Culture, Identity, Israel, Justice, Religion, Sex & Gender

If you're not going to ordain them, at least don't give reasons that cause us to question your logical abilities

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.

22 thoughts on “If you're not going to ordain them, at least don't give reasons that cause us to question your logical abilities

  1. Rabbi Ramon (“RR”) is not looking over her right shoulder since there is nobody there who would be willing to talk to her, and nobody she cares about (unlike, perhaps. R. Golinkin). RR is also not trying to pander to the Israeli public who wouldn’t notice if the masorti movement declared cheeseburgers kosher either, and could care less. RR is simply being silly and illogical. For no good reason.

  2. “Whereas there are no precedents for homosexual marriages or homosexual unions in Jewish sources”. This woman should be relieved of her position as ‘Rabbi’ immediately.
    The Sifra states(28):
    “I did not say this except for those laws inscribed for them [the Gentiles] their fathers’ father. What did they [the Gentiles, as opposed to the Jews] do? Men would marry men, and women would marry women”.
    Same-sex coupling has been recording in Jewish history as a wicked sin of Egypt. This ‘rabbi’ quoted above is doing nothing more than mixing in her modernist feminist poison into the well of wisdom that is the Torah. She is not a ‘rabbi’ and she is not a Jew.

  3. I’ve heard Rabbi Roth speak, and he has the decency of expressing regret that he can’t find a halachic opening to accept homosexuality. He sees it as halachically impossible, but does not, in general, load it with all this other baggage.
    At least as I remember it.

  4. You use Rabbi Ramon’s apparent hypocrisy as an excuse to dismiss her position. Perhaps she’s a hypocrite, but you, senior Ra’ash Gadol, are an evader.
    As far as I can tell, Einat Ramon wants to pick her battles. There is an obvious tension between traditional halacha and homosexuality – even the Dorff opinion admits to struggling with this tension. The apparent argument is that focusing on homosexual ordination and marriage draws the Conservative eye away from issues of family, Jewish tradition, halacha.
    There are far more heterosexual people in the world than homosexual, and I assume the same holds for Conservative Jews. If focusing on one group is actually to the detriment of the other (even if, in an ideal world, it would not be), the real question is which way should we read Shemot 23:2? The obvious way or the Bava Metzi’a 59b way?
    Admittedly you could see Ramon’s rhetoric as coming from an anti-feminist playbook. But give Ramon some credit as a feminist, as a Rabbi, as a thinking person, and assume that it does not. There is a much deeper question here – a question about the very nature of halachik Judaism – don’t evade it.

  5. Evidently she told Ma’ariv (in Hebrew, so no softening for the Anglo readers) when asked what she would do if her kids were gay that she was raising the the boys to be secure in their masculinity and the girls to be secure in their femininity, so they would never choose gayness.
    She could very easily make an halakic argument and be done with it. But that’s not what she’s doing.

  6. Does anybody really think this has any significance at all? There are at any given moment about 10 rabbinical student at schechter, and between three or four graduate each year. This means that the statistic probability of any of the graduates being gay is one every three years. As I stated before, RR is not “picking her battles”, because her school and her movement are less relevant than the Israel Communist Party, and she is not looking over her right shoulder because she holds no dialog with any orthodox figures of significance. She’s a bigot, a small c conservative, and a symptom of what might have happened to JTS if it had decided not to ordain Gays: it would attract this kind of person.

  7. she is not looking over her right shoulder because she holds no dialog with any orthodox figures of significance.
    I think this doesn’t necessarily follow. There are some people in the Israeli Conservative movement (and the American one) who seem to hold the quixotic belief that if they can just prove that they’re “halachic” enough, then the Orthodox will start paying attention to them and accepting them as legitimate.

  8. “Men and women are sexually and emotionally different? Well, certainly we’re built differently, but that seems a rather trivial point…”
    Well, no, not trivial at all. Studies by brain scientists (see, for example, the recent New York Times article “Pas de Deux of Sexuality Written in the Genes”) are indicating that the physical differences in male and female brains reflect differences in emotional structure, behavior, etc., etc. There are also suggestions, from the studies, that while men may be born either straight or homosexual, women may not be. This finding represents not only differences in gender (which is *not* entirely based in culture, according to the science) but in behavior.
    Look, I’m as politically progressive as anyone, and I know that studies can be biased and flawed, but studies such as these can’t just be dismissed out of hand because we don’t like what they say. If there are rigorous opposing anatomical and physiological findings I’d love to read about them. Anyone?
    If the evidence is undisputed, then we must consider it, or we’re being as rigid and doctrinaire as those whose opinions we oppose.

  9. ATS –
    You’re never gonna convince anyone of your opinion with a rant like that..
    Also, the point you’re arguing against is the *opposite* of the meaning of the particular passage from Rabbi Gadol’s article that you quote.
    Either way, I suggest doing a study of the sexuality of Hellenistic civilation of Chazal’s time to see exactly what kinds of homosexual relationships are being discussed in your Sifra quote. And take into account Chazal’s explicit assumption of universal heterosexual orientation (statements like Every man desires a woman, Mishkav zachar is not mutually pleasurable, etc.)

  10. Am I the only one who can’t wait to see the failure of Rav Ramon’s armchair psycho-sexual attempt to “orientate” her children?
    “But I’m a Cheerleader”…great movie.

  11. Look, I’m as politically progressive as anyone, and I know that studies can be biased and flawed, but studies such as these can’t just be dismissed out of hand because we don’t like what they say.
    The whole question has nothing to do with psychologists or progressiveness. There is a collective which claims that is has an attraction towards individuals who are not permitted to them halakhically, and toward nobody else. This claim has led many to hardship and even suicide. Psychology has nothing to do with it. it’s pikuach nefesh.

  12. Of course psychology has something to do with it. In fact, it’s psychology that the dorff responsa cites as critical to demonstrating why certain plans of action (i.e. ‘therapy’) don’t work. Note, by the way, that even the dorff responsa doesn’t use the word ‘pikuach nefesh’ (and they certainly would have if they could, since it would add some rather strong halachic backing). Amit, you are making your argument too general. of course it matters that this collective has certain affirmable traits, namely a psychological disposition to be the way that they are. otherwise, whole societies could use Judaism however they want to if their society feels a certain way.

  13. otherwise, whole societies could use Judaism however they want to if their society feels a certain way.
    the dorff teshuva is a halakhic response to an issue which I proverbially called pikuach nefesh (in a non-halakhic sort of way). But the whole psychological debate is very very problematic. Psychology changes, as sciences do, and halakha does not. Halakhic changes are made to accommodate people – not the science behind it. We don’t change kashrut because we know metal pots don’t absorb tastes of food, or the reckoning of the months because we know more about the moon. The C. movement decided to be lenient on this issue because they believed there were more pressing ones involved, directly impacting peoples’ lives.
    I remember having a conversation with RJR on the matter, and he agreed with me, even though he still won’t accept gay people as Rabbis (but will count them in a minyan, and won’t make couples sign that they’re going to the mikveh as a condition for admission of one of them into rabbinical school).

  14. But amit, don’t you see why this is the failure of the conservative movement? If not science, what are they using? According to you, feelings (literally, the bad feelings of those who are homosexual) and nothing else. Feelings over law. How can a movement that is based on rational thought be moved to change very old halacha on this alone? I’m not questioning the feelings, I’m questioning how far we might go if someone else’s feelings are hurt that even more (if possible) contradict written torah law.

  15. How insulting Rabbi Ramon was in her article in Maariv.
    She is in favor of teaching her own children to be secure in their own sexuality so that they will not become homosexual. This implies that Gays are not secure in their own sexuality.
    She states that Judaism has always prohibited homosexuality. Where is that coming from? Homosexuality has NEVER been prohibited-only homosexual acts.
    It should be noted here that Conservative rabbis in Israel are allowed to preform same sex ceremonies-and Ramon can not stop this.

  16. First of all, Bears, I don’t understand why you see any of this as evidence of “the failure of the Conservative Movement.” As far as I can tell, the Conservative Movement is having some growing pangs, but isn’t failing in any way. And I speak as someone who was raised Conservative, grew up to be queer, and is now blessed to be applying to the seminary. The decision wasn’t as simple as “oh, this makes people feel bad, let’s change it.” The decision was based on hours of agonizing discussion of halakha, and I highly recommend that you read the full decision on
    Second, as for Rabbi Ramon’s comments about her children… has she never heard of bears or femmes? I am one of the girliest girls I know, and apparently I’m so secure in my gender that I prefer to date other people who share it.

  17. Saying the change in policy towards gay people is based on “science” is like saying we should change the beracha for bananas. Science has no bearing on halakha. The change in policy towards gay people is a result of changes in our perception of morality and “hayashar vehatov”. Similar to the way we now percieve rape as worse than adultery (and even the most observant of Jews would agree, probably). So “feelings” apparently matter, not only those of the gay community, but of the community’s at large, much more than science, since I’m still saying bore peri haadama for my bananas.

    1. As a frustrated Orthodox Jew who wishes our halacha could be more like Conservative halacha, I can say that it is due to comments like Amit’s that I will probably never affiliate with the C movement.
      Amit, I’m sorry to say this, but if you believe that the bracha on bananas was based on a mistake, you should not be saying that bracha. A halacha that is not based on reality is irrelevant and immoral. I happen to believe that even if chazal knew what we know today about banana trees, it would not have changed their decision. Chazal were perfectly content calling an assembly of three strings a “wall” with regards to sukkah even though science would beg to differ. Halachic definitions do not have to be identical to scientific definitions. However there are numerous cases where halacha was indeed based on a mistake and should be ignored.
      Meanwhile, with regards to rape, our changing perceptions have nothing to do with changes in our moral compass, which has remained the same. What has happened is that today we have a better understanding of the negative effects of rape on the victim. Back then, they didn’t realize how devastating rape was for the victim, but if they did, they would have viewed it precisely the way we do today. I would also raise the possibility that even back then, a rapist was viewed as worse than an adulterer. What do we know of the social backlash faced by a rapist in ancient Jewish communities? True, only adultery carries the death penalty, but there can be many reasons for that. Beating people up for fun and/or shaming them in public doesn’t either carry the death penalty, but few would believe that chazal wouldn’t view such a person as worse than an adulterer. I know you will probably not even consider the possibility that rape was considered evil even back then (which might not be true; see beginning of paragraph!). Unfortunately, among non-Orthodox Jews there is a tendency to judge Chazal and the Tanach unfavorably whenever possible. B’tzedek Tishpot Amitecha apparently does not apply to the rabbis of old.
      With regards to homosexuality, I happen to feel there is something very wrong about the Orthodox (and Rabbi Ramon’s) approach. I am not gay, but scientifically, it seems impossible to me that it can be a choice for a 100% gay person. If the rabbis of the talmud had known what we know today about gay people, who knows what they would have said differently? True, the Torah specifically forbids homosexual acts, but maybe that’s only for those who do so out of a full choice? I know there is at least one Conservative teshuva which expresses precisely this position. Unfortunately, I believe that Amit’s ideas are closer to the official Conservative line about morals, even if perhaps not about science&halacha. It looks like I will have to remain a lonely Jew among the Orthodox.

  18. I said nothing about science – I’m talking about halakha. The way we interpret torah has changed in every century – hello? Heard of the talmud? New understandings bring new ways to read. Look at the way we keep shabbat – did the torah tell us not to turn on an electric light? Does the talmud? No, but today this exists, and the rabbis haven’t declared electricity non-kosher… they just had to re-read the texts and adapt the laws to fit something they didn’t understand before. What about the “shabbes elevator?” Would you call that halakhically sound? I know Kohelet disagrees, but there are, in fact, new things under the sun, and fortunately for us, Judaism gives us the tools with which to understand them. The torah may have seen that anal sex was an Egyptian practice and therefore wrong, but monogamous relationships between members of the same sex didn’t exist during that time, so the torah does not forbid them. Please, just read the t’shuvah already!

  19. but monogamous relationships between members of the same sex didn’t exist during that time
    That’s a weak point in the teshuva. see above for pointless rant by anonymous talmud student for the quote.
    and what about my analogy to rape?

  20. I guess what I find interesting is that this is so obviously sociological and not halachic. The Conservative movement in the states is moving towards gay and lesbian inclusion because American Jews demand it. Gay people are an open and integral part of American Jewish communities. We are considered upstanding members of them. The bar on ordination in the Conservative movement is way behind the values of most American Jews.
    Rabbi Ramon’s position is very much in line with the delicate balancing act of the Conservative movement in Israel. I don’t think she is pandering to the right wing. I think, like Joel Roth, she is profoundly ignorant about homosexuality. To her, as to many mainstream Israelis, this seems a highly tangental topic, not relevant to most “normal” people.
    When Israeli society changes, the Israeli Conservative movement will also change.
    It is frustrating to me that intelligent people, like Rabbis Roth and Ramon, cannot see that gender relations in traditional (Orthodox) Judaism are actually fairly consistent. Women and men are separate and NOT equal under halacha. The ban on homosexuality is part of the traditional halachic vision for gender relations generally.
    Break the traditional relationship between men and women and give women equal rights under halacha, and you are making a profound break. It is not surprising that, having made that break, gay and lesbian people also seek a place.
    From my point of view, this is a positive development. I feel that Judaism is strong enough, and flexible enough, to sustain it. Obviously, I am not Orthodox.
    But I find it very disingenous to pretend that driving on Shabbat is not a break with halacha, ordaining women and having them lead services is not a break, but gay and lesbian rabbis … now that is a break. It’s ridiculous. And most Israelis find the idea of a woman wearing a kippah or a lesbian wearing a kippah either equally silly or equally fine and dandy.

  21. this is fascinating:
    >> 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.).
    so what level of ‘precedent’ are we talking about here? my favorite is david & jonathan. it’s pretty explicit, especially when we consider just how *strongly* dovid ha-melekh felt about the love of women.
    “I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant hast thou been unto me; wonderful was thy love to me, passing the love of women.” [2 Samuel 1:26]
    much of 1 Samuel 19 is to the same point:
    “And Jonathan caused David to swear again, for the love that he had to him; for he loved him as he loved his own soul.” [1 Samuel 19:17]
    we know what love means for david: sex is a very important part of it, and the law partically irrelevant. naked woman on a rooftop? it must be love. she’s married? kill the guy.
    so how’s a king/prophet/culture-hero for a precedent? a hair (or rather, a king) better than the precedents for women. but, fundamentally, it’s all hair-splitting.
    either people think institutions should stand for justice or not. how they justify it in terms that make sense to them doesn’t particularly matter. no one’s going to persuade a ramon or a roth out of their stance, because it’s not about the arguments they use to defend it – it’s about a belief in queer inferiority. and any queer who wants into a club that’s led by folks who think we’re inferior is, frankly, nuts. not unlike the yidn who want to be honored and accepted by the christian right.

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.