- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) — Conservative Jewish scholars eased their ban yesterday on ordaining homosexuals, upending thousands of years of precedent while stopping short of fully accepting homosexual clergy.

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, which interprets religious law for the movement, adopted three starkly conflicting policies that nonetheless gave homosexuals the chance to serve as clergy. Four committee members who wanted to uphold the ban on ordaining homosexuals resigned in protest after the vote.

One policy upholds the prohibition against homosexual rabbis. Another, billed as a compromise, maintains a ban on male sodomy but permits homosexual ordination and allows blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples. The third policy upholds the ban on homosexual relationships in Jewish law and mentions the option for homosexuals to undergo therapy aimed at changing their sexual orientation.

That leaves seminaries and synagogues to decide on their own which approach to follow.

It also will test what Conservative Jewish leaders call their “big tent” — allowing diverse practices by the movement’s more than 1,000 rabbis and 750 North American synagogues.

The 25-member panel made its decision in a two-day closed meeting in an Upper East Side synagogue. Students from a homosexual advocacy group at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the flagship school of Conservative Judaism, stood vigil nearby while the results were announced.

Conservative leaders are struggling to hold the shrinking middle ground of American Judaism, losing members to both the liberal Reform and the traditional Orthodox branches.

Reform Jews, as well as the smaller Reconstructionist branch, allow homosexuals to become rabbis; the Orthodox bar homosexuals and women from ordination.

The last major law committee vote on homosexual relationships came in 1992, when the panel voted 19-3, with one abstention, that Jewish law barred openly homosexual students from seminaries and prohibited the more than 1,000 rabbis in the movement from officiating at same-sex union ceremonies.

It’s not clear whether any congregations in the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the synagogue arm of the movement, will break away over the issue.

Arnold Eisen, incoming chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, personally supports ordaining homosexuals. But he said in a Nov. 22 e-mail to the seminary community that faculty will vote on how the school should respond to the committee’s decision.

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, vice chairman of the law committee and a supporter of homosexual ordination, is rector of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, which also trains Conservative rabbis. The school was expected to admit homosexuals now that the committee allows it.

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