes then themselves expanded it to include the sexual acts of both gay men and women, in any variety. If it were really only the CJLS that did it, then why doesn’t the orthodox rabbinic authority have a more inclusive view? i am an active member of keshet myself and am also in disagreement with the status quo, but one should endeavor to be accurate rather than inflammatory and polemical.

  2. not to be rude, but the biblical verse prohibits the specific sexual act of anal sex between two men (we assume, since what does “lying with a man as one does with a woman” mean, anyway?)
    Clearly! Also, the biblical verses on Shabbat prohibit plowing, threshing, winnowing, tanning, writing two letters, etc. (we assume, since what does “do no work” mean, anyway?).
    the rabbis, in the talmud and codes then themselves expanded it to include the sexual acts of both gay men and women, in any variety.
    And I challenge you to produce a single pre-20th-century halachic source that contains the word “gay” (or any concept of sexual orientation as a category with legal relevance).

  3. “Homosexual acts between women (lesbianism) were forbidden by the rabbis on the basis of “Do not follow the ways of Egypt where you once lived, nor of Canaan, where I will be bringing you. Do not follow [any] of their customs.” (Leviticus 18:3). The oral law (Sifra there, 8:8) explains that what is meant is sexual customs and that one of those was the marriage of women to each other, as well as a man to a woman and her daughter. The Talmud follows this view, forbidding lesbianism. Like all Rabbinical prohibitions, violation can incur lashes. Female homosexual behaviour, because of its lack of “actual performance”, is regarded as less serious than male homosexual behaviour.”
    this is quoted from the wikipedia article on homosexuality and judaism. i apologize fot the lack of real research. i promise i will look up on it. i believe rambam lays it out pretty clearly in the yad hechazakah. regardless,t he above quote, i think, shows the rabbis’ propensity to derive a principle of gay relations as bad from the verse.
    again, allow me to reiterate: i am also in favor of gay inclusion, i am a member of keshet, i just do not think that what the CJLS is doing is especially unique, at least in terms of defining an idea of “gay” and legislating based on said idea.

  4. The above quote confirms precisely what I was saying — the rabbis prohibited homosexual acts, not identity. The Conservative movement’s policy, in contrast, is no more friendly to gay and lesbian individuals who are single (and having no sex of any sort) than to those who are in relationships (which might or might not include any actions prohibited by the rabbis).
    And no, I don’t go to JTS.

  5. Is this CJLS meeting open to the public? If so do you know where the meeting will be held? Is registration needed? So much of the big decisions in the Conservative movement are made by a select few and there is little concrete news that trickles down to the common folk like me. This regular guy would love to attend these meetings.

  6. The difference between action and identity has long been a tool of the heteronormative for ages. The fact of the matter is, to differentiate between homosexual acts and action implies that one can (and should) be repressed, while the other ca be dealt with in certain ways… it is this type of thinking that leads to the creation of “conversion” programs for gays. It is honest of the CJLS to acknowledge that one cannot separate one (identity) from the other (lifestyle).
    Do you honestly believe that more orthodox congregations would be fully inclusive to a gay Jew who openly identifies as such? I can assure you that person would not 1) feel comfortable in his congregation 2) be elected to a board position and 3) be called up for an aliyah. As imperfect the provisions the CJLS are, they at least make significant space for the inclusion of openly gay jews in synagogue life (and while this is not convincing evidence per se, in my own Conservative shul, there are a number of just such Jews). In the “inclusive” statement you include at the end of your post, it seems fairly clear that the “we” is the CJLS (representing Conservative Jewish praxis), the “them” are openly gay Jews
    (tragically otherized) and the communities are those of the Conservative Movement.
    In response to the query above: most CJLS meetings are indeed open to the public. Many (lay) student colleagues of mine have attended. However, given the senstitive nature of this topic, i believe the CJLS wished to keep this session private. While i too wish for more transparency (both in this and in the search for the new chancellor), i understand their motivations.

  7. To differentiate between action and identity is a long-held tool of the heteronormative… those i assume you wish to oppose. i cannot imagine an orthodox/traditional shul welcoming completely (ie elected to board, given aliyah, made comfortable) a jew who openly identified as gay (and yet paradoxically did not allow himslekf the right to live as he feels is right). while the cjls may create a “new category,” they are at least being honest about the nature of the issue at hand. dorff (a conservative halakhist in favor of gay ordination/inclusion) is correct when he says to expect gays to forsake their natural rights of sexual pleasure is cruel. while the cjls position is inadequate, it at least provides for the inclusion of gays into the Conservative synagogue community as full members.
    in response to the query above, cjls meetings are usually open, but due to the sensitive nature of the matter at hand, they chose to keep this a closed session. i too wish for more transparency, both in this matter and in the search for a new chancellor, i understand their motivations.

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