In a debate that could serve as a case study for a 2007 edition of James Davison Hunter’s Culture Wars, followers of conservative Judaism have fought long and hard over whether to ordain homosexual rabbis. At the center of the argument lies the Columbia-affiliated Jewish Theological Seminary, the generally-accepted center of Conservative Jewish thought. Although a decision for the broader congregation was made in early December (pro-gay rights), individual institutions (like JTS) have been left to resolve the issue for themselves.

Some mensches at JTS took the matter on and have lobbied for the implementation of the progressive policy, but a verdict hasn’t been made as of late. The newest development is JTS’ cumulation of opinions of Conservative Jews across the US, picked up by the national news. Armin Rosen sent in JTS Chancellor-elect Arnold Eisen’s e-mail with the results of the survey on homosexual ordination (“and other hot-button religious issues”). Rosen writes that the e-mail reflects “remarkably consistent support for gay ordination across the board… whether clergy or other Jewish professionals or lay leaders or students”, and the respondents’ “no-less-striking… commitment to a number of key principles of Conservative Judaism, notably the centrality of halakhah and egalitarianism; the need for a centralized Rabbinical Assembly Law Committee; and opposition to both patrilineal descent and rabbis officiating at mixed marriages.”

In sum, it ain’t over ’till it’s over. Which it’s not.  Text of the e-mail and more commentary after the jump.


Writes Eisen in Wednesday morning’s email:

“I am pleased to present the results of the survey undertaken at our

request by Steven M. Cohen with co-sponsorship by the Rabbinical

Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Our intent was and is to know what Conservative Jews – rabbis and

cantors, educators and executives, board members and students –

think about the matter before us: admitting and ordaining/investing

openly gay and lesbian students in the rabbinical and cantorial

schools. We have all heard guesses – often presented as firm

convictions – about what some or all of these groups believe on

this issue. The survey gives us data on this score, not in order to

have polling dictate policy, but as one factor among many to bear in

mind as we consider a complex and controversial decision that will

undoubtedly have a major impact on the future direction of JTS and

the Conservative Movement. ”

Armin Rosen comments:

“Eisen’s email deliberately sidestepped the issue of a future seminary decision on gay ordination, as the chancellor-elect wrote “each person can decide whether the results have or should have any bearing on what JTS ultimately decides to do.” Eisen, a liberally-inclined lay scholar whose personal philosophy could best be described as a kind of forward-thinking traditionalism, is a supporter of gay ordination, but if he ultimately stalls on making it decision, it could be because of the tension between the movement’s forward-thinking tendencies on the one hand (the “remarkably consistent support for gay ordination”) and its valuation of tradition on the other (the support among respondents for “the centrality of halakhah”). This survey might bring JTS one step closer to gay ordination–but for the time being its impact remains almost as murky as the contradictory Law Committee decision that precipitated it.”