As an engaged Conservative Jew, and as the mother of four sons, one of whom is gay, I was compelled to ask a Conservative rabbi, “When does Jewish tradition allow you to stand up and say the hurt caused by a law far outweighs the halachah?” Burning within me when I asked this question was the pain I felt while reading in The New York Times that the Conservative movement approved a legal opinion suggesting that “some gay people could undergo ‘reparative therapy.’ “
The movement I’m affiliated with was elevating to Jewish law the notion that gays and lesbians needed repair. Although not enough to make a minyan, six men had decided to brand my son — many sons and daughters — in need of fixing.
The headline in the Times article led me to believe that there was still good news to be found: “Conservative Jews Allow Gay Rabbis and Unions.” The words over the ark in my shul came to mind, “In Your light, I see light.”
But the light of possibility was quickly dimmed for me. I read further in the article that the door could be open to gays and lesbians — no one is even mentioning transgender Jews — and to commitment ceremonies only if “the men do not practice sodomy.”
I have not been able to reconcile the mixed messages of affirmation and denial. I was looking for a clear voice proclaiming that all people, without exception, are b’zelem elokim, made in God’s image. I was hoping to hear an unequivocal voice instructing Conservative Jews in a world already brimming with hate and violence toward gays and lesbians, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to others.”
The Judaism my children, now aged 16 to 26, have learned in our home and in our Conservative shul says they are responsible to be God’s partner in the world. They have been commanded to seek oneness and make wholeness.
With the kvell a mother gets to feel, each son in his own way has accepted that role and is acting on it. So the hurt I feel today is not just for my son who is gay but for all my sons who also are reading about the three laws passed.
In varying degree, each ruling gives permission to isolate, judge and discriminate. The teshuvot sanctify prejudice.
Judaism can’t include and exclude in the same breath. It’s the equivalent experience of the rabbi who says “Please join in singing words of prayer,” while the cantor performs the prayer like a song from “La Boheme.” There are times when mixed messages just leave you out.
“They did it for cows,” the Conservative rabbi responded to my query of when a hurt can outweigh the halachah.
“It’s called a takanah” she explained. “There are times when the rabbis agree there is something so wrong in the law that it must be corrected. The rabbis overturned the law prohibiting milking cows on the Sabbath. The suffering of the cows was so great they agreed to overturn the law.”
If a change in the original law is permitted for cows, then it should be so for humans. I stand up today and say the hurt caused by laws that do not clearly declare all people equal, regardless of sexual orientation, is a hurt that far outweighs the halachah.
(Cyd Weissman is a longtime Jewish educator and member of Beth Am Israel, a Conservative synagogue in suburban Philadelphia.)
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.