JOH’ers witness for inclusive ordination of LGBT rabbis In Israel!
On Tuesday November 30th, the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary celebrated the ordination of three Rabbis, preceded by a panel discussion on Rabbinical challenges in the 21st century. Participants were greeted at the entrance by Conservative/Masorti members of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, who handed out rainbow stickers with the title “Ordination for All”. Until a 2006 decision by the Rabbinical Assembly Law Committee, many in the Conservative Jewish community saw homosexuality as forbidden by Jewish law. On December 6th, the Rabbinical Assembly Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, accepted new Halachic interpretations providing for full acceptance of gay and lesbian people into congregations, and allowing for union ceremonies and Rabbinic ordination of openly gay people. Immediately thereafter, the two North-American Rabbinical Seminaries - the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York - changed their policies and opened the doors to openly gay students to enroll into their Rabbinic Programs.
However, Schechter - Israel’s Conservative/Masorti Rabbinical school - did not. The decision to follow a stricter interpretation of Jewish law was made by Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin - President of Schechter, and Rabbi Dr. Einat Ramon - then Dean of the Rabbinical program. Thus, LGBT Conservative/Masorti Jews may not be ordained without leaving Israel. Furthermore, American Gay Rabbinical students who as part of their studies must spend a year of study in Israel, have been sent to learn at an institution which would not have accepted them had they applied to it directly. Last year this led to several students, for reasons of conscience, to seek out alternatives for their study in Israel - in some cases at great expense.
Two years ago the LA Ziegler school pulled its students out of Schechter entirely, while JTS reduced the joint programming, leading to significant budgetary challenges for the Schechter institute. Shortly after, Rabbi Ramon announced that she would step down as dean “to devote more time to teaching and research”. Following Rabbi Ramon’s replacement as Dean by Rabbi Moshe Zilberstein, later joined by Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum and Rabbi Shlomo Tucker as Deputy Deans, a reexamination process has begun at the institute, from which a new framework has emerged. This year, applicants were not enrolled in the Rabbinical program but rather in the Masorti Leadership Program (Mishlei) - a two year program, following which “the best and the brightest will continue in an intensive Rabbinical program of 3-4 years” according to Rabbi Golinkin, suggesting that&nb sp; this may include LGBT students. The Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance has supported LGBT members of the Conservative/Masorti movement who seek inclusion in their religious framework. In 2008, JTS one-year rabbinical students who invited JOH Executive Director Yonatan Gher to celebrate JTS’s change of policy, were forced to conduct the meeting outside Schechter in the nearby woods. In 2009, with the support of the Heinrich Boell Foundation, JOH began a focused campaign aimed at working to effect change in Schecter’s discriminatory policy, while creating a supportive framework for the students in the form of a “Rabbinical Student Gay-Straight Alliance” and providing internships for some of the students. Last night, members of the Masorti community in Israel discussed the topic of Rabbinic ordination in the 21st century, in a panel lead by Rabbi Zilberstein. The keynote speech will be offered by Prof. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, with responses by Rabbi Hanan Alexander, Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum, and Rabbi Mauricio Balter, President of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel. LGBT Activists handing an "Ordination for All" sticker to Prof. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary
The Jerusalem Open House assisted LGBT members of the Conservative/Masorti Movement who wished to place Schechter’s discriminating policy on the agenda, and handed out rainbow-colored stickers titled “Ordination for All”.
All but five of the two hundred participants of the event took stickers, and a notable amount of these wore them throughout the event. Many, including prominent Conservative Rabbis, wished the LGBT members luck and stated it was time the policy be changed. Yonatan Gher, Executive Director of the Jerusalem Open House, said that “We send our warm wishes to the newly ordained Rabbis. We are here today because we hope to send a positive message of embracing all members of Conservative/Masorti Judaism into the assembly, with the hope that the view on ordination in the 21st century will be one of acceptance and inclusion, in which every person is seen as Nivra B’Tzelem - made in the image of God”.