Ordaining Gays and Lesbians: Denominational Approaches

Among each of the movements, admitting gay and lesbian students has been a cause of debate, concern...and learning.

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The CCAR report also endorsed what had been a recent change in the admissions policy of its rabbinical seminary, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). That new admissions policy declared "that HUC-JIR considers sexual orientation of an applicant only within the context of a candidate's overall suitability for the rabbinate, his or her qualifications to serve the Jewish community effectively, and his or her capacity to find personal fulfillment within the rabbinate."

According to Jean Rosensaft, HUC-JIR's national director for public affairs, the Reform movement took a stand on the issue then as an outgrowth of the American Psychological Association's determination that homosexuality should no longer be classified as a disease. Rosensaft also suggested that the APA's decision helped empower gay and lesbian Jews, encouraging them to speak out.

Like the Reconstructionist seminary, HUC-JIR now accepts openly gay students and counts many openly gay rabbis among its alumni.

Conservative Movement

Changes in the Conservative movement occurred more slowly and more recently. Gay ordination was first considered in 1992 by the movement's halakhic decision-making body, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS). On March 25, 1992, after voting into effect teshuvot (rabbinic response papers) that prohibited gay ordination, the CJLS also issued a Consensus Statement on Homosexuality.

It declared that the movement "will not knowingly admit avowed homosexuals to our rabbinical or cantorial schools..." or perform commitment ceremonies.  Whether openly gay individuals could serve as synagogue lay leaders, teachers, and youth leaders was left up to individual rabbis. The statement nevertheless ended with a declaration that "gays and lesbians are welcome in our congregations, youth groups, camps, and schools."

In 2002, then-president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Judy Yudoff, asked the CJLS to reconsider the question of gay rabbis and same-sex unions. Rabbi Reuven Hammer, then-president of the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), made a similar request. In response, the CJLS officially reopened its deliberations, and several grassroots organizations formed within the movement to advocate for gay ordination

The CJLS eventually received five papers and approved three of those teshuvot (responsa) on December 6, 2006. One teshuvah permitted gay ordination, while the other two opposed it. Because of the CJLS's rule that any approved teshuvah is recognized as valid, even if it contradicts another approved teshuvah, all three now represent official policy options for the movement. Individual institutions, congregations, and rabbis within the movement are free to decide which opinion to adopt:

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Elizabeth Richman

Elizabeth Richman is a rabbinical student at JTS.