Now that New York has made gay marriage legal, it is instructive to judge the reactions of various religious groups. It’s a litmus test of whether they place morality over tradition. The most conservative (small “c”) fought against gay human rights and lost. Their commitment is to ancient texts and laws no matter how outdated. After all, you can’t undo what God has said even if God’s pronouncement was somewhat less than eternally moral.
Liberal religious groups were, by and large, behind the passage of the law. That’s because they hardly believe in God to begin with, least of all an authoritarian law-giving God. However, some moderates straddle the line and one of these is the Conservative Jewish movement.
Their rabbis’ starting point is never to question whether something is right and moral, but whether (and how) it can be twisted into some interpretation of Jewish law. They did this with their absurdly long debate about accepting women into the rabbinate and they’re doing it again with all things gay.
In the Conservative movement — which sees itself as Judaism’s big tent — some rabbis borrow heavily from kiddushin [the “legal” rite of marriage] and other required rites to conduct gay commitment ceremonies, while others avoid them altogether and craft their own celebrations. Still others opt not to officiate at same-sex weddings in the first place.
…“Kiddushin is between a man and a woman, and this is something different from that,” [Rabbi Elliot] Dorff said in an interview with the Forward. “The liturgy of the sheva brachot [the seven blessings] would [also] need to be changed. It does not fit into the Halachic categories or the legal categories of kiddushin.”
The [more tolerant] responsum, written by rabbis Elliot Dorff, Daniel Nevins and Avram Reisner, was…restrictive in some parts, but a model of acceptance in others. For instance, citing the specific wording of the Torah’s ban on homosexuality, the document accepted some forms of homosexual activity but reaffirmed the Conservative ban on male-on-male anal sex. But the responsum also invited gay Jews to apply to rabbinic schools….
I’m fascinated by their graphic discussion of the kind of sex that gay men can have. (“Male-on-male anal sex!!!!” It sounds like the cover of a gay pornographic video.) Do they really think that their god cares about this kind of stuff? Here’s how they have dealt with gay marriage:
“We are not prepared at this juncture to rule upon the Halachic [Jewish legal] status of gay and lesbian relationships,” the document read. “To do so would require establishing an entirely new institution in Jewish law that treats not only the ceremonies and legal instruments appropriate for creating homosexual unions but also the norms for the dissolution of such unions.”
Of course one of the great contradictions of the Conservative movement is that its rabbis are authorities in a body of Jewish “law” that no one in their movement takes seriously. That’s because the laity wants to live in a modern world, even if they do like to “pray” with indecipherable chanting and demand that the shul’s kitchen be kosher. For them these are just cultural markers that they enjoy (with little rational consideration). For their rabbis these are aspects of a “law” that only the rabbis regard as anything close to binding. And the only opportunity that these rabbis have to enforce these “laws” is when you need something from them. Like a wedding.
My advice to homosexuals who consider themselves Conservative Jews is to stop being Conservative Jews. It’s pretty clear that your rabbis don’t regard you as the equals of heterosexuals. If they did, their responses would be quite different. They would be more along the lines of: “Mazal Tov! When can we set a date?”