Reform May Back Away from Vote on Gay Marriage

The Reform movement is in such a tizzy over an anticipated resolution sanctioning religious marriage ceremonies for lesbians and gay men that it may just back away from the whole thing.

Although most Reform rabbis condone civil marriages for homosexuals, the question of whether to sanction religious marriages has created a deep rift in the movement.

Years of work by the Reform rabbinate to formulate a policy on gay marriage was scheduled to come to a head in June, when the Central Conference of American Rabbis was slated to vote on a resolution endorsing the idea of a Reform Jewish ceremony aimed at sanctifying same-sex unions.

But rabbis opposed to bringing the issue to vote have intensified their opposition in recent weeks.

Given all the controversy, informed sources suggest that a resolution might not be brought when the group meets in California in June.

“It is not certain that a resolution will be brought to the floor at the convention,” said a Reform rabbi close to the issue who asked not to be identified.

“That would be a good thing,” this rabbi said, “if a way could be found to respect the divergent views” of individual rabbis “without bringing a resolution to the convention.”

Although the resolution has been endorsed by the Reform movement’s top official, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, many in the movement worry that such a move would further alienate Reform Judaism from other streams of Judaism.

They also worry about risking the newly formed — and arduously won — bonds with the Israeli public and government.

The controversial issue is emerging in the wake of a bruising battle over the issue of non-Orthodox conversions in Israel, which remains unresolved.

“The masses of Israelis — secular and traditional Jews who are our target audience — will turn against us. The worst propaganda of the ultra-Orthodox will be confirmed in their minds,” Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, said in a memo he recently sent to all Reform rabbis.

Already, Israeli Reform leaders made their case against officiation at same-sex marriages a few weeks ago, saying that the passage of such a resolution would “jeopardize the progress made in Israel toward recognizing [Reform's] legitimacy as an authentic movement.”

“The Israeli government would never have invited Reform representatives to sit on an official government commission if it did not perceive them as our representatives,” Hirsch said, referring to the Ne’eman Committee, whose Reform, Conservative and Orthodox representatives had sought to resolve the conversion issue.

Hirsch and others questioned the value of the resolution altogether, saying this is not an issue worth the wrath it invites.

“We will be spending the next two months in a full-blown ideological confrontation, all played out in colorful detail in the media,” he said, noting that in any case, “Reform rabbis do not require a resolution to officiate at same sex ceremonies.”

Hirsch said he has been encouraged by the response to his letter and he hopes that it serves as a “catalyst” to avoid a vote in June.

The issue has become so controversial in the movement that Yoffie, the president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, who has been quoted endorsing the idea of rabbinic officiation, now is referring requests for comment to the CCAR, the movement’s rabbinic body.

Furthermore, many Reform supporters of the resolution believe that Conservative Jews, and eventually modern Jewry as a whole, will follow the lead of the Reform and Reconstructionist — the only movement to officially sanction religious gay marriages — to accept Jewish gay marriages.

But Hirsch disagrees. He and others worry that this move will risk the alliance created with the Conservative movement over recognition in Israel.

“When we lose our Conservative alliance in Israel, the conversation will cease being one of rights for non-Orthodox Jews and become one of how out of the mainstream is the Reform movement,” Hirsch warned his fellow Reform rabbis.

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