Conservative Rabbis Urge Inclusion of Lesbians and Gays in Synagogues

Conservative rabbis on Tuesday overwhelmingly endorsed full civil equality for lesbians and gay men, and said such Jews should be welcome in synagogues.

But in an amendment to a resolution adopted here, they also pointed out that traditional Judaism affirms and recommends a heterosexual life-style.

"As rabbis, we acknowledge the needs of gays and lesbian Jews to feel welcome in our respective congregations. We also want to reiterate our view that sexual preference is no basis for the denial of civil equality for any citizen," said Rabbi Mark Loeb, chairman of the resolutions committee of the Rabbinical Assembly.

Over 600 members of the Rabbinical Assembly, Conservative Judaism’s 1,300-member central body of rabbis, met at the Concord Hotel this week to see old classmates, play some tennis and discuss a variety of issues facing Conservative rabbis in the 1990s.

The statement on gay and lesbian Jews was one of about 20 resolutions addressed at the gathering. It was the first time the issue was addressed by the assembly and was thought to be one of the most controversial resolutions on the floor.

Although the Reform movement has welcomed gay synagogues into its fold and broached the question of admitting openly gay men and lesbians into its seminary and rabbinical body, the Conservative movement has kept these issues decidedly in the closet.

Conservative Judaism claims to represent the largest branch of Judaism in the United States and Canada, with 1.5 million congregational members.

‘FULL CIVIL EQUALITY’ URGED

"The Reform movement is currently torn by recognition of gay and lesbian rabbis," said Rabbi Ezra Finkelstein of the Syosset Jewish Center on Long Island prior to the vote. "This resolution is the first step toward addressing the issue in the Conservative movement. I’m afraid it could become highly divisive."

Finkelstein said he was uncomfortable with the language of the resolution "welcoming" lesbian and gay Jews "as members in our synagogues."

"I don’t want in any way to give legitimacy to it in the religious dimension," he said.

But Rabbi Arnold Turetsky of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y., disagreed. "It is the acting out of homosexuality that is not kosher," he said. "Impulses, instincts, proclivities and predispositions are not illegal."

While he cannot endorse homosexual relations, Turetsky says that what he doesn’t see, he cannot condemn.

A number of members of Temple Israel are gay and, according to Turetsky, they are some of the most active and observant members of the congregation. "They play a vital role in my synagogue," he said.

"The problem of acceptance is more psychological and familial than religious," said Turetsky "From the religious eye, I see no reason they should not be accepted with open arms in our shuls."

On the whole, members of the Rabbinical Assembly agreed with Turetsky, but only after a special amendment was added to the resolution to clarify that Jewish tradition "favors a hetero sexual life."

The resolution supports "full civil equality for gays and lesbians in our national life" and deplores "the violence against gays and lesbians in our national life" and deplores "the violence against gays and lesbians in our society."

It reiterates that homosexuals, like all Jews, "are welcome as members in our congregations" and calls upon the Conservative movement "to increase awareness, understanding and concern for our fellow Jews who are gay and lesbian."

The convention, which ends Thursday, also was debating resolutions on abortion, organ transplants and replacing mid-evening Kabbalat Shabbat services with a sunset service preceding Shabbat dinner.

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