Jewish group might allow gay rabbis

BY ANDREW GROSSMAN

Published March 10, 2006

When he was growing up, LSA junior Dan Marcovici struggled to reconcile his homosexuality with his Jewish faith. Religious tradition had always pointed him toward a wife and children.

"It was difficult. My Jewish family was always very family-centered. I was going to marry a woman, carry the family line," said Marcovici, the chair of Ahava, a group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews at the University.

Now, he has brought his faith and his sexuality together.

"My religion is a part of my life," Marcovici said. "My sexual orientation is part of my life. One doesn't preclude the other."

Marcovici is part of the Conservative Jewish movement, which has recently experienced tension over the status of gays and lesbians in religious life.

Earlier this week, members of the movement's Committee on Laws and Standards - a group of 25 rabbis who interpret Jewish law for the movement - had enough votes to support the ordination of gay rabbis and the blessing of same-sex union ceremonies.

But while religious organizations across the nation grapple with the issue of faith and homosexuality, the committee did not make a decision, adjourning Wednesday's meeting without a vote.

The issue is likely to resurface in December at a meeting of the movement's international association of rabbis.

Conservative Jews fall in the middle of three major Jewish groups in the United States. The more liberal Reform movement passed a resolution in 2000 supporting rabbis who choose to preside over same-sex marriages and commitment ceremonies. The traditional Orthodox movement maintains that the Torah's prohibitions on homosexuality must be respected.

According to the National Jewish Population Survey if 2000, 38 percent of Jews affiliated with a temple or synagouge were Reform, 33 percent Conservative and 22 percent Orthodox.

The Conservative movement is "a centrist movement in which there is a tension between Jewish law and modernity," said Rabbi Jason Miller, a Conservative rabbi and the associate director of the University's chapter of Hillel. "Living within that tension means trying to strike a balance between the two."

The Torah, the Jewish holy book, mentions homosexuality in Leviticus 18:22, stating, "You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination." Leviticus 20:13 states that the punishment for such action should be death.

Openly gay applicants are currently prohibited from enrolling in the Conservative movement's rabbinical and cantorial schools.

"To some extent, it's a 'don't ask, don't tell policy,' " Miller said.

The debate over the role of gays in Conservative Jewish life has been at the forefront for the movement's rabbis.

"For rabbis in the Conservative movement, this is the hot issue," Miller said.

LSA freshman Susan Turner, a Conservative Jew, supports a new approach to homosexuality in Judaism.

"I don't have a problem with it," she said. "I think it's good that people are being more open-minded."

But Turner said she could understand opposition to the move.

"The Torah says, 'Be fruitful, multiply,'" she said. "There aren't a lot of Jews in the world; that's why it's important to me to marry another Jewish person. We need to produce more Jews."

LSA freshman Alex Jacobson said his Reform Jewish family never discussed homosexuality in the context of their faith.

"It's not like Jews sit around and talk about sex," he said. "I've never heard a Jew talk against gay marriage."

Miller was optimistic about the future of gay and lesbians in Conservative Judaism. He said he is confident the committee will "come to an answer that respects the human dignity of all Jewish people," including gay rabbis and Jews in a committed homosexual relationship.

He added that he is certain the committee's decision will reflect a "commitment to Jewish law and tradition."