The Rabbinical Assembly, founded in 1901, is the international association of Conservative rabbis. The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) of the Rabbinical Assembly is the central halakhic authority for the Conservative movement.
For the first one hundred plus years of the Conservative movement's existence, the movement did not allow for the ordination of openly gay men and lesbians. In addition, Conservative rabbis who performed same-sex commitment ceremonies did so without the Law Committees sanction.
Then on December 6, 2006, the CJLS completed its deliberation regarding the halakhic status of gay men and lesbians.
The CJLS decided that the halakha of the Conservative movement now says that:
- Conservative rabbis, synagogues, and institutions can perform or host same-sex commitment ceremonies and are free to hire openly gay rabbis and cantors.
- Conservative rabbis, synagogues, and other institutions may continue not to permit commitment ceremonies and not to hire openly gay or lesbian rabbis and cantors.
Regardless of whether a Conservative rabbi and congregation choose to hire homosexual rabbis or perform same-sex commitment ceremonies, they are expected to show respect and sensitivity to all people. All Jews, no matter what their sexual orientation, are welcome into Conservative congregations.
As a progressive movement, the Reform movement tries to adapt Judaism to today's world. According to Reform rabbis in support of this new resolution allowing rabbis to officiate at the commitment ceremonies of same sex couples, homosexuality in today's world was not understood at the time that the Bible was written.
In 1969, both the National Institutes for Mental Health and the American Psychiatric Association ruled that homosexuality is not an illness. When medical discoveries are made, Jewish law (halacha) is modified. More progressive rabbis will say it is not halachally correct for more traditional rabbis to ignore this discovery and to continue to call homosexuality an illness.
Many progressive Jews also believe that calling homosexuality "unnatural" is incorrect. They site numerous studies which have found that homosexuality occurs in nature among every species of mammal and among most other species of animals. Sexually aroused animals will try to mate with the nearest partner. It has been concluded, therefore, that there is an innate drive toward the release of sexual tension, and this release can be accomplished through either homosexual or heterosexual relations.
More liberal Jews believe that the translation of the word "to'evah" to "abomination" is inaccurate. The other times that "to'evah" is used in the Bible, it is used to refer to forbidden idolatrous acts. Therefore, looking at the biblical context in which the word is used," the passages in Leviticus about homosexuality must be referring to cultic practices of homosexuality rather than loving homosexual relationships which exist today.
While traditional rabbis say the Torah prohibits homosexuality because it destroys the family structure, many Reform rabbis will say that homosexual couples can and do raise children who are educated about Jewish traditions and values. Unlike in Biblical times, today's homosexual couples can fulfill the commandment to procreate through artificial insemination, surrogate motherhood, co-parenting arrangements, and even adoption. Jonathan Oriole, in his article on "Homosexuality and its role in Judaism," writes that at "Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York City, or Sha'ar Zahav in San Francisco, or any of the other 30 gay synagogues in North America, one can see numerous gay and lesbian couples WITH THEIR CHILDREN, all of whom are dedicated to preserving and continuing the Jewish faith and tradition." Oriole adds that many heterosexual couples do not maintain the traditional family structure and fail to give their Jewish children a good Jewish education.
In addition to being progressive, the Reform movement is also humanist. It has been estimated that as many 10% of Jewish men and 1% of Jewish woman are homosexuals. Many in the Reform movement do not want to turn their backs on these Jews.
Not only are homosexuals accepted in Reform congregations, the movement also accepts gay and lesbian rabbis. It has been argued that since gay and lesbian Jews have experienced adversity, they can be more understanding and effective Jewish leaders.
Many in the Reform movement believe that gay and lesbian Jews would be committed Jews if they were welcomed into the Jewish community. The idea of officiating at homosexual commitment ceremonies is another way to reach out to this segment of the Jewish population.
Agreement and Disagreement
Most Jews would agree that making Jews who are homosexuals feel like they are outcasts or sick is inhumane and un-Jewish.
Traditional Judaism believes we should reach out to those with homosexual preferences by educating about the benefits of and encouraging them to enter into a heterosexual relationship.
Reform Judaism believes homosexuality today was not understood when the Bible was written. Thus, the Biblical prohibition of homosexual acts can and should be adapted to fit today's world.