Conservative Jews divided over gay rights

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Moves to lift a ban on gay rabbis and marriages has come has proved a sticking point for the leaders of the American Conservative Judaism community convening in an annual meeting in Mexico City.

The Conservative Judaism movement who claim to be an attempt to reconcile traditional Judaism and modernity have been overtaken as the largest Jewish group in the USA by the more liberal, Reform movement.

“One doesn’t easily overturn thousands of years of tradition,” said Rabbi Kenneth Cohen, who’s is chaplain to students at American University in Washington DC.

Supporting the attempts to lift the ban on homosexuality, Mr Cohen added: “Judaism never has existed in a vacuum. Halakhah — Jewish law — is the application of Jewish values to real life.”

In 1992, the last time the movement discussed the issue of homosexuality, it decreed that gays and lesbians would be welcome in its synagogues but that it would not condone gay behaviour, ordination or marriages.

Mexican President Vicente Fox opened the convention earlier this week, welcoming more than 350 rabbis to the event which was held for first time in Latin America. The movement claims 2 million of the world’s 13 million Jews. The movement first ordained women rabbis in 1985.

Some congregations have made individual attempts to reconcile Judaism with homosexuality. Rabbi Alan Cohen of Overland Park, Kansas, said his synagogue, in a show of sensitivity to gays, has replaced a traditional Torah reading on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) so as to omit “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination.”

The Conservatives’ Committee on Jewish Law and Standards will decide on the issue by this December. It is so far divided on the best way to progress.

Rabbi Kenneth Cohen’s advice to his community’s leaders is “to accept that we are what we’ve always been — a pluralistic movement.”

In Britain, the movement is known as Masorti (Tradition). Earlier this month, its Chief Executive, Michael Gluckman,told that it would never consider Jewish same sex unions. “You can never say never but at the moment we are not considering this. It is way outside Halakhah.”