New York, NY, (November 29, 2006) – The eyes of the religious world will be focused on Manhattan’s Upper East Side on December 5th and 6th as the Committee of Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) of the Rabbinical Assembly meets to discuss and debate the subject of Homosexuality and Halakhah, or Jewish Law.
The Rabbinical Assembly is the international professional association of Conservative rabbis. The CJLS is the central halakhic authority for the Conservative movement, which represents more than two million Jews worldwide.
The CJLS last addressed the question of homosexuality in 1992 when a position arguing for the permission of gay and lesbian ordination and commitment ceremonies was rejected. At the same time, several papers arguing against such permission were approved, together with a Consensus Statement that has guided Conservative movement policy to date.
At the meeting on December 5th and 6th, to be held at the Park Avenue Synagogue at 50 East 87th Street at Madison Avenue, five papers will be presented by some of the leading lights of the Conservative movement. All the papers will react and respond to the movement’s current ruling concerning homosexuality. It is anticipated – but not guaranteed – that a vote will take place at the conclusion of the meeting.
A press conference is scheduled to take place at 2:30 pm on December 6th at the synagogue. Members of the press must RSVP ahead of time to Shira Dicker at 917.403.3989 or email@example.com
The authors of the papers being presented at the December meeting are:
* R. Elliot N. Dorff, R. Daniel S. Nevins and R. Avram Reisner
* R. Joel Roth
* R. Myron S. Geller, R. Robert E. Fine and R. David J. Fine
* R. Gordon Tucker
* R. Leonard Levy
Aside from the authors of the papers, who will be called upon to read their papers, the two-day meeting will be open to members of the CJLS, heads of the Conservative movement and a limited number of Rabbinical and Cantorial School students.
The proceedings will be private until the press conference at the conclusion of the meeting on December 6th. A comprehensive press kit – with the history of the CJLS and information on historic votes – is available upon request. The papers of participants will not be available until after the meeting.
The advisory nature of the CJLS necessitates that even if a vote takes place that overturns the current ruling forbidding homosexual behavior, it will be up to each individual rabbi or congregation within the movement to choose to adhere to the new policy…or not, cautioned Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly.
“Since the CJLS is an advisory rather than a judiciary body, its decisions are not binding in a legal or enforceable sense, on members of the Rabbinical Assembly,” explained Rabbi Meyers. “Since the CJLS’s function is to advise Conservative rabbis on matters of Jewish law, there are times when it offers multiple options of interpretation.”
The Conservative movement is greatly concerned with maintaining its bonds to Jewish tradition and halakhic integrity even as it undertakes a topic of great social relevance and controversy – the question of whether homosexuality might be considered normative. The CJLS has met several times over the past three years in consideration of this matter.
The December meeting of the CJLS was chosen as the setting for this decisive gathering when the committee met this past March. Four papers by leading scholars of the movement were presented at that meeting.
In addition to its March and December meetings, the CJLS also typically meets in June and September.
Before March of 2006, the CJLS reviewed the issue at its April 2005 meeting and prior to that, in 1992, when it emphasized the acceptance of gays and lesbians within congregational life yet upheld the biblical injunction against homosexual behavior.
Although there are a range of views currently held by members of the Committee, the spirit of recent discussions is one that seeks to involve gay and lesbian Jews in Conservative Jewish communities in much fuller ways, obliging them to religious and communal responsibilities, and extending to them membership and leadership rights to the greatest extent permitted by halakhah (Jewish law).
At the conclusion of its meeting this past March, the CJLS affirmed a four-point Statement for the Conservative Community, which was originally drafted at the conclusion of the April 2005 meeting. It reads as follows:
* At the heart of the Torah is the concept of holiness (kedushah) expressed in its command, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord am holy.” Flowing from this declaration are policies regulating the spiritual, ritual, social and sexual lives of Jews. Kiddushin, the sanctification of love in heterosexual marriage, is a centerpiece of Jewish life.
* For a variety of reasons, the Jewish ideal of heterosexual marriage is unrealistic for some Jews. We emphatically recognize the human dignity (k’vod habriot) of all such individuals, and invite them to participate within our religious communities.
* Recalling the Torah’s command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord,” we rededicate our movement to making its congregations and educational institutions inclusive and welcoming of all Jews regardless of their marital status or sexual orientation.
* The parameters of sexual conduct for gay and lesbian Jews, their eligibility for admission to rabbinical and cantorial school, and commitment ceremonies remain the subject of a lively debate within the ongoing deliberations of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.
The CJLS is the sole body empowered to deal with, and rule on halakhic issues within the Conservative movement. Chaired by Rabbi Abelson since 1992, it is composed of 25 rabbis and 6 non-rabbinical members who are non-voting and who serve on a rotating basis for a period of at least 5 years. A list of committee members is appended to this release.
The Rabbinical Assembly, founded in 1901, is the international association of Conservative rabbis. The Assembly actively promotes the cause of Conservative Judaism, publishes learned texts, prayer books and works of Jewish interest, and administers the work of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards for the Conservative movement.
The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards has been functioning since 1927 as a guide for the Conservative Movement in matters of Jewish law.
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For further information on this matter or any other matter relating to the Rabbinical Assembly or to the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards or the two-day meeting on December 5th and 6th, or to RSVP for the press conference at 2:30 pm on December 6th at the Park Avenue Synagogue, please contact Shira Dicker at 212.663.4643/917.403.3989 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit www.rabbinicalassembly.org
About the Authors of the Papers
RABBI JOEL ROTH, ordained at JTS in 1968, is the Louis Finkelstein Professor of Talmud and Jewish Law at JTS and Rosh Yeshiva of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
RABBI ELLIOT DORFF, ordained at JTS in 1970, is Rector and the Sol and Anne Dorff Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy at the University of Judaism, and Vice Chairman of the CJLS.
RABBI AVRAM ISRAEL REISNER, ordained at JTS in 1977, is Adjunct Assistant Professor at Baltimore Hebrew University.
RABBI MYRON S. GELLER, ordained at Torah Vadaath in 1959, is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
RABBI ROBERT E. FINE, ordained at JTS in 1973, is Interim Rabbi of Beth Torah in Ocean, New Jersey.
RABBI DAVID J. FINE, ordained at JTS in 1999, is Rabbi of Shaarei Tikvah, the Scarsdale Conservative Congregation in Scarsdale, New York.
RABBI GORDON TUCKER, ordained at JTS in 1975 is Rabbi of Temple Israel Synagogue Center in White Plains, NY
RABBI DANIEL S. NEVINS, ordained at JTS in 1994 is Rabbi of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, MI
RABBI LEONARD LEVY, ordained at JTS in 1984, is Rabbi of The Jewish Center of Forest Hills West in Middle Village, New York
Rabbinical Assembly Committee on Jewish Law and Standards
Chairman: Rabbi Kassel Abelson
Vice Chairman: Rabbi Elliot Dorff
Rabbi Ben Zion Bergman – Univ of Judaism, Bel Air, CA
Rabbi Robert Fine – Cong. B’nai Israel, Rumson, NJ
Hazzan Sheldon Levin* -- Neve Shalom, Metuchen, NJ
Rabbi Aaron Mackler – Duquesne Univ. Theology Dept, Pittsburgh, PA
Rabbi Joseph Prouser – Little Neck Jewish Center, Little Neck, NY
Rabbi Paul Schneider – Krieger Schechter Day School, Baltimore, MD
Dr. Marilyn Wind – Bethesda, MD
Rabbi Jerome Epstein – United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, NYC
Rabbi Susan Grossman – Beth Shalom Congregation, Columbia, MD
Rabbi Vernon Kurtz – North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, Highland Park, IL
Rabbi Avram Reisner – Baltimore, MD
Mr. Mark Rotenberg* -- Minneapolis, MN
Rabbi Gordon Tucker – Temple Israel Center, White Plains, NY
Rabbi Kassel Abelson – Beth El Synagogue, Minneapolis, MN
Rabbi Pamela Barmash – Washington University, St. Louis, MO
Mr. Marc Gary* – Atlanta, GA
Rabbi Myron Geller – Temple Ahavat Achim, Gloucester, MA
Rabbi Paul Plotkin – Temple Beth Am, Margate, FL
Rabbi Joel Roth – The Jewish Theological Seminary, NYC
Mr. Franklin Kreutzer* -- Miami, FL
Rabbi Leonard Levy – The Jewish Theological Seminary, NYC
Rabbi Alan Lucas – Temple Beth Sholom, Roslyn Heights, NY
Rabbi Daniel Nevins – Adat Shalom Synagogue, Farmington Hills, MI
Rabbi Mayer Rabinowitz – The Jewish Theological Seminary, NYC
Rabbi Philip Scheim – Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am, Toronto, Ont., CA
Rabbi Elliot Dorff – University of Judaism, Bel Air, CA
Rabbi Myron Fenster – Roslyn, NY
Rabbi Israel Francus – The Jewish Theological Seminary, NYC
Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl – Beth Tzedec Cong., Toronto, Ont., CA
Ms. Rosalind Judd* -- Albany, NY
Rabbi Loel Weiss – Temple Beth Am, Randolph, MA
Rabbi Melissa Crespy – The Rabbinical Assembly, NYC
Rabbi Perry Raphael Rank – Midway Jewish Center, Syosset, NY
Rabbi Joel Meyers – The Rabbinical Assembly, NYC
* Non-Voting Members
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