National Religious Leadership Roundtable responds to conservative movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards decision

December 07, 2006

Decision on the status of gay men and lesbians in the conservative Jewish movement

Roberta Sklar, Director of Communications

“It’s absolutely a step in the right direction. But justice demands full inclusion of gay and lesbians in Jewish life with no conditions attached. Functionally, the option of equality for gay men and lesbians has been achieved. A religious ideology of equality is still far away.”

— Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah and founding member National Gay and Lesbian Task Force National Religious Leadership Roundtable

WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 — The following letter by Rabbis Sharon Kleinbaum and Ayalet Cohen of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah sheds further light on the conservative movement decision and its impact on lesbian and gay Jews. It is distributed to you by the Task Force National Religious Leadership Roundtable with their permission and blessings:

Dear Congregation Beth Simchat Torah members,

Yesterday the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards announced the outcome of their decisions on the status of gay men and lesbians in the movement. As you have probably heard by now, three papers were passed: two reaffirming the anti-gay policies of the movement and one that allows for rabbinical ordination and some kind of religious ceremonies for same-sex Jewish couples. The two papers that called for more comprehensive visions of equality and change were defeated.

There is no question that this vote opens the door for significant change in the official policies affecting GLBT people of the Conservative Movement and its synagogues and other institutions. The rabbinical and cantorial schools will now review their positions on barring admission to openly gay students. United Synagogue, the congregational arm of the movement, has already announced that it has changed its anti-gay hiring policies.

However, the responsum that passed continually stresses that heterosexual marriage is the Jewish ideal, and maintains the Levitical prohibition on anal sex between men. It stops far short of a statement of the moral value of religious equality for people of all sexual orientations. One of the papers that passed, albeit by a significant minority, asserts that “reparative” therapy should be pursued in many cases. As with the decision to ordain women more than twenty years ago, equality is presented as an option, not a moral imperative.

Functionally, the option of equality for gay men and lesbians has been achieved. A religious ideology of equality is still far away.

B’virkat Shalom,

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum
Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen

Congregation Beth Simchat Torah is New York City’s synagogue for the New York metropolitan area’s 200,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews, as well as our families and friends. Founded in 1973, and under the leadership of Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum since 1992, CBST has become the largest GLBT synagogue in the world and arguably one of the most influential.

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum has been the senior rabbi of New York City's Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (CBST) since 1992. Under her leadership, CBST has become an important voice in Judaism, in the worldwide discourse on the nature of religious community, and in the movement to secure basic civil rights for gay people everywhere. She is a member of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform), and the New York Board of Rabbis. She is a founding member of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force National Religious Leadership Roundtable.

For more information, see the following related stories:

The New York Times



The Washington Post

United Press International

Jewish Week

JTA News Service

Bergen Record

The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.