ANN ARBOR – One of the three major Jewish sects made decisions that will cheer many members of the LGBT community. At least one area congregation was especially happy to hear the news.
Earlier this month, the ruling body of Conservative Judaism, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, adopted a position that allows congregations to choose whether to hold LGBT commitment ceremonies in synagogues. That same body decided to permit the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis.
Conservative, orthodox and reform Jews have different observances and philosophies related to worship and everyday life. Orthodox Judaism is the most traditional path while reform Judaism maintains Jewish practice should change with the times. Conservative Judaism falls somewhere in between, holding itself bound by Jewish law but permitting reinterpretations.
Reform Judaism has allowed gay rabbis and commitment ceremonies for more than a decade. Orthodox Judaism bans both.
Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor welcomed the committee’s decision.
“Our congregation took a strong stand in favor of change in the conservative movement,” said Rabbi Robert Dobrusin.
Dobrusin said several factors support that change.
“I think that on a very pragmatic level, we’re losing so many good and passionate people who can help our movement grow in the future by excluding gay and lesbian people from the rabbinate,” he said.
Telling gays and lesbians they are welcome in synagogues isn’t sincere unless they are accepted on every level, he said.
“To make sexual orientation the basis for exclusion is contrary to the idea that Judaism teaches about the dignity of each human being,” he said.
Dobrusin said the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards sets the parameters for observance of Jewish law for conservative congregations. He said the committee had been discussing the ordination of lesbian and gay Jews and whether synagogues can perform commitment ceremonies for several years.
Most members of his own congregation have reacted positively to the committee’s decision, he said.
“There are people that disagree with this position. I’ve heard from them,” he said. “Whether they chose to make this a reason to leave the synagogue, we’ll see.”
Most opponents say they can’t support the decision because traditional Jewish law does not countenance sex between men.
Members of the LGBT community can find a spiritual home at Dobrusin’s synagogue.
“We will continue our stance of welcoming gay and lesbian individuals and families,” he said. “If a couple comes to me and asks me to conduct a commitment ceremony, I will talk to them as I would any couple asking to be married. If I feel comfortable about that, I will do it.”
So far, no LGBT couple has contacted Dobrusin, he said.
“To me, this decision by the rabbinical assembly was crucial,” he said. “It enables me to do some of the things I was comfortable with doing but was unable to do because of the position of the movement.”
P.J. Cherrin, vice president of the Jewish Gay Network, is an observant Jew who is not a member of the conservative movement.
“I appreciate that they are trying to reframe the issues through a lens of modernity and they took it seriously,” he said. “People are waiting to see how it will play out on a practical level.”
Linda Lee, coordinator for the Jewish Gay Network, said she thought the decision opened doors.
“It’s definitely a step forward. I would have preferred it to be two steps forward,” said Lee, who is a conservative Jew and a member of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield. “I would have preferred if they had gotten rid of the sodomy issue which is still considered a prohibition.”
Conservative rabbis in Detroit will hold a public forum about the committee’s decision at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18, at Adat Shalom Synagogue, located at 29901 Middlebelt Road in Farmington Hills.
For more information about the decision by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, visit the conservative movement’s web page at http://uscj.org/index1.html.