Civil Liberties

Conservative Movement Embraces Gay Unions


I'm talking, of course, about the Conservative movement of Judaism, which is confusingly situated left of Orthodoxy and right of Reform and Reconstructionist (both of which have accepted gay rabbis and gay marriage for a decade or so). And it's not really true that the whole movement is accepting gay clergy and gay couples. Rather, such acceptance is now officially an option approved by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly. The law committee is sort of like the Supreme Court, except that it  has more members (25 vs. nine); it interprets halacha (Jewish law) instead of the Constitution; and minority opinions count, as long as they attract a minimum number of votes. Conservative congregations may now choose between three conflicting legal opinions, two of which say gay rabbis and gay unions are halachically forbidden and one of which says they are halachically permitted.

The latter opinion hinges on a narrow interpretation of the biblical commandment, "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination." Under this reading, only anal sex with men is forbidden; oral sex, touching, and so on are OK. (The Bible is silent on the subject of lesbianism.) The law committee rejected attempts to ditch the rule against homosexuality altogether, which is not surprising, since the movement's identity hinges on halachic interpretation, as opposed to outright emendation. Even under the more permissive option, gay congregants are supposed to keep their sexual energies out of unapproved channels. Of course, Conservative Jews are also supposed to keep kosher and observe the Sabbath, but it would be an awfully small movement if those were enforced conditions of membership.