US synagogues preparing for gay rabbis

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US synagogues are preparing for a policy shift of biblical proportions after a Conservative Jewish leader this week accepted that the movement may lift its ban on openly gay rabbis.

Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, is reported to be visiting synagogues to sound out opinions on ordaining openly gay clergy.

He told the Associated Press: “It could cause confusion, it could cause tremendous angst, it could cause tremendous tension, it could cause tremendous disagreement.”

The decision will be made by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards in December, Rabbi Epstein said: “The committee might accept, will accept, I think, two or more policies, one that actually reaffirms the current position and at least one that will liberalise it.”

Previously the group, which is in the centre of Jewish thought between liberal and orthodox movements, has banned gay rabbis.

However, the latest move comes in reaction to rabbinical students pushing for “Ordination regardless of orientation” and many rabbis coming out or performing same sex ceremonies despite the ban.

Conservative Judaism believes in Jewish law and tradition (halakhah,) while adapting to modern conditions.

Two committee members are joining Rabbi Epstein on the tour of Toronto, New York, Washington and Los Angeles.

Rabbi Joel Roth suggested a new interpretation of the prohibition, which is taken because of verses in the Book of Leviticus which forbids man from lying with eachother, may cause a divide.

He told the AP: “I know the law as it stands causes pain, but pain is not to be equated with immorality.”

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, vice-chairman of the Law Committee, is in favour of a change, he said: “We have to interpret God’s will in our time.”

Arnold Eisen, the incoming chancellor of Conservative Judaism’s biggest seminary, the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, is known to favour ordaining gay rabbis.

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.

The UK Assembly of Masorti Synagogues, the US equivalent of the Conservative Movement, told that it is not up for discussion at the moment.

Michael Gluckman, executive director, said: “You can never say never but at the moment we are not considering this. It is way outside halakhah.”