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PostPosted: Thu Dec 21, 2006 3:23 am 
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nerdanel wrote:
However, I am waiting with great anticipation for the December 2006 meeting of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (American, Conservative). For me, Conservative Judaism has always struck the best balance between adherence to tradition and progressiveness into the 21st century. That said, it is lagging on GLBT issues, welcoming queer individuals and allowing full synagogue participation - except that it will not recognize any same-sex marriages (rumor has it that some San Francisco synagogue(s) are acting in defiance of that policy but I can't find anything to confirm it) and requires strict "don't ask don't tell" of its rabbis. Reconsideration of this policy occurred in March 2006 but ended in deadlock, and was thereafter deferred for nine months. What happens in December may determine whether I seriously return to considering conversion, or table the matter indefinitely (i.e. until the next time the denomination considers this issue). To the extent that religion is about a relationship between the individual and the Divine, that is something that I will have to continue on my own; to the extent that religion is about a relationship between the individual and a community, I will not belong to a community that practices anything but absolute acceptance.

Nel- It just occured to me that the meeting of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards took place a couple of weeks ago and I was wondering how you felt about their conclusions and how (if at all) it impacts your feelings about conversion (or any other matters that were brought up over the course of this thread).
I'm sorry I'm coming so very late into this discussion and I know that I may be completely behind the times but I'm very interested in hearing your thoughts.

For those interested, I'll post a brief snippet taken from TheJewishWeek.com about the ruling of the committee regarding the ordination of gay rabbis:

(12/01/2006)
"Homosexual Jews may now be ordained as Conservative rabbis and rabbis now may perform same-sex unions, according to a landmark ruling Wednesday by the movement’s rabbinical committee that interprets Jewish law.

At the same time, the committee also upheld the current ban on gay rabbis or teachers, or other leadership positions.

The split decision, rendered after two days of deliberations here by the 25-member Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, was made possible because five position papers were considered and each needed only six votes to be considered valid.

In the wake of the vote, four socially conservative members of the Conservative movement — Rabbi Joel Roth, Rabbi Mayer Rabinowitz, Rabbi Leonard Levy and Rabbi Joseph Prouser — resigned from the law committee.

A third paper that was approved, by Rabbi Levy, calls for a therapeutic approach in dealing with the causes of homosexuality.

Wednesday’s vote paves the way for the admission of openly gay and lesbian rabbinic and cantorial students at the movement’s flagship seminary, the Jewish Theological Seminary.

It also means, in practical terms, Conservative congregations will decide for themselves whether or not to hire openly gay and lesbian rabbis and cantors...."

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 21, 2006 6:04 am 
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What an odd mishmash of conclusions!!!

Homosexual Jews may be ordained as Conservative rabbis.

But:

The committee upheld the current ban on gay rabbis or teachers.

Huh?

"Therapeutic approach in dealing with the causes of homosexuality"?

Huh?

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 21, 2006 6:31 am 
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I am very pressed for time and will probably be for the next few days. So, I will copy and paste from an email I wrote to a friend a few days ago that succinctly summarizes my thoughts on this decision.

Quote:
You may be surprised to hear that I agree with the decision, although it didn't go as far as I would deem ideal. I do think it struck the right balance for now. If the Committee had gone further, they would have splintered the movement - and as someone who would like to convert Conservative long-term, I don't want people to be shunted into either Orthodox or Reform synagogues. On the other hand - they went far enough that gay people will now be more included, and openly so. Congregants will be invited to religious gay weddings - er, I mean, ersatz commitment ceremonies *rolls eyes* - but synagogues will publically be able to recognize the commitment of gay couples, and I think that will represent a very important step towards acceptance. Even more importantly, openly gay rabbis will have the opportunity to help shape the future of the movement (and I hope that we will see already ordained rabbis come out). So, I think this is as far as they could and should go for now...but that it opens the door for the long-sought takanah legitimizing gay relationships and sexuality in ten, fifteen years, when it will be less likely to split the movement.



How does it affect my feelings about conversion? It does not go far enough for me to seek Conservative conversion at present. [ETA: I am mulling the possibility of a "transitional" Reform conversion, which I would only undertake with the anticipation of converting Conservative at some later point. With all respect to my Reform Jewish friends here and IRL, I do see Reform Judaism as a perfectly valid tradition, but I have reservations about the laxness of their requirements for converts. A Reform conversion would be something I would do to achieve acceptance within the Reform community I belong to and to demonstrate my continued interest in and commitment to Judaism (if I reach a point where I would want to demonstrate that), but it would not represent a full version in my eyes.] It reaffirms the possibility that I may be able to convert within the Conservative movement at some point in the future. It reflects, in my eyes, the commitment of the Conservative movement to preserving tradition while accounting for modern needs and understandings.

Glawariel, I would love to hear your honestly-expressed thoughts. I am very familiar with the Modern Orthodox position on these issues, and you will not give offense if that is your stance. Further, I do not know how many of these discussions (on religion and homosexuality) you have seen at HoF, but I have repeatedly stated that Orthodox Jews are one of the few religious groups who I will not take to task for bigotry or blatant hypocrisy on this issue (though, of course, I continue to disagree with their view. :)) However, if you are either more liberal or conservative than the average modern Orthodox Jew on this issue, I would particularly be interested in hearing where you diverge from the modern Orthodox mainstream. Also, are you familiar with Rabbi Steven Greenberg, and if so, what are your thoughts on (1) his legitimacy as a professedly openly gay and yet purportedly modern Orthodox rabbi, and (2) his view of how the Torah and halacha generally should be understood with respect to gay identity and intimacy?

I have more to say, particularly with respect to gay commitment ceremonies versus kiddushin. I am torn, in that I feel that religious "commitment ceremonies" are as second-class as secular "civil unions" or "domestic partnerships." Moreover, "commitment ceremonies" do not have the weight of thousands of years of Jewish tradition. However, I am deeply concerned by the gendered aspects of kiddushin, particularly where the traditional ritual has connotations of the bride being passed from father to husband. I would not desire such a ceremony for myself regardless of who I was marrying. Same-sex commitment ceremonies in the Conservative tradition have used the language of covenant between equal partners, and to me that is something beautiful. I was discussing this matter with a Conservative rabbi around ten days ago, and we both expressed the hope that the opposite-sex Conservative ceremonies would change to become more like the same-sex ones in this regard. So, how to feel? Happy that same-sex couples are creating a new ritual within the confines of Jewish tradition that, from my personal perspective, is far more reflective of the commitment I hope to make to a woman some day than kiddushin (and generally, far more reflective of the commitment I would love to see Jewish couples making to each other irrespective of their sexual orientation)? Or upset that that new ritual does not have the backing of tradition and is very much created to be separate and unequal? Well, if two Jews can have three opinions between them, then perhaps one prospective Jew can have two opinions? ;)

vison, I'll try to be back to explain the conflicting views. I attended a forum on this issue at a conservative synagogue in Berkeley and have a good working understanding of what the Committee was doing.

(Apparently this is my version of a post written when pressed for time. :roll:)

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But still I rise
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Last edited by nerdanel on Thu Dec 21, 2006 6:47 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 21, 2006 6:33 am 
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I think it's a good idea to leave the congregations as the final arbiters of propriety for their individual group. The people for whom this remains outside their comfort zone will not feel so compelled to challenge what other congregations are doing, and those who are indifferent to sexual orientation can't be prevented from behaving in accordance with their principles either.

Jn

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 21, 2006 6:00 pm 
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Nel- I just wanted to check in and let you know that I 'm working on a more lengthy response to your post. I just want to make sure I'm formulating my thoughts properly and clearly.
This is basically one of those "I need to get it all out in Word before any cut and pasting happens" posts 8) .

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 22, 2006 7:31 pm 
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Ok, here goes...

Regarding the ruling by the Conservative Law Committee, when I first read about it in the NY Times I had a very similar reaction Vison. I don’t think that it is intellectually honest for the governing body of the Conservative movement to take the stance that both are equally legitimate positions because they (the rulings) are in direct opposition to each other. If you are of the opinion that certain homosexual acts are not acceptable within the realm of halakha, it does not follow that you would still be in favor of ordaining rabbis or performing same-sex unions of those who may be in violation of what the halakha clearly states. And on the flip side, if you are of the opinion that there is room within Jewish tradition for such a ruling to be made (in favor of permitting) then why would it make sense to retain a ban that limits homosexual activity? I think that the movement itself needs to take a stand on one side or the other, not both. I actually think that it’s a bit of a cop out to come out with a ruling in favor of both and to leave the decision up to individual congregations. The main voices in any particular movement should, IMHO, state clearly the mission-statement of that movement, as it were, and what positions they take on various issues both straightforward and controversial. That would most likely mean that there would be individuals and congregations that feel very strongly against whatever is said which I think is a reality in any movement- religious, political etc.-but at least a position is taken.

I also think that the implication of the first ruling, that of allowing the ordination of gay rabbis and for rabbis to perform same-sex ceremonies, is that the movement favors the side of permitting homosexual acts (within very broad limits). So even though nothing has yet been stated explicitly expressing that, I think that you don’t need to read too much between the lines to infer that. Or that certainly seems the direction that the Conservative movement is headed. As a result, a splintering of the movement has already begun (in fact, over the past few years there has been a gradual-and sometimes not so-polarization within the movement) . Four of the more conservative members of the committee resigned after this decisions was made which has tremendous implications for those people that align themselves with that side of the Conservative spectrum. How could it be that a movement that is committed to upholding halakha in the way it understands it is willing to sanction something that is pretty clearly problematic according to halakha? That’s another reason why I think that the leaders of the movement need to come out clearly about where they stand. What do they see as the ideal balance? If it is the case that there is a situation where even the most liberal understanding of halakha comes in conflict with something that is felt to be morally unacceptable, which side will be favored? And, again, if certain members of the movement disagree with that general stance they need to try to deal with that and resolve it to their best of their abilities. That has certainly occured and continues to occur even just within the Modern Orthodox community.

Rabbi Joel Roth, a professor of Talmud and Jewish Law at JTS and one of the people that resigned from the committee made some interesting comments in that article in the Jewish Week that I think make a couple of excellent points in this regard:

“This item will test the halachic legitimacy of the Conservative movement… Nothing less than that is at stake.” “…Although Conservative Judaism has a different understanding of halacha than Orthodox Judaism”, Rabbi Roth said, “that does not mean halachic change can be made simply because of the fact that we are Conservative. Just because something is politically correct does not make it halachically correct. It has to be defended within the parameters of the halachic system itself…”

There is also a distinction between ordaining gay rabbinical students and allowing rabbis to perform same-sex unions in that the former directly affects the particular population of rabbinical students in the movement and the latter has more directly concerns the laiety. It is more likely, in my opinion, that a person who has committed him/herself to the rabbinate and to the 4-5 years of in depth study of halakha will be more, for lack of better term, observant of both rulings in that they will be careful to uphold the ban on anal-sex (although, it’s not like JTS is going to have sex-police checking to make sure their openly gay students and alumni are, in fact, being careful about that- nor should they for that matter).

However, there has always been a difference between the practices of the rabbinical/educational leadership and the laypeople in various congregations and communities in that the former will, in many instances, be stricter when it comes to their observance of or the way they interpret halakha. I’m sure this is not the case in all synaguoges and I’m aware that that statement is a generalization but from past conversations with classmates of mine who are very involved in the Conservative community, this is seems to be the general consesus. For example, the rabbi of a community may not him/herself feel comfortable driving to shul on Shabbat but will not prevent his/her congregants from doing so. (By the way, this is often the case in Orthodox shuls as well, where the rabbi is more stringent than many of his congregants.) So the message behind allowing their rabbis to perform same sex ceremonies is that they are comfortable sanctioning behavior that may or may not be permissible from a halakhic perspective. It’s true that not all rabbis will choose to do that, or may only choose to do it in certain circumstances, but by the Committee making an official statement permitting it, they are including whatever decisions are made by whichever Conservative rabbi. So either they are fully aware of that fact and are comfortable with it, which is a very significant statement, or they’re being very naïve. And it’s not like the ruling has the added stipulation that rabbis must make the couple sign some sort of legal document saying that they will not engage in anal-sex, which, again, would be wholly inappropriate to say the least.

The article in the Jewish Week also noted an interesting, I guess I would call it a sociological reality within the student body of JTS that could also suggest in which direction the Conservative movement is headed on this issue:

“He [Rabbi Roth] suggested that “most young people” are intolerant of the current ban on gay and lesbian leadership and believe their inclusion to be a “moral imperative.”?He noted that after the Conservative movement’s Law Committee voted to ordain women in 1983, its rabbinical school in Manhattan set up an egalitarian minyan in addition to the one it had maintained since the seminary was established in 1886. The non-egalitarian minyan “survived 10 years until the upstairs egalitarian minyan claimed that any Conservative Jew who was not egalitarian was immoral and [therefore] delegitimate. The student body to this day virtually reviles students who go to the non-egalitarian minyan, and if it was up to most of them, it would not exist because it is [considered] immoral.”?“It will only take two years on this issue,” Rabbi Roth predicted, before critics of the permissive position on gays lose out.”

At the end of the day, the Conservative Movement will go wherever it will go and it will remain to be seen how this issue will develop. Chancellor-Elect Arnold Eisen has yet to make the ultimate decision on the matter and will not officially do so until the end of January.

I think that the thing that I really don’t understand is how the committee could come out with 2 rulings that, to me, are completely conflicting opinions and say that both are equally acceptable within the realm of halakha.

Just as an aside, I want to point out that, to my knowledge, the Orthodox view on what is halakhically permissible in this regard is different and much more limited but I don’t want to go into any further detail until I look up actual halakhic discussions on the matter and can state things with more accuracy and clarity.

I hope that what I said here was not offensive to anyone. If it was please know that it was certainly not my intention.

In regard to your other questions, I’m getting to them but I felt this post was lengthy enough and there’s only so much time I can spend writing at Starbucks in one sitting (even a venti latte can only take you so far). And don’t worry, I’m sure that there is much more length to come ;).

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 22, 2006 9:26 pm 
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Glowy, that was not offensive at all. Thank you for taking the time to write that up (and again, I am so glad that you are posting here more :)). Based on my understanding of the history of the Conservative movement, I do not agree with you that the CJLS decision was intellectually dishonest - at least not more so than the Conservatives' approach to Jewish law in the first place. That said, I certainly understand why you feel as you do. I will definitely be back to respond at greater length, but it may be as late as Mon/Tues before I can; I am traveling cross-country this weekend and will have limited access to Internet. If you do want to post an answer to my other questions before I respond to this post, that's fine, or if you want to wait for me to respond, that's fine as well.

One final comment for now: you are absolutely correct that the resignation of the four rabbis who did resign is of substantial significance for the future of the CJLS and possibly for the Conservative movement's ultimate stance on this issue.

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Oh, you will see me thrive
Can't write my story
I'm beyond the archetype
I won't just conform
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When, when the fire's at my feet again
And the vultures all start circling
They're whispering, "You're out of time,"
But still I rise
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 05, 2007 6:08 pm 
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Nel-I'm sorry this response was so long in coming. Better late than never, right ? 8)
nerdanel wrote:
Glawariel, I would love to hear your honestly-expressed thoughts. I am very familiar with the Modern Orthodox position on these issues, and you will not give offense if that is your stance. Further, I do not know how many of these discussions (on religion and homosexuality) you have seen at HoF, but I have repeatedly stated that Orthodox Jews are one of the few religious groups who I will not take to task for bigotry or blatant hypocrisy on this issue (though, of course, I continue to disagree with their view. :)) However, if you are either more liberal or conservative than the average modern Orthodox Jew on this issue, I would particularly be interested in hearing where you diverge from the modern Orthodox mainstream. Also, are you familiar with Rabbi Steven Greenberg, and if so, what are your thoughts on (1) his legitimacy as a professedly openly gay and yet purportedly modern Orthodox rabbi, and (2) his view of how the Torah and halacha generally should be understood with respect to gay identity and intimacy?

Modern Orthodox Judaism is its own huuuuuuuuuge spectrum such that you could have 2 people who would identify themselves as Modern Orthodox but whose observance of halakha and even to some extent ideological beliefs are competely different. So I’m not exactly sure how my beliefs differ from the position that you are familiar with. I would probably identify myself as more Centrist but, again, that is a very vague term and I’d be hardpressed to define what that means in and of itself as opposed to in relation to others who do and believe x and y. (Abudantly clear, right? :blackeye:)

My position is as follows: I am of the opinion that homosexual behavior is in violation of the prohibition stated in Leviticus 18:22 and is therefore against halakha. However, that does not mean that someone who identifies as a homosexual is automatically in violation of that prohibition. I think that there is a difference between how one identifies him/herself and the practices one chooses to engage in. However, I do recognize that that would severely limit the lifestyle of someone who identifies themselves as a homosexual and also wants to live their lives in strict accordance with halakha. I am very conflicted on this issue because I can recognize (although cannot appreciate) the difficult and unfortunate predicament that this puts many people in and that a certain amount of sacrifice is required in this situation. I am reluctant to use words like “fair (or not)” or “unjust” or “immoral” because these are judgements that I’m not willing to make when it comes to how I view halakha. At the end of the day, there are things that I feel I will never fully understand or appreciate and that even if they seem incongruous with my natural inclination that is a choice that I have made and continue to make by choosing to live and identify as an Othordox Jew.

I’m not sure where I stand on whether homosexuality is inherent in one’s nature or whether it is a behavior that develops over time and can therefore be “unlearned”. I am extremely uncomfortable with the suggestions of some sort of behavior modification therapy to discourage homosexual behavior. I do feel that people should have the right and freedom to identify themselves in the most honest and personal way that they choose but with the understanding that there may be limitations to how they can live that particular lifestyle in the context of halakhic observance. Again, that is a choice that they will have to make. (Just as an aside, this concept comes up alot in the context of femminism and Orthodox Judaism)

There is also the unfortunate situation of stigma associated with someone who lives as openly gay. That is a problem that I’m not sure how to solve but can manifest itself so innapropriately that something clearly needs to be done about it. A few years ago I saw an extremely interesting film called “Trembling before G-d” which is a documentary about homosexuality primarily in the Orthodox community and I found it very enlightening as well as quite disheartening. It really made me aware of the struggle of so many men and women who are trying to resolve their desire to live honestly and openly as homosexuals but also within the realm of halakha. Not long after I gave a speech of persuasion (as the assignment was called) in my university speech class about how I believed that it was the responsibility of every Orthodox Jew (and certainly Jews in general) to go out and see this movie. It is so important that they know and understand that this is a reality that should not be ignored or dismissed.

I think that, in theory, if there is someone who is known to identify as homosexual in the community there is no reason that he should not get kibbudim, or honors, in shul like getting called to the Torah during services (I say “he” there because women are not called to the Torah in mainstream Orthodox shuls where the sensitivity may not be to such a strong extent as in more liberal congregations) unless that person is known to openly engage in homosexual behavior in which case I’m not sure it would be appropriate. However, what makes things complicated in that situation is that no one is going to go up to that person and ask them whether or not they are a practicing homosexual. I think that often the assumption is that if someone is openly gay they also engage in homosexual behavior or are willing to do so should the opportunity arise, which obviously is not always the case. On the other hand, an interesting question would be if a shul is willing to give an aliyah to a person who openly violates shabbat, like if there is a wedding or bar mitzvah in the family, I think that it would be inconsistent to then deny a practicing homosexual that very same honor under those circumstances. But I also feel that this is a very complicated situation and if I was the leader of a congregation, I’m not sure how I would deal with the various issues. I think that if I was in a position to offer council to someone who came to me and told me that they were a non-practicing homosexual and then asked how they should proceed within the context of the community I would most likely suggest that even though it is not ideal the safest way to go would be to not come out openly. Something like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. Even though it is by no means ideal (and in this context I would say unfair) and certainly unfortunate, it would prevent the potential for unpleasant confrontations and awkwardness by fellow congregants.

I am somewhat familiar with Rabbi Steven Goldberg but not as much with his understanding and positions on homosexuality and halakha.

I am curious about what the Modern Orthodox positions are that you are familiar with on this topic. You could probably tell me more accurately how my positions differ. It is my assumption (and certainly hope) that people who identify as Modern Orthodox are more sensitive to the issues that arise when it comes to dealing with homosexuality in the context of halakha.

I hope that was clear and helpful in some way. By the way, welcome back. How was your cross country trip?

Also- I hope that this is not taking this thread too off topic. I'm not exactly sure that this is the way you intended for this thread to go.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 05, 2007 7:49 pm 
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Glowy,

I again apologize for the (relatively) short response, particularly after such thorough, thoughtful responses from you. Right now, I'm swamped IRL, but I will prioritize returning to this discussion as soon as I have more time to post. [ETA Well, given how burned out I am with writing right now, this came out much longer than expected, but still shorter than would be thorough. Huh.]

First, your post is very consistent with my understanding of a centrist to liberal Modern Orthodox position. I particularly like your emphasis on choice - your choice to live and continue to identify as a modern Orthodox Jew, and the choice that each (Jewish) person must make whose identity or ideology seems partially incongruent with halacha, such as a feminist or gay Orthodox Jew. In essence, then, each of us must ascertain whether our worldviews and identities are compatible with halacha (and if they are not, whether we are willing to modify said worldviews and identities); based on our conclusions, we must make the choice whether or not to identify as Orthodox Jews. If we choose to, then we largely must accept halacha as it stands today; and if we choose not to, then why should we have a problem with others who have made a different choice? (Of course, from an Orthodox perspective, there is a critical distinction here - someone like me, who was not born Jewish, has absolute latitude to decide whether to convert to (Orthodox) Judaism and live a halachic lifestyle; someone who was born Jewish, whether gay or feminist or anything else, would be viewed as obligated to keep the commandments from bar/bat mitzvah age forward.)

I grappled with these questions years ago, in the related context of feminism. I thought there was much that was beautiful about Orthodox Judaism, as a loosely-defined feminist. In the end, I was simply unable to resolve the differences between my desire for gender equality and my reservations about most gender-based roles with the Orthodox stance of theoretically equal but unfortunately (for me) all too separate roles for men and women. In the process of grappling with these questions, of seeking insight from people with whom I will never agree about gender issues...I reached a strange calm regarding Orthodox Judaism...that it was okay for me to appreciate many things about the tradition while accepting that I could never fit within it myself. Also, as a non-Jew, I have never experienced the least pressure from anyone Orthodox to (1) convert (2) agree with Orthodox philosophy or (3) to do anything at all, even in order to share in the World to Come, other than to conduct my life as a basically ethical human being. Given my experience of consistently receiving respect for my life and lifestyle choices from Orthodox Jews (including those to whom I have come out as gay), I find myself easily able to respect the choices and beliefs of Orthodox Jews even where I have reached different conclusions for myself. I guess this paragraph is really me thinking out loud, trying to understand why I read your most recent post and felt completely at peace with it, whereas I would be deeply troubled by some of the same ideas if expressed by adherents to certain other worldviews than yours.

Now, I really must go, but a couple of other reactions:
1. As you know, the prohibition in Leviticus extends only to male homosexual behavior (some would argue, only to anal intercourse between males.) The prohibition on female homosexual behavior is a post-Tanakh rabbinic prohibition that is far less clear. From your standpoint as an observant Orthodox Jew, would you see any difference between a male and a female "practicing" Jewish homosexual? Also, how would you perceive a male or a female Jewish homosexual couple who abstained from prohibited forms of intimacy? (again, there is some debate about exactly what those are, but let's assume for the sake of argument that we have a same-sex couple who is in love, but celibate. And, I have known at least one such Jewish couple personally, so it's not entirely an abstract hypothetical.)
2. Phrasing the question as whether or not homosexuality is something that can be "learned" or "unlearned" reduces gay identity, I think, to a mere matter of sexual behavior - something that I think is myopic. I can count my physical "encounters" with other women on one hand, and those less-than-a-handful of nights would only be a fraction of the picture if I was to explain what it meant to me to be gay. I think that sexuality affects, at the least, how you look at and relate to both men and women, how you love both platonically and romantically...it seems like only one fraction of it is what's "done behind closed doors," even for people who are not political about their identities (which I most certainly am ;)). And, in fact, this is my biggest disagreement with Orthodox Judaism - that (as best as I can tell, it only recognizes one sexual orientation, heterosexuality, and sees anything else as a mere deviant behavior - a conceptualization which, as I said, strikes me as myopic.

Okay, going now...for real.

_________________
I won't just survive
Oh, you will see me thrive
Can't write my story
I'm beyond the archetype
I won't just conform
No matter how you shake my core
'Cause my roots, they run deep, oh

When, when the fire's at my feet again
And the vultures all start circling
They're whispering, "You're out of time,"
But still I rise
This is no mistake, no accident
When you think the final nail is in, think again
Don't be surprised, I will still rise


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 22, 2007 7:03 pm 
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Once again, Nel, I'm sorry for the delay in posting my response.
nerdanel wrote:
1. As you know, the prohibition in Leviticus extends only to male homosexual behavior (some would argue, only to anal intercourse between males.) The prohibition on female homosexual behavior is a post-Tanakh rabbinic prohibition that is far less clear. From your standpoint as an observant Orthodox Jew, would you see any difference between a male and a female "practicing" Jewish homosexual?

No, I would not see any practical difference. Even though there is a difference in the type of prohibition (Rabbinic vs. Biblical), at the end of the day a command is still being violated. A different example of this distinction is the fact that not eating chicken with anything dairy is a Rabbinic extension of the Biblical prohibition of not to eat meat with dairy. Even though that is the case, I’m not going to be any less stringent about not eating a chicken and cheese sandwich. Or, there are a number of actions the performance of which are prohibited on Shabbat that are Rabbinic extensions of the Biblical commands but from a practical perspective they should not be treated any more lightly than the Biblical prohibitions.

There are circumstances when there are practical ramifications for the distinction between Rabbinic and Biblical commands. For example, during the times of Jewish Courts, the punishment for violating a Biblical command was much more severe than that of the Rabbinic vioation. In terms of modern day ramifications an example would be in cases of safek, doubt, about whether something is actually forbidden, if it has to do with a Biblical prohibition then we are more stringent and if it has to do with a Rabbinic prohibition then we are more lenient. It is true that a Rabbinic prohibition allows for more flexibility and legal loop-holes in certain cases than a Biblical one and that there is little to no wiggle room in the latter. However, one has to be extremely careful when considering and implementing those leniencies and should not do so (IMO) without at least consulting a Rabbinic authority.

nerdanel wrote:
Also, how would you perceive a male or a female Jewish homosexual couple who abstained from prohibited forms of intimacy? (again, there is some debate about exactly what those are, but let's assume for the sake of argument that we have a same-sex couple who is in love, but celibate. And, I have known at least one such Jewish couple personally, so it's not entirely an abstract hypothetical.)

In all honesty, I think that I would feel an initial awkwardness however there would also be a significant amount of admiration as well. I think that it takes alot of courage and strength to be able to live in a way one feels is the most honest despite societal pressure to do otherwise and to also remain committed to the observance halacha even though it means restricting that lifestyle.

But, again, to be completely honest I think that this situation is very complicated. If there was the case of a heterosexual couple who is in love that was living together unmarried but remaining completely celibate I would not find that halachically acceptable at all. They would most certainly be in violation of the prohibition of yichud, that of a man and woman being in a closed space alone together. And I think that it would be pretty naïve to think that they weren’t being physical with each other at all, or that that physical activity wasn’t romantic in nature (although I guess it’s not a total impossibility but most likely an improbability) which is in violation of the prohibition of negiah, that of not engaging in any physical activity that’s romantic in nature (Just as an aside, both of these prohibitions are, to the best of my knowledge, Rabbinic).

Technically speaking, the halacha only restricts these behaviors between unmarried men and women but if there is a homosexual couple living in the exact same way can I honestly say that one is ok and one is not? On the other hand, these restrictions only apply when the couple isn’t married, but a homosexual union is not recognized by halacha as a valid kiddushin so if a homosexual couple should be held accountable for the same pre-marriage prohibitions as a heterosexual couple then it would seem that they would never technically be considered a married couple which would then permit those activities. I’m really just thinking out loud but the more that I think about it the more complicated I am finding it to answer your question and I want to try to answer it as honestly as I can.

nerdanel wrote:
I have more to say, particularly with respect to gay commitment ceremonies versus kiddushin. I am torn, in that I feel that religious "commitment ceremonies" are as second-class as secular "civil unions" or "domestic partnerships." Moreover, "commitment ceremonies" do not have the weight of thousands of years of Jewish tradition. However, I am deeply concerned by the gendered aspects of kiddushin, particularly where the traditional ritual has connotations of the bride being passed from father to husband. I would not desire such a ceremony for myself regardless of who I was marrying. Same-sex commitment ceremonies in the Conservative tradition have used the language of covenant between equal partners, and to me that is something beautiful. I was discussing this matter with a Conservative rabbi around ten days ago, and we both expressed the hope that the opposite-sex Conservative ceremonies would change to become more like the same-sex ones in this regard. So, how to feel? Happy that same-sex couples are creating a new ritual within the confines of Jewish tradition that, from my personal perspective, is far more reflective of the commitment I hope to make to a woman some day than kiddushin (and generally, far more reflective of the commitment I would love to see Jewish couples making to each other irrespective of their sexual orientation)? Or upset that that new ritual does not have the backing of tradition and is very much created to be separate and unequal?

I was curious about something that you mentioned here about tradition. A same sex commitment ceremony is a huge departure from Jewish tradition in and of itself considering that halacha does not recognize a same sex union. If that is the case then why is it so important that the commitment ceremony have the weight of thousands of years of Jewish tradition? I think that even if the ceremony looked almost exactly like kiddushin it would still not have the weight of tradition on its side. Further, kiddushin is not a matter of tradition rather it is the halachic means by which a couple is considered married. It seems to me that the more the nature of the kiddushin ceremony is changed, even in terms of making it more equal, the farther one moves from tradition. So at what point would you see the connection to tradition as broken if so much has already been changed?

In a more general sense, I’m wondering how you would view the role of tradition, in and of itself and in how it relates to halacha, in regard to your initial question of what is Jewishness. Should and could some semblance of tradition be maintained in situations where halacha is either being pushed beyond its limits or completely put aside? Or should they be viewed as completely separate entities existing and evolving independent of each other?

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 22, 2007 10:53 pm 
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Glowy --

A comprehensive, thought-provoking post that was worth the wait. Your timing is auspicious, as I was again thinking about some of these issues after a social event yesterday. Unfortunately, I again cannot respond to both of your points, so I'm going to focus, stream-of-consciousness, on the second one, and hope to respond to the first (about my celibate same-sex couple hypothetical) later. (Knowing my track record, it may be that you respond to me before I return to address your other point.)

Yesterday, I was discussing (at a housewarming party, of all things!) the legitimacy of the Conservative movement with a bunch of Reform Jews (maybe 70% gay/30% straight.) Most of them suggested the all-or-nothing approach that you seem to endorse - either follow halacha entirely, as the Orthodox do, or take a wholly permissive approach, as the Reform movement does.

This dichotomy often seems appealing. For instance, at the same party, I got into a passionate exchange about the morality of organ donation with a lesbian friend (born Jewish). I feel very, very strongly about my status as an organ donor; indeed, I feel it is a moral imperative for eligible donors to donate their organs upon their deaths. Both when I was raised Catholic, and now with Judaism, I find it mindboggling that religions that place such a high value on preservation of life (sometimes even extending that valuation to those who are not yet born) can take any stance other than encouraging their members to save lives by becoming organ donors in every circumstance. And yet they do. As regards my life, I reject this stance with the utmost fervor. As I stated to my friend yesterday, if I determine that I cannot convert to Judaism (however I end up understanding that concept) without making a commitment not to donate my organs at death, I will decline to seek conversion for that reason alone. She, in turn, felt very strongly as a Jew that she could not violate the proscription (rabbinic, again - right?) against organ donation. (My understanding is that it is a qualified proscription and that some forms of donation are permitted, but let's assume it is absolute, as she contended, for the purpose of discussion.)

That exchange caused me to realize two things.
First, I am not absolutely certain what I am seeking from Judaism (the answer may prove to be "nothing," even after all these years), but I can affirmatively state that I am not seeking to cede my right/duty as an adult agnostic to make my own determinations about what conduct I believe to be moral or immoral. Right now, I am looking to Judaism for "non-binding" ethical and spiritual guidance on how I should live my life. It may be that conversion is unnecessary to receive that guidance.

Second, though, one question was on the tip of my tongue during my exchange with my friend (though I did not ask) - "How can you view a rabbinic prohibition on organ donation as irrevocably binding (even where it could mean a missed opportunity to save life), but repeatedly and openly (even proudly) disregard the rabbinic prohibition on same-sex sexual behavior?" It seems clear that as to the latter, she is claiming the right to make an independent moral judgment.

And there's the rub - the proverbial slippery slope - it seems to me that we must either follow halacha unquestioningly or make independent moral judgments as to each aspect of halacha. It seems disingenuous to me to make independent moral judgments as to some aspects of halacha (e.g. driving to shul on Shabbat or homosexual behavior) but then cede the duty to make moral judgments back to halacha as to everything else. And that is the very raison d'etre of conservative Judaism - to offer an option to centrists who cannot or will not follow every aspect of halacha, but are not assertive enough to reduce halacha in their lives to the level of "non-binding persuasive authority."

Now, I find that that is exactly the role that I want for halacha in my life at present. I want it to inform my life but not to dictate it. And it seems to me that if that is what I want from Judaism, the most intellectually honest thing to do is to remain within the tradition without converting. As it stands, I am free to draw whatever benefit I will from halacha as a Gentile, but I am not commanded by halacha to behave in any specific way. If that is my level of comfort and commitment, then why should I make a greater commitment to Judaism that I might not be well-positioned to honor? And if I am making no greater commitment by a Reform conversion than agreeing to be mindful of halacha in a non-binding, non-absolute way, then why is conversion necessary at all?

When I began this odyssey into Judaism, now in its eighth year, community membership and belonging were very important to me. I wanted to be included in this tradition that I respected so much, and I wanted the external trappings and recognition that come with formal conversion. When most people my age were fantasizing about the perfect prom night, I was dreaming of what it would be like to immerse myself in the mikveh at my conversion or wrap myself in a tallit for the first time (liberal Judaism, remember :)). I remember well vividly the intensity of that longing.

I also remember that it was tinged with angst. Either I could convert Orthodox, and as a woman, not receive a lot of what I felt would be meaningful - from donning the tallit to being called to the Torah for my first aliyah -- or, I could have a liberal conversion and not even be recognized as Jewish by the entire community. At times, I wished that I was a man so that I could convert Orthodox without these concerns. So much of my initial foray into Judaism was concerned with the recognition, validation, approval, and blessing of other people, of external sources.

Now, I feel that I do not need that external validation with respect to my spirituality. I do not see Judaism as a group in which I am seeking membership (not that I ever quite viewed it in that way), but rather as a tradition from which I am seeking to learn. I see the Jewish people as a group for which I will vocally express my respect and support, but it seems...less important than it once did, whether I express that support from within or without the group.

I think that these ideas carry over to the kiddushin/commitment ceremony context. As I have explained (in a very roundabout way), I am beginning to find the notion of maintaining a "semblance of tradition" without actually maintaining tradition to be intellectually dishonest. From that perspective, I am not sure whether it is important that same-sex ceremonies bear the weight of tradition. In asserting a moral equivalence between gay and straight sexuality, I am assertively substituting my moral judgment for that made by halacha. (I have heard some revisionist interpretations of halacha that suggest that gay sexuality is not de facto halachically proscribed; I am not sure how persuasive these are. In any case, I am actually going one step further and suggesting that the final moral determination is mine to make, even if my determination contradicts halacha (which, again, I am taking as merely persuasive authority.)) Since that is admittedly what I am doing, it seems disingenuous to turn around and say that same-sex ceremonies should be brought under the chuppah (as it were) of halacha. How can I simultaneously deny the validity of a tradition's moral judgment and insist that my new 21st century moral judgment be accorded the weight of (in my words) "thousands of years of Jewish tradition"? That seems grossly inconsistent, and I thank you for calling me on it. (Interestingly, the same analysis would hold true for many issues concerning the ritual involvement of women in Judaism.)

I know, however, where my interest in a same-sex commitment ceremony/kiddushin originated from. It is similar to my interest in the social trappings of a recognized religious conversion. I think it is a human thing, to want others to recognize and validate and honor the most intense feelings of your life. Any of us who have had the experience of discovering and reveling in the richness of a new religious tradition know how intense and overpowering those feelings can be. It is only natural to want to commit to that tradition in a socially understood manner, and to receive the recognition of those who also hold that tradition in high esteem. I have never been in love, but my understanding from various couples is that there is often an analogous desire (definitely not shared by all couples!) - to express one's commitment to one's beloved in a socially understood manner (this is often called "marriage") and to have that commitment recognized by one's family and friends, and in a broader sense, one's religion and society.

It seems as though these external forms of recognition, though meaningful and valuable, tend to obscure the focus of each endeavor. The focus of a religious conversion must of necessity be on God, on one's own heart, on one's internal spirituality. Similarly, the focus of a marriage must be on your relationship with your life partner and vice versa. Conveniently, these are things over which we have at least some control. I have begun to perceive a tendency, both within the gay community and the contingent of would-be liberal Jewish converts, to focus excessively on something not wholly within our control...the validation (or lack thereof) of spiritual or marital commitments by other people. I don't mean to trivialize the importance of validation, as I think that desiring validation is a fundamental part of being human ... but at some level it seems in each of these cases to be beside the point.

All of this by way of saying, stream of consciousness, that I think that my long-term answer to the question "What is Jewishness?" may have very little to do with any human ratification of Jewish identity, whether rabbinic or lay. I realize that this is a non-Orthodox thing to say, but then, I've never been accused of being Orthodox. ;)

_________________
I won't just survive
Oh, you will see me thrive
Can't write my story
I'm beyond the archetype
I won't just conform
No matter how you shake my core
'Cause my roots, they run deep, oh

When, when the fire's at my feet again
And the vultures all start circling
They're whispering, "You're out of time,"
But still I rise
This is no mistake, no accident
When you think the final nail is in, think again
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 25, 2007 4:42 pm 
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Nel, I marvel at your ability to respond so articulately and with such clarity (and so quickly :oops:) :bow:. I appreciate your willingness to be so open and honest with me.

It will take me a bit more time (and numerous venti lattes :help: :P ) to formulate a complete response, but just to briefly comment on your organ donation comment - you may be interested in taking a look at this website www.hods.org which is for the Halachic Organ Donation Society. While there isn't complete flexibility, there are situations when it would be halachically ok to donate one's organs. You are right that Judaism (and halacha) places a very high value on preserving human life. The main issue when it comes organ donation (to the best of my knowledge- I've learned these halachot numerous times in the past but that was a number of years ago) is figuring out when exactly is the time of death according to halacha. The primary concern is that the donor is not yet considered dead and by taking their organs too early you are causing the death of that person. The website is very comprehensive and may clarify halacha's approach to this very complicated (there's a shocker) issue.

I hope this is helpful. I'll be back... 8)

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 25, 2007 4:50 pm 
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Glawariel wrote:
Nel, I marvel at your ability to respond so articulately and with such clarity (and so quickly :oops:) :bow:.


Don't we all!

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 29, 2007 11:10 pm 
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nerdanel wrote:
Right now, I am looking to Judaism for "non-binding" ethical and spiritual guidance on how I should live my life. It may be that conversion is unnecessary to receive that guidance...Now, I find that that ["non-binding persuasive authority"] is exactly the role that I want for halacha in my life at present. I want it to inform my life but not to dictate it. And it seems to me that if that is what I want from Judaism, the most intellectually honest thing to do is to remain within the tradition without converting.

Bold Mine

Nel, I’m not sure what you mean by this, particularly when you refer to halacha as a “non-binding persuasive authority”. I think that what I don’t understand is why, if there are so many halachot that you fundamentally disagree with, like those pertaining the restrictions put on the role of women and homosexuality or even, to a lesser extent, those regarding organ donation, then why would you want halacha to, in your words, “inform your life” at all? Is it more a function of the spirit of the halacha, or the reasoning behind it? But even if that is the case, there are certain halachot where you have said that you disagree with even the reasoning behind them like those pertaining to sexuality. What are you referring to when you speak about your desire to “remain within the tradition”? I can see the argument (although do not agree with it) in favor of completely differentiating between tradition and halacha and choosing to live one’s life in accordance with one over (even at the expense of) the other. Is that what you are referring to?

I think that it is easier for me to understand the idea of looking to Judaism for “non-binding ethical and spirtual guidance” as opposed to halacha in particular but I’m still not fully sure what that means. This, too, most likely has to do with the fact that I have a hard time compartmentalizing the different aspects of Judaism into their own categories existing completely independent of each other. In what way do you see it influencing how you live your life? How are you defining the difference between Jewish values, Jewish tradition and Jewish Law (and I certainly think that they are different one from the other) and what do you see yourself learning from each one? Do you see there being a confluence between them at all and if so does that change how you would view each of them individually? (I feel like I’m not being clear at all. But it all makes sense in my head so there you go :roll:)

While I veiw all three (values, tradition and halacha) as distinct in and of themselves, I am unable to completely compartmentalize them. I think that they integrally connected in how I live my life as an Orthodox Jew and that ideally they should not be viewed as separate entities. What makes things, let’s say interesting, are the addition of other factors that are important to how I identify myself as a person living in a democratic society in the 21st century and the modern day values associated with living in such a way. One of the major challenges of being Modern Orthodox is trying to strike a “comfortable” balance or relationship between the 2 which is not always that simple and often, as I mentioned in an earlier post, a choice has to be made.

I also feel the progress is a natural part of the halachic system and so halacha and the way that it is practiced evovles over time. However, I do think that there are constraints on that progress and that there is a fine line between what is and what is not sanctioned by halacha and it is most definitely a slippery slope. For example, when it comes to advancements in the role of women in Judaism, I am very uncomfortable with certain practices that are done within the more liberal circles of Orthodox Judasim. Interestingly, while in some cases I feel like there are those that are pushing the halachic envelope too far, in other cases it is not as a halachic issue but rather a tradition issue. Meaning, what they are doing is technically not prohibited according to halacha but completely disregards tradition. This, to me, is an example of favoring either halacha or tradition at the expense of the other. I don’t think that you could have one without the other. I feel like there is a risk that a completely different brand of Judaism will be created and the connection to the past will be completely lost all in the name of progress.

However, I have benefited from what were radical changes that were made in the past. For example, for generations women did not learn and for the most part were forbidden to learn torah (although there are exceptions in the Talmud like Bruriah and later the daughters of Rashi, the famous commentator on the Torah and Talmud). However, over the last century, it has become much more mainstream for women to learn torah in depth including Tanach, Talmud and Jewish Law (the idea of women formally being taught torah in schools was a radical development in the early 20th century. It was an extremely fascinating historical event in the context of Orthodox Judaism). I should note that most right wing Orthodox communities would not be comfortable with their women learning Talmud, but Tanach and Halacha is mostly fine. I spent the last 3 years learning full time in a program designed specifically for women to do in depth study of mainly Talmud and Halacha (we did some Tanach as well but it wasn’t a main part of the curriculum). I’m really glad that I was able to have that opportunity to learn at Torah on such a high level. But it was one of those things that stemmed from what was a huge departure from what had been done for generations. Does that mean that I’m a hypocrite? I would like to think not but I will be the first to admit that drawing the line between acceptable and not acceptable changes is sometimes difficult to do.

Something else that I wanted to ask is where you would put belief in G-d in answering the question of what is Jewishness, if at all? So much of the discussion has been about halacha and practice, but what about belief? Does that impact the influence you see Judaism having on your life? You mentioned in your post that you are an agnostic, so how would that play out in this context? Again, for me, belief in G-d is extremely important in how I identify myself as an Orthodox Jew. I reaffirm it everyday, twice a day. I understand that what it means to believe in G-d differs from person to person as is how they view it in the context of their belief system and their religious observance. I hope that it is not too personal of a question and by no means should you feel like you need to address it.

I hope that your feeling better, and if not now, that your stomach will calm itself down soon. :)

By the way, all of the questions I asked/points that I raised in this post are open to other participants in the thread should you be interested.

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 30, 2007 12:34 am 
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Speaking for myself, I am content to listen and learn. :)

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 11, 2007 8:41 pm 
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I don't have anything else to say on homosexuality and Judaism for this reason. From a progressive Jewish standpoint, homosexuality is one manifestation of human sexuality which is included within the Jewish people's covenant with God. From an Orthodox Jewish standpoint, homosexuality is not even a natural manifestation of sexuality (some contend there is not even such thing as a homosexual as opposed to homosexual behavior.) It is unavoidable that I will not be accepting the Orthodox framework for my own life; I think I would seriously consider suicide if I felt that the only choice was the loveless, sexless nonexistence (or lifelong lie) that Orthodoxy prescribes for my kind. So really, what "halacha" in an Orthodox sense dictates is only useful to me as an abstract intellectual exercise. To the extent that "halacha" refers to a binding legal framework for Jews, I will never recognize it as validly binding in my own life, because halacha itself informs me as a non-Jew that I am not required to do so. This means I can focus my attention on the meaning of progressive Judaism.

So, I want to divest this thread, at least for now, of its gay specialization, and return it to certain hard questions on which it has previously touched, and in which certain of our members are invested.
- I'll be blunt - question one is tough: Is Reform Judaism an authentic expression of Judaism? Is a framework in which one is free to assess the meaningfulness of a mitzvah to one's own life and accept or reject it accordingly, an expression of religion as opposed to lifestyle? Is one even living a Jewish lifestyle if one does such a thing? And is there a difference, in terms of Jewishness, between a born Jew who does this, a convert within the Reform tradition who does this, and a Gentile within the Reform tradition who does this?
- Assuming the authenticity of the Reform framework, a hypothetical. One (set of) mitzvot that DOES strike me as meaningful to my own life is the framework of kashrut. I believe that keeping kashrut is ethically superior to not doing so (mainly for humanitarian reasons.) Also, I sincerely believe that the natural endpoint of kashrut is vegetarianism, and I believe that vegetarianism is ethically superior to meat-eating. (Let's not get into a discussion about the substantive merits of that position here - we can start another thread about vegetarians if we need to. Just accept for this hypothetical that that is the conclusion I have reached after Jewishly-informed soul-searching and synagogue attendance.) So, according to my understanding of Reform Judaism, I would be obliged to keep kosher because it IS relevant to my life and sense of morality. But I don't want to! I enjoy shellfish, like red meat, and honestly like meat and cheese together. I also don't want to restrict myself to eating kosher meat because it's inconvenient for going out to eat and enjoying nicer restaurants. Am I, then, doing something wrong by not keeping kosher if I convert? If yes, is a Reform Jew who has honestly come to the conclusion that keeping kosher is not relevant to her 21st century life, not doing something wrong? Two Jews, identical actions, one acting wrongly and one not? I'm not sure what Reform Judaism teaches on this point, and I need to educate myself more about what I would be committing to do as a Reform convert? (See, some people accuse Reform Jews of "picking and choosing," but it seems much more complicated to me than that.)

For me, the personal ultimate question is: If I am non-Jewish, but go to synagogue, do tikkun olam, meditate or pray with kavanah, seek to live by Jewish ethical principles, and identify with Judaism to the exclusion of other religious traditions, then what am I? I need a word to describe that (NOT Noachide) because it doesn't seem like "non-Jewish" quite encapsulates the idea. Some of my very liberal Reform friends (who know I am an agnostic) claim that the answer is "Jewish," but I'm not as quick to leap to that conclusion. It's very complicated. :help:

In any case, I wrote this "status update" on LJ and am cross-posting it here. I'm hoping to continue to wrestle with this question of "what is Jewishness" in real-time and discuss it here with the others who are interested.

Quote:
After years of bouncing all over the place with Judaism, I finally joined my synagogue (that I've been attending for more than a year - the delay was in part due to the, er, substantial financial commitments that synagogues require); met with my rabbi about potential conversion (yes, after NINE years of various extents of 'doing Jewish'); and have decided to attend a "Choosing Judaism" monthly facilitated discussion at my synagogue. This does not mean that I am "going" to convert. It simply means that I cannot ignore the fact that Judaism is simply a large part of my spiritual path. It has been since before I was a teenager and seemingly will continue to be whether I will or not. My rabbi suggests that it is God answering my childhood prayer, beginning at seven, to "please find a way that I can be Jewish." Here's the fun part - I'm so agnostic I'm not willing to say either yes or no to that! But I am willing to say this:

There is something I can personally access only through Judaism. In religious terms, I think a Jewish person might characterize what I am feeling as an experience of Shechinah, the feminine Divine, the presence of HaShem. As an agnostic, I am yet not prepared to accept that as the only possible explanation of what I am feeling, because I am not sure what I am experiencing is a connection to an external Divine Presence, or something internal - a connection to a piece of my own soul, if you will. (That sounds SO much better in my head.) In either event, it is this feeling, this connectedness - whether to a spiritual piece of myself or a spiritual higher power - that makes me certain that Judaism belongs in my life, even if I'm still not quite sure in what form. I am sure there will be more writing on this topic, especially since my rabbi has assigned me SIX thick books and lent me the first one. :)

_________________
I won't just survive
Oh, you will see me thrive
Can't write my story
I'm beyond the archetype
I won't just conform
No matter how you shake my core
'Cause my roots, they run deep, oh

When, when the fire's at my feet again
And the vultures all start circling
They're whispering, "You're out of time,"
But still I rise
This is no mistake, no accident
When you think the final nail is in, think again
Don't be surprised, I will still rise


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 12, 2007 5:09 am 
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Wow, nel, that needs a week's answer or none at all. And as much as I'd love to share my thoughts, I don't have a week. :oops: I'll try for Cliff's notes.

Fair warnings:
1. This is my personal take, not necessarily in line with anything official or generally accepted.
2. This post is written from a purely Jewish perspective.

Quote:
Is Reform Judaism an authentic expression of Judaism?


Yes. :P

Quote:
Is a framework in which one is free to assess the meaningfulness of a mitzvah to one's own life and accept or reject it accordingly, an expression of religion as opposed to lifestyle?


I don't think that's what it is at the core, although the Reform movement does remove much of the community pressure that has always been the Jewish way to uphold the laws and tradition. Rather, Reform Judaism is an attempt to find a way to live an authentically Jewish lifestyle in the modern world.

Unfortunately, I don't have the time to delve into this very extensive subject.

Quote:
And is there a difference, in terms of Jewishness, between a born Jew who does this, a convert within the Reform tradition who does this, and a Gentile within the Reform tradition who does this?


Yes, but I'll leave this for later.

Quote:
So, according to my understanding of Reform Judaism, I would be obliged to keep kosher because it IS relevant to my life and sense of morality. But I don't want to! I enjoy shellfish, like red meat, and honestly like meat and cheese together. I also don't want to restrict myself to eating kosher meat because it's inconvenient for going out to eat and enjoying nicer restaurants. Am I, then, doing something wrong by not keeping kosher if I convert? If yes, is a Reform Jew who has honestly come to the conclusion that keeping kosher is not relevant to her 21st century life, not doing something wrong?


Nel, my dear friend, please forgive me, but this struck me as such a lawyerly approach to the problem! :upsidedown:

First of all, I don't think that the relevant question here is "am I doing something wrong?" Sin as a moral wrongness is more of Christian approach than it is Jewish, IMO. Rather let's look at the value of kashrut to Jewish life.
  1. Moral concerns. The best explanation I ever found of why some meat is not kosher is that pigs and rabbits are the only farm animals that are of no value to people while they live, and it is wrong to raise a living thing with the sole purpose of killing it.
    We'll cross this one off, as it is perfectly possible to be vegetarian without keeping kashrut. (Vegan diet would be kosher by definition, I think).
  2. Hedges. I assume you are familiar with the concept. Basically, it is setting limits on some natural behavior that may potentially lead to bad things (gluttony), while permitting guiltless enjoyment within the hedge. To me, that's one of the most brilliant ideas ever, but again, it is possible to set limits on one's diet without going kosher.
  3. Bringing holiness into every day acts, such as eating, through being mindful of what, when and how you eat, and saying blessings before and after the meal.
  4. Shared cultural heritage.

    All good, lovely things. But here's one that is not so lovely:
  5. Forced separation of Jews from Gentiles by making it practically impossible for a Jew to have a meal in a Gentile's house.

So as a Reform Jew, I decide that the #5 on the list is inconsistent with the goal of functioning fully in today's diverse society as a Jewish woman and from there I make my choices about maintaining kashrut with my family. For instance, I don't eat meat of non-kosher animals (except I do order shrimp sometime, and that is pure weakness. Not because it makes God angry but because I am not being true to who I say I want to be), but I don't always stick to kosher meat.

Out of time now, more later. You are always welcome to call me, you know, or come over for Shabbat dinner.

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 13, 2007 12:24 am 
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Frelga wrote:
Quote:
So, according to my understanding of Reform Judaism, I would be obliged to keep kosher because it IS relevant to my life and sense of morality. But I don't want to! I enjoy shellfish, like red meat, and honestly like meat and cheese together. I also don't want to restrict myself to eating kosher meat because it's inconvenient for going out to eat and enjoying nicer restaurants. Am I, then, doing something wrong by not keeping kosher if I convert? If yes, is a Reform Jew who has honestly come to the conclusion that keeping kosher is not relevant to her 21st century life, not doing something wrong?


Nel, my dear friend, please forgive me, but this struck me as such a lawyerly approach to the problem! :upsidedown:

First of all, I don't think that the relevant question here is "am I doing something wrong?" Sin as a moral wrongness is more of Christian approach than it is Jewish, IMO. Rather let's look at the value of kashrut to Jewish life.
  1. Moral concerns. The best explanation I ever found of why some meat is not kosher is that pigs and rabbits are the only farm animals that are of no value to people while they live, and it is wrong to raise a living thing with the sole purpose of killing it.
    We'll cross this one off, as it is perfectly possible to be vegetarian without keeping kashrut. (Vegan diet would be kosher by definition, I think).
  2. Hedges. I assume you are familiar with the concept. Basically, it is setting limits on some natural behavior that may potentially lead to bad things (gluttony), while permitting guiltless enjoyment within the hedge. To me, that's one of the most brilliant ideas ever, but again, it is possible to set limits on one's diet without going kosher.
  3. Bringing holiness into every day acts, such as eating, through being mindful of what, when and how you eat, and saying blessings before and after the meal.
  4. Shared cultural heritage.

    All good, lovely things. But here's one that is not so lovely:
  5. Forced separation of Jews from Gentiles by making it practically impossible for a Jew to have a meal in a Gentile's house.
So as a Reform Jew, I decide that the #5 on the list is inconsistent with the goal of functioning fully in today's diverse society as a Jewish woman and from there I make my choices about maintaining kashrut with my family. For instance, I don't eat meat of non-kosher animals (except I do order shrimp sometime, and that is pure weakness. Not because it makes God angry but because I am not being true to who I say I want to be), but I don't always stick to kosher meat.

Out of time now, more later. You are always welcome to call me, you know, or come over for Shabbat dinner.


I am overwhelmed by the totality of the subject in this thread and won't attempt to address it, but I do feel able to add to Frelga's excellent response on the specifics of Kashrut. Mind you, this is my perspective only, and come to after many discussions with my friend Linda, who is a Reform rabbi and a vegetarian.

The purpose of kashrut, IMO, is to maintain thoughtfulness and maintaining the sacredness of life. Jews are enjoined to think about what they put in their mouths because life is sacred - not just human life, but all life. So...cloven hooves and fish scales etc are to be considered as part of the whole package of whether what you are eating is fit to eat ie is in line with maintaining a sacred attitude to life. Traditionally, this came down to how the animal has been treated, whether it was a healthy animal (the whole issue of glat kosher - checking the intestines and lungs etc after butchering for complete health), whether it was butchered humanely etc.

But many Progressive Jews have redefined kashrut - fit to eat - in accordance with the principles of tikkun olam. Deciding whether something is fit to eat goes beyond cloven hooves and fish scales and incorporates issues of eco-sustainability; whether the animal husbandry has impacted negatively on the ecological chain; whether the animal is treated humanely from birth to death, etc. So, in accordance with this interpretation of eco-kashrut, foie gras is not kosher; neither are caged-hen eggs; and for some who are more zealous on issues of sustainability, some meat proteins are not kosher because of the enormous resource-inputs required to produce them.

My personal interpretation of kashrut is that the most important principle is to remain mindful of the sacredness of life, and for me that includes issues of eco-sustainability in deciding whether a food is fit to eat.

This interpretation does not touch on the issues of elitism - remaining separate from the non-Jews around us - but how relevant is that to me, and to you, today? I can see how it was relevant in ancient Canaan, but not to me today, as a Progressive Jew. That is a much larger issue, however, so I won't touch on it further.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 21, 2008 9:03 am 
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This won't sustain a thread of its own, but I just wanted to share. Rodia asked me the other day how we celebrate Purim.

This is how.

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That's my cantor and rabbi, opening the family service.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 21, 2008 10:18 am 
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Didn't spot this before... A little story about a Jewess I've encountered.

Her mother was in Auswitchz and survived. After being freed, she moved to America (which was the done thing). She eventually married an episcopalian (anglican) priest, but remained Jewish. These two are both dead. Their daughter lives here, in Ireland, and regularly attends services in the Anglican church.

However, she still considers herself a Jew, and celebrates all the festivals, Purim, Passover and so on.

So, while she believes in the Christian ideals her father preached, she also holds true what her mother taught her and indeed, what she believes herself to be. "You can't deny your inheritance", she says.

So, from one perspective, she sees her Jewishness as merely a blood thing. A racial issue, so to speak.
However, on discussing it with her, it becomes clear that it's something far deeper than that. She really believes in her Jewishness. She is, at the same time, a Jew and a Christian.

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