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Conservative Jewish leaders ease gay rabbi ban
Houston Chronicle
By RACHEL ZOLL
Associated Press
December 6, 2006

NEW YORK — A panel of rabbis gave permission Wednesday for same-sex commitment ceremonies and ordination of gays within Conservative Judaism, a wrenching change for a movement that occupies the middle ground between orthodoxy and liberalism in Judaism.

The complicated decision by the Conservatives Movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards leaves it up to individual seminaries whether to ordain gay rabbis and gives individual rabbis the option of sanctioning same-sex unions.

Like many Protestant denominations, Conservative Jews are divided over homosexuality: torn between the Hebrew scriptures' condemnation of it as an "abomination" and a desire to encourage same-sex couples to form long-lasting, monogamous relationships.

Reform Judaism, the largest branch of the faith in the U.S., has ordained gay men and lesbians since 1990 and has allowed rabbis to perform same-sex commitment ceremonies since 2000. Orthodox Judaism does not countenance same-sex unions or the ordination of gays.

After years of discussion and two days of intense debate behind closed doors at a synagogue on Park Avenue, the law committee accepted three teshuvot, or answers, to the question of whether Jewish law allows homosexual sex. Two answers uphold the status quo, forbidding homosexuality.

But a third allows same-sex ceremonies and ordination of gay men and lesbians, while maintaining a ban on anal sex.

Four of the law committee's 25 members resigned in protest of the decision.

It takes the votes of six panel members to declare an answer to be valid. Thirteen members voted in favor of allowing gay ordination and same-sex ceremonies, and 13 voted against — meaning that at least one rabbi voted for both positions.

Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, a group of 1,600 Conservative rabbis, predicted some rabbis will choose not to preside at same-sex ceremonies, and he said none would be required to perform them.

The issue has been particularly difficult for the Conservative movement, which claims about 2 million members worldwide. Conservative Jews generally keep the kosher dietary rules and observe the Sabbath, though perhaps not as strictly as Orthodox Jews do.

Rabbi Joel Roth, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary who was among those who resigned, said he considers the change to be "outside the pale of acceptable" Jewish law.

In Houston, Rabbi Steven Morgen of Congregation Beth Yeshurun said the rulings allow congregations to support either side of the volatile issue.

"I think there will still be a lot of polarization," Morgen said. Beth Yeshurun will study the rulings before taking a stance, he said.

Rabbi Shaul Osadchey of Congregation Or Ami in Houston said he was "personally heartened" by the decision.

Chronicle religion editor Richard Vara contributed to this report.

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