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Another step forward for civil rights: Israeli Conservative Movement Will Ordain Gay Rabbis

The Americans already had, but in a way, it's a bigger statement when it's happening in Israel.  The thoughts from the founder of the Jewish GLBT rights organization:

Six years after its American counterpart, the Conservative movement’s Israeli rabbinical school voted last month to admit gay and lesbian students. It’s one small step for LGBT people, one foot-dragging schlep for the Jews. As progressives celebrate this milestone, many not connected to the debates have asked: What took them so long?

In ascending order of interest, the answer has to do with personalities, social contexts, and crises of legitimacy. First, and least interesting to non-insiders, a very small handful of individuals have personally stood in the way of this progress for years. (As a semi-insider myself, I know who they are, and who the activists are, and who the folks in the movable middle are.) One person really can make a difference—especially when he or she is resistant to change.

More interestingly, though, are the different social contexts of Israeli Conservative Jews and American Conservative Jews. The label notwithstanding, most Conservative Jews in America are relatively progressive. They vote Democrat, support gay rights, and don’t keep kosher—at least not in the traditional way. Many are Conservative Jews for social reasons: it’s how they grew up, it’s where their friends are, it’s the better (or closer) synagogue. Most lack a strong ideological commitment to the movement, which has been a problem in recent years as an older generation of philanthropists disappears.

In Israel, on the other hand, you have to work to be amasorti Jew. (The word masorti means traditional, but the Conservative movement has coopted it. Confusingly, it also applies to Sephardic Jews who are not conventionally religious but who observe some of the traditional norms for cultural or spiritual reasons.) There are few such Jews around, masorti institutions are not supported by the state, and if all you want is to be culturally Jewish, there’s no reason to affiliate at all. Israeli masorti Jews are Jews by choice.

So, unlike their American counterparts, Israeli masorti Jews have a stronger sense of connection to Jewish law and tradition. In the bifurcated language of Israeli Jewish society, they see themselves as liberal religious people, and religious culture in Israel is still deeply, small-c conservative. Tel Aviv may be a gay mecca, but outside the bubble, Israel remains a very traditional place.

Most importantly, however, masorti Jews are always looking over their right shoulder at a religious establishment that denies their legitimacy. This, I think, is the most significant reason for the Israeli movement’s slowness on the LGBT issue. Politically, religiously, socially, and economically, this is a marginal community that will never be Jewish enough for the Orthodox. Caving to yet another modern, non-Jewish value (i.e., equality) makes them even less legitimate than they were before. Which, of course, was zero, but now it’s zero in italics.

Which, to me, is the real point. It’s understandable for masorti Jews to worry about what the Orthodox will think; the Orthodox have political power and don’t hesitate to use it to coerce others to conform to their view of Judaism. But socially and religiously, it’s too late for such concerns; the ship has already sailed. Gay rabbis are only marginally more controversial than women rabbis are. The legal issues are different, but in terms of social and religious legitimacy, it makes more sense for masorti Jews to find common cause with their American cousins than with Orthodox Israelis who have never respected them in the first place.

And now, at least on this issue, they have done so—and just in time. American and Israeli progressives are becoming deeply alarmed at ultra-Orthodox religious coercion and violence. We’re dismayed at women being told to sit at the back of the bus (literally) and young girls being spit on (also literally) for being immodestly dressed. And in these struggles, Reform, Conservative, Progressive-Orthodox and Secular Jews are all in the same boat. As we find common cause together, this is one less issue to drive us apart.

Reading this highlights something, both in terms of the media and here in RD.  It seems we often get a very slanted view of what position "Judaism" takes on certain issues, because only the most extreme get news coverage and, apparently, only the most extreme participates regularly in this section.  In a way it seems to parallel political Christianity - the vast majority is sane and rational, but only the extremists make noise.

Is the full picture of either faith really represented anymore?

Answer Question

Asked by NotPanicking at 2:20 PM on Apr. 30, 2012 in Religious Debate

Level 51 (421,174 Credits)
Answers (13)
  • I think we tend to give more attention to those who are more extreme, merely because they cause a bigger commotion. I mean, look at which threads get 100+ answers, you know? So I think it is true that there is more attention given to those kinds, but the information and representation for the rest of the "population" (so to speak) of believers is out there, and I think it's the responsibility of each person to be intellectually honest by taking the time to really seek out and weigh the information for themselves. In this day and age when it's as simple as a google search to find, for example, Christians in support of homosexuality, or rabbis speaking about the lack of archaeological evidence for an Exodus, I think we can only blame ourselves for not seeking it out and trying to come to the most balanced understanding as possible. How else are we supposed to know any better, if we don't TRY to, you know?

    Answer by bandgeek521 at 2:50 PM on Apr. 30, 2012

  • (Oh, and yippe at the article you posted (no sarcasm intended). It's a big deal for this to happen in Israel, for sure.)

    Answer by bandgeek521 at 2:53 PM on Apr. 30, 2012

  • The world at large is opening up their eyes to the gay saga created by those who seem to think they are not like us......

    Answer by older at 3:44 PM on Apr. 30, 2012

  • So are all the downvotes in this question from anti-Semites or homophobes?

    Comment by NotPanicking (original poster) at 5:56 PM on Apr. 30, 2012

  • NP, probably both, little do they know that DV do not affect me in any way shape or form, but they got to let their rage go somehow!

    Answer by older at 6:06 PM on Apr. 30, 2012

  • "So are all the downvotes in this question from anti-Semites or homophobes?"

    Oh no, I don't agree with someone on the Internet! Let me show my disgust and disapproval of their opinion by abusing a down vote function intended for something else entirely (you know, like rude/disrespectful comments, or those offering dangerous or incorrect advice so others?)! You know, because the whole world revolves around me and MY thoughts/opinions/beliefs being superior, and the Internet exists only so that I may show how little I tolerate opinions and thoughts that differ from my own. ;)

    Answer by bandgeek521 at 6:51 PM on Apr. 30, 2012

  • LMAO! Bandgeek, you crack me up! You're always so calm and sweet, so that sarcastic side of you tends catch me a little off guard!

    I have to admit something about downvoting though... I tend to dv just to get back and my dv fairies... and half the time I dv them I don't even read the whole response... does that make me just like them?

    Answer by anime_mom619 at 10:40 PM on Apr. 30, 2012

  • lol, sorry anime_mom! The pettiness just gets to me, I guess. Like Older - Older doesn't deserve to be dv'd. So it just bothers me because I find it disrespectful, especially when the downvote wasn't intended for mere disagreement or difference of opinion. It's probably the only real pet peeve I have, besides outright personal attacks. I guess it bothers me even more because when CM said they were going to do this (the dv system) plenty of us SAID it would be abused, and we're just seeing a lot of that lately.

    Answer by bandgeek521 at 10:44 PM on Apr. 30, 2012

  • "Is the full picture of either faith really represented anymore?"

    No. Most of the Christians and Jews I know personally don't hold the extreme views we see in the media and here in the RD section. And I tend to wonder how extreme some of those people really are. I often wonder if our trolls here are just that... people who want attention and know how to get it. It's quite possible that they don't even believe half the crap they say.

    I have to agree with bandgeek. Some of the fault lies on the shoulders of the believers in those religions. Too many people are willing to let others do all the thinking for them, and they don't reach out to find the truth about the religion for themselves. It certainly makes it that much easier for these extremists to take control.

    Answer by anime_mom619 at 10:46 PM on Apr. 30, 2012

  • Though I'm not sure whether the idea that turnabout is fair play applies here, lol, so I'm not going to even get into that. My issue is more coming in and seeing that someone has dv'd EVERYONE who just has a different opinion, you know?

    Answer by bandgeek521 at 10:47 PM on Apr. 30, 2012

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