Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Conservative Movement and the Homosexuality Question

During the week of March 8th, leaders from the Conservative movement from around the country met to discuss the future of the movement. During this summit, the Committee for Laws and Standards was put to the test with a platform raised by Rabbi Bradley Artson, the dean for the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism, and Elliot Dorff, vice-chair of the Committee of Laws and Standards. This platform, if passed, would allow openly gay individuals to enroll to Rabbinic Seminaries, essentially giving them the opportunity to be ordained as rabbis within the Conservative movement. Many voices were heard on this topic. Here is the voice of a student leader within the Conservative movement... Me.

First off, here are my credentials:
1. Chapter board, Regional board, and International general board of United Synagogue Youth (USY), the Conservative movement high school youth program.
2. Teacher at Ramah camps - Conservative camping system
3. Two parents as rabbis. My father is a figurehead within the movement, senior rabbi of the largest congregation west of the Mississippi. My mother is the SECOND woman rabbi ordained by the Conservative Movement at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York.
4. One of two KOACH Bay Area student chairs - Conservative Movement college outreach program

Ok--now that my background is clear--this is what I think, probably not in any logical order, nor fluid argument, just ideas :)

The Torah prohibits a man from lying with a man like he does a woman, but does it prohibit a man from loving a man like he does a woman? The Hebrew language has two words to express intense loving emotion: AHAVAH and ACHAVAH. Ahavah is more about love between intimate people, while Achavah is brotherly (no gender bias, just word choice) love, like between soldiers in a platoon. So why do we encourage AHAVAT Chinam, Free Love, Selfless Love, Ever Enduring Love? Why not ACHAVAT Chinam? Maybe it's because intimate love should have no barriers?

As we learn in the Talmudic story of TANUR SHEL AKNAI, the right to legislate law is "LO BASHAMAYIM HI", it does not dwell in heaven. In this story, Hashem gives the right to make law to the Sanhedrin, the Rabbis. In another place in the Talmud, it says that the rabbis of the day set the law (if you remember the phrase, which i can't at this late hour between studying, insert here ______). The rabbis of the day have the right to make legislation. Which means, if you are not a Conservative Jew, you have no need to fear, this ruling will not affect you.

In every generation, we have to make changes so that the law we use reflects the situations of the present. When I was 2 years old, I attended my mother's ordination as a rabbi. She fought to tear down the gender barriers within the Conservative movement, and as a result, has paved the way for many women to add their spark to the world of Conservative pulpit leadership. When the board of directors of JTS put the right for womens' ordination to a vote, a strong few chanted "Testicals Don't Give You Gushbanka" "Testicals dont give you divine right". Why is it that we bar committed and passionate people from Jewish pulpit leadership solely on the basis of who they LOVE? Shouldn't we bar people on why they have HATE and BIAS?? Does who you love really affect the way you lead a community? The world (and also, sadly, the rabbinate) has been touched by people who have struggled with alcoholism, divorce, gambling addiction, drug addiction, and many other things we consider problems within our society. Why should LOVE be considered another problem?

Can converts be rabbis?
Can women be rabbis?
Can ex-convicts be rabbis?
Can communitsts be rabbis?
Why not homosexuals?


Blogger G-D SQUAD said...

I think perhaps all of this begs the question: What does it mean to be a rabbi?

Wed Mar 22, 02:27:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Fedora Black said...

Very good question.

The truth is that nobody is really has smicha, i.e. ordination, in this day and age. No, I am not just saying that Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, and Conservative clergy are not rabbis, but in fact Orthodox rabbis are not really rabbis in the original sense.

The first smicha (lit. "laying on of hands") was done by Moshe Rebbeinu to Joshua. Moshe also gave semicha to the 70 elders, who in turn gave it to deserving students. It was an ordination as a leader, sage, and prophet among the early Jews. This chain ordination from Moshe was broken some time after the destruction of the second Temple, and thus no one has smicha from this original source.

Having smicha was a sign that a person possed the proper training and mental abilities to make halachik judgements.

Smicha was only given in Eretz Ha-Kodesh, and thus the sages of that area had smicha and carried the title "rabbi". The sages of Babylonia did not get smicha and thus only had the title "rav". As Jews spread and as Babylonia became a major center of learning, fewer people got actual smicha. In fact, the Jews of Babylonia began to adopt the title "rabbi", even if they did not have smicha. Thus true smicha known from the days of Moshe Rebbeinu died out. As such, the power of modern rabbis is not the same as the sages of the past. In that sense, they are not truly judges and their rulings do not carry the same halachik weight.

Of course Jewish sages would still test their students and would often grant certificates that showed that the students has an acceptable level of knowledge. As far as I know, this was especially true of Ashkenazim, who lived in Christian lands, where religions were expected to have official clergy, and were Jews were required to have some official system. Thus the title "rabbi" and an adaptation of smicha continued. This can for example be seen in England, where rabbis, even in modern times, have been required to carry the title "reverend"!

This practice never really caught on among the Sfardim, although they of course also have a form of smicha. However, they tend to call their sages "chocham" and not "rabbi".

There have been attemps to reintroduce smicha. The Rambam writes in Mishna Torah that a majority of sages in Eretz ha-Kodesh can reinstitute smicha, with all the powers of the original smicha. This was attempted by Jaacov Berab of Tsfas in the 1500's. A number of sages in the Land of Israel at the time joined to give him smicha, and he in turn gave them smicha. Among those who got smicha from this new chain were Josef Caro, author of the Shulchan Aruch, and Chaim Vital, the head student of the Arizal and author of Pri Etz Chaim, one the major works of kabbalah.

There is a question as to whether this granting of smicha was even allowed, since some major sages in the area did not join in. As such, the smicha might not have been valid. In any case, the chain died out again.

There have been recent attempts to recreate smicha, some as recent as 2005 with the creation of a sanhedrin, but the status of it is not accepted by everyone, and is mainly symbolic.

So what does this mean now? Well you don't need smicha at all to really fuction as a rabbi in the orthodox world. What is needed is deep learning, not your name on a diploma. In some communities it is common for almost all men to get smicha. In such communities people might get smicha at age 21-23, so in many ways it like graduating college in the secular world. In other communities people will study in yeshivah and kollel for years, even teaching in yeshivas or working in synagoges, without ever getting smicha. Many great sages never held smicha, as their genius was undisputed.

One such sage was Rabbi Meir Kagan, the famed Chofetz Chaim, who passed on in 1933. Among his works is the Mishna Berurah, which has become a standard halachik text. Supposedly, he got smicha later in life only because he needed a passprt, and needed documentation to prove that he worked as a rabbi.

Wed Mar 22, 05:48:00 PM 2006  
Blogger netmessiah said...

So if true smicha is really unattainable, and the certificates we grant are only signs of deep learning and symbolic of leadership, can we permit homosexuals to get these accademic titles?

Wed Mar 22, 07:36:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Isn’t it a beautiful word!

How unfortunate that this word (and concept) is so often misrepresented and even abused.

You are right: Love in the Torah has no gender boundaries!

That is because Love (at least in the Torah) has nothing to do with sex. It is true that certain people in specific loving relationship express the strongest aspect of their intimacy through sex. But that doesn’t mean that Love per se is expressed through sex, or that it has anything to do with sex.

Proof: Many guys love their mothers. Get my drift…

The Torah talks about love – using the word Ahava – in relation to father and son, man to man, and man to G-d. Only a truly deranged mind will associate the Ahava in any of those cases to be even remotely sexually oriented.

As a matter of fact the Torah uses the (root) word Ahava when commanding to “Love your fellow as yourself” – does this mean we are commanded by G-d to have sexual feelings towards our fellow? Does this mean we are to have sexual feelings towards ourselves?

Like I say, only a very deranged mind…

In our perverted and confused society we have confused sex and love. In the world of Torah there is no perversion or confusion. Love is love. Sex is sex.

The Torah states clearly that a man should “love” his fellow man. The Torah also states clearly that a man should not have “sex” with his fellow man.

Wed Mar 22, 08:35:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Fedora Black said...


Pick a name.

I am sure that you are some piller of the community who comes into contact with students on a daily basis, and who wants his or her identity hidden.

That's fine.

However, it becomes hard to tell one anonymous comment from another, so pick a name like "No to gay rabbis" and be happy.

Wed Mar 22, 09:31:00 PM 2006  
Blogger G-D SQUAD said...

So this is all very interesting. There is halacha (the way of the Torah) and there is everything else.

Are the people who are promoting the vote on the homosexual issue in the Conservative movement actually saying that it is halachikally permissible to be openly gay, or are they making an exception?

Netmessiah, maybe you know more about that.

Also, most importantly in the post at hand, is that the Committee for Laws and Standards specifically didn't vote on the topic. They pushed it off not until their next meeting, but until two meetings in the future which is months from now, and they passed a resolution to make it especially hard to pass if it even does get voted on (I believe it now will require 80% votes to pass, which is basically impossible anyway).

Wed Mar 22, 11:36:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting subject. There are lots of things that we, as Jews, are told to do, and don't end up doing because of our affiliations with a particular movement or other reasons.

What's great about Judaism is that we're supposed to keep things open to interpretation. I would argue that one would have to be "deranged," as anonymous put it, to not see the hypocrisy in certain aspects of our religion if not left open to interpretation. If someone isn't Shomer Negiya, are they not allowed to be a Rabbi? That certainly sounds ridiculous, and I don't want to ask the many more that support what I'm saying.

Love thy fellow man...but don't let them have full rights as individuals. That doesn't sound very Jewish to me.

-Jacob from Hillel

Thu Mar 23, 01:01:00 AM 2006  
Blogger G-D SQUAD said...

Yeah, so the interesting thing is (from my perspective) that it's being implied in all of this how progressive or whatever the Conservative movement is, but if you look at the facts on the ground about this vote, it comes out looking like the Conservative movement really doesn't want to vote on it, and if they must vote, they're making it very difficult (or impossible) to pass.

There are many issues involved. I personally would like to hear what other students who currently identify with or previously identified with the Conservative movement have to say.

Thu Mar 23, 01:11:00 AM 2006  
Blogger netmessiah said...

Let me talk to some people on the Committe for Laws and Standards that I know and see what I can find out.

Thu Mar 23, 01:25:00 AM 2006  
Blogger G-D SQUAD said...

and here's an update, if anyone is interested.

Thu Mar 23, 02:14:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Fedora Black said...


I think to answer your question, one has to look at what it means to "be gay". From a traditional Jewish perspective there is no such identity. That does not mean that Judaism does not acknowledge that some people have an attraction to the same sex and are unattracted to the opposite sex. Just as we each have a positive mitzvah we have an attraction to, so to do we have a certain negative mitzvah that nags and tempts us. Some might have a no urge to eat trief, but have a hard time with gossip. Another might never speak gossip, but have a hard time keeping shabbos.

(Note that although each mitzvah is seperate, ther are still connections between them in the system, and keeping one mitzvah can help strengthen the observance of another, often in ways one might not expect.)

So the issue is whether we follow our desires or G-d's will. Getting one’s urges under control is a big part (perhaps the central part) of Judaism. However, the Torah was not given to ministering angels, but to people of flesh and blood. We live in a physical world, and while getting rid of bad thoughts needs to be done, getting rid of bad action needs to be a prime objective. So the main issue is not whether or not a man has sexual attraction to another man, but whether he actively engages in gay sex.

As for rabbis, one must keep in mind that a rabbi is not a detached scholar of the Jewish religion. He is an active part of it, someone who not only has studied the law, but also seeks to follow it. This is true for all Jews by the way. We actively study daily so that we kan know and understand what G-d wants from us. This is one of the reasons why Orthodoxy never adopted the idea that rabbis were clergy separate from the rest of the congregation. Go into any Orthodox shul, and you will learn that people who are playing the “public” roles in the shul are probably not rabbis. And if they do have smicha, they are probably not employed by the shul. They are simply people who have the knowledge, skills, and character traits to do what needs to be done. However, certain things in Judaism are best done by a professional. It is much like what we find in secular law. Any person has the right to defend themselves in court, but sometimes its best to let a pro handle it.

So from a traditional perspective, a man who actively engages in gay sex or relations should not be given smicha, regardless of his level of learning. Nor should we give smicha to someone who actively violates shabbos, or who thinks masturbation is fine, or to someone who does not want to follow kashrus for that matter, or to someone who steals. On the other hand, I see little problem in giving smicha to somebody who is attracted to other men, but who keeps his urges under control and lives according to Torah, just as I have no issue with giving smicha to someone who has an urge to cheat on his wife, but keeps himself in line, or someone who has an urge to kill, but never does it. People who have had all these urges have gotten smicha, and some have become some of the Torah giants of our history.

Thu Mar 23, 09:12:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Fedora Black said...


"Love thy fellow man...but don't let them have full rights as individuals. That doesn't sound very Jewish to me."

In a sense you are correct, but only because Judaism has nothing to do with rights! Instead, Judaism is about obligations; our obligations to G-d, the world, our fellow man, and to other people.We have no rights. We do, however, have a heck of a lot that we are obligated to do.

As for Mr.-do-tell-anybody-my-name's comment that gay is "deranged", we really need to see things in the context of Torah. Torah is really the bottom line for what is right and wrong, not what do or not feel is "yucky". It is true that a number of sources (the Tanya comes to mind) points out that only someone who is "in a state of folly" would willingly violate a commandment and seperate himself willing from G-d. That being said, I doubt that this same person would call a person who likes pork or who drives to a movie on shabbos "deranged".

I have not attraction to men at all, yet I have no "yucky feeling" when seeing to men together. And I think shrimp is great, and a nice shrimp platter is tempting, yet I have not had it in years. Both and prohibited by Torah, and that's that. My feelings don't matter. Likewise, I am not to thrilled about the thought of having to cut off some of my son's penis when he is eight days old, nor am I excited by the idea of bringing a sheep to the temple, laying my hands on it, and having offered as a sacrifice, and thus seeing fluffy being turned into roast mutton. Yet I would follow my obligation to do both these acts when the time for them comes. Again, my feeling don't matter.

Thu Mar 23, 09:32:00 AM 2006  
Blogger G-D SQUAD said...

Ok, so since this conversation is being extended well beyond the context of the Conservative movement, I think hopefully I can clarify a couple things.

Jacob, I think you're coming from a Humanistic approach, which is the way of viewing the world that I myself grew up with. In this approach, the individual and the individual's rights and personal desires come before anything else.

On the other hand, anonymous and Fedora are coming from a Torah perspective. In this perspective, not only does G-d exist, but G-d's existence supersedes and transcends all other existence. And we, as individuals, owe our entire existence to G-d.

Now if we look into the Torah that G-d gave us, there are a lot of things that at first glance might sound barbaric. Some people simply reject those parts of Torah, while others, who know that the essence of the entire Torah is love, look deeply into the tradition to find out how G-d could ask such things of us.

It has become pretty popular to quote that whole parable about Hillel and the guy who would convert if he could be taught the whole Torah while standing on one foot. And everyone knows Hillel said, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor." Ah, it's all about love, right? Well, people usually forget that's not all Hillel said.

The whole quote is, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah while the rest is commentary; go and learn it." Go and learn it. I think it's impossible to understand the type of love that Hillel referred to without being immersed in Torah.

I'm a pretty observant Jew, I guess. And I'll be the first to admit that I've had (and still have) a number of close friends over the last eight years who identified as gay or bisexual. I never looked down on them for it. We each have our own struggle to live in the path that G-d has laid out for us. G-d gave some of us bigger challenges than others.

I have my own challenges as well, and thank G-d I don't have to make them public. But the point is, if a rabbi is supposed to set the example of a life dedicated to Torah, how can a person who openly defies the Torah be a rabbi? Unless we redefine "rabbi" as something else. If we want to call it strictly a community leader. If we want to look at it as just another career choice. But really, it's not.

These days it has come to look like being a rabbi is anyone's right; it's, like, just another job that little kids want to have when they grow up. That's the perspective I myself grew up with. But really, it's not a right. It's very much a privelage.

Thu Mar 23, 02:03:00 PM 2006  
Blogger netmessiah said...

We must remind ourselves that this comes out of the framework of the Conservative Movement, a movement that has granted women smicha, a movement that advocates driving on Shabbat if it is only to Shul.

It is a movement that strives to remain traditional, while being considerate of modern circumstances.

This is why we have She'elot U'Tshuvot. This is why our rabbis, our teachers are living.

As Heschel discussed in a dissertation on shabbat, there are some instances where we cant do activities that would be acceptible on shabbat according to Torah, because in the light of modernity they take away from the spirit of shabbat. in the same way, the committee of laws and standards of the conservative movement has ruled that there are times when breaking halachah sometimes allows people to increase the spirit of shabbat, like driving to shul.

in addition, the sages say that you shall nit chastise a person who eats unkosher food and then davens by telling him/her "how dare an unclean person who eats creepy and crawling things utter the sacred name of the Lord" are we to chastise a person who does not follow all the mitzvoth for trying to follow others?

What about Busha? Embarassment? Are we to turn away a person who is homosexual who commits themselves to all the mitzvoth they can handle just because of an attraction to the same gender? Or do we pry into their personal lives and expose thei sex practices. THe sages say that we should not take a husband and wifes bedroom experience into the public. though gay marriage is not the issue, what right do we have to make someones sexual tendencies public?

And do we truly follow all the mitzvoth? Do the people we consider rabbis follow all the mitzvoth? If so, wouldnt we all be living in eretz yisroel with moshiach by now?

So what if there is a gay person who doesnt engage in gay sex. Halakhicly, can they be a rabbi?

Thu Mar 23, 04:15:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous Blue Dove said...

Anonymous apologizes for causing the great mystery of who anonymous is.

Anonymous didn’t think anyone would care.

Anonymous is now using his blogger name: Blue Dove.

Anonymous also never said or implied that gay people are deranged. G-d forbid. Read what anonymous said and you will see that gay people weren’t even being discussed. Love was. And the implication in that comment was that it would take a truly deranged mind (regardless of sexual orientation) to suggest that those references of Love in the Torah are sexually oriented.

The point is, as G-d Squad so brilliantly put it, that it depends on perspective. When looking at the issue from a humanistic point of view you give people the right to act as they feel (as long as it is not harming anyone else). When you are looking at it from a Torah perspective, G-d mandates how we act, regardless of how we feel.

Naturally a person has a choice which path to follow – his feelings, or G-d’s commandments. Whatever you choose, you should be aware and honest about your choice.

The confusion begins when we try to justify our own feelings by twisting and contorting Torah to fit our own personal agendas.

Thu Mar 23, 08:18:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Rakdannit427 said...

Obvious from the commentary that no women have had their say, so let me be the first:

After reading everything, I could not help but notice the brilliance in Netmessiah's post:

Do the people we consider rabbis follow all the mitzvoth? If so, wouldnt we all be living in eretz yisroel with moshiach by now?

Simply brilliant. Stabbing someone because of their "non-halachic" lifestyle seems very un-halachic, is illegal, and as all acts of wanton violence, morally reprehensible.

Yes, I know, people will jump up and say: "Well that man wasn't really a good ultra-Orthodox man!" Obviously not.

But the thoughts of homosexuals confirming their love is so repulsive to some - so "un-halachic" - that they would commit such acts. You cannot commit such an act without first thinking that their love is "perverted."

Regarding the above post, the dichotomy of a "Torah" perspective and a "humanistic" perspective is simplistic. What is being called the "Torah" perspective should be corrected to say an "Orthodox" or "ultra-Orthodox" Torah perspective.

The Conservatives obviously have a different Torah perspective.

And back to the first thing I said: and what about the woman? What about lesbians? Not "as bad" because they don't spill seeds?

A friend and I once had a grueling debate, in which he said that almost none of halacha is taken literally. If that were so, than eating a cheeseburger from McDonalds would be kosher, right? But the laws are vast - and evolving - as to how to uphold their kavanah. What about the description for tzitzit? Kind of vague. Therefore the "abomination" of man lying with a man... is only the explanation given at surface-level.

Isn't it our tradition which provokes us to delve deeper and look past the superficialartificial layer?

Thu Mar 23, 09:55:00 PM 2006  
Blogger netmessiah said...

Just a lil update from inside sources:
The decision to require a 80% affirmative vote was overturned. The new decision is that it will take 13 votes to pass the Takanah.

Thu Mar 23, 10:18:00 PM 2006  
Blogger netmessiah said...

By the way, im considering writing an article for the Leviathan about this topic. Is anyone uncomfortable with me copying segments from comments (maintaining anonymity unless instructed otherwise) to quote in such an article? Any ideas or suggestions?

Thu Mar 23, 10:21:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous Blue Dove said...

The issue of contorting Torah to fit our own views has nothing to do with level of religious observance; it is an issue to be weary of in all segments of the Jewish community. It is one thing to objectively look into Torah and come up with various, even differing, lessons and insights. It is quite another to form an opinion or feeling and then comb through Torah and redefine its accepted understandings just to prove your theory.

Homosexuality has been around for a long time. The Torah has been around for a long time. The understanding that man to man sex is forbidden according to the Torah has been around for a long time.

We must therefore ask ourselves an honest question: is the current attempt to redefine the understanding of Torah caused by a yearning to truly understand Torah, or is it caused by a yearning to make Torah fit in with our times and understandings.

The former is Torah. The latter is contorting Torah to fit our own agendas.

This issue is not limited to the question of homosexuality, and neither is it restricted to one denomination of religious affiliation. This is a question each and every one of us must ask ourselves before anything we do:

Is what I am about to do really good, or do I really want to do it and therefore I will find an excuse that says it is good.

Does G-d command me what to do, or do I command G-d what to command.

Thu Mar 23, 11:09:00 PM 2006  
Blogger netmessiah said...

Blue Dove, consider the Talmudic case of Ben Sorer Umoreh. The talmudic rabbis saw a law in the Torah which didnt sit right with them. It wasnt acceptable in their time, and it wasnt acceptabe in their hearts. So instead of abandoning Torah, they legislated around it to fit their own agendas. The created interpretation and law to prevent a father from stoning his son. Are we not allowed to find law in Torah that doesnt sit well with us, in our time, in our hearts. Are we not able to replicate the legislative strategy of the rabbis of the Talmud and make Torah law fit to our time, our morals?

Fri Mar 24, 12:36:00 AM 2006  
Blogger G-D SQUAD said...

rakdannit, I think you're down the street right now. I'm too lazy to get off my couch and come over there.

Well, the main thing I wanted to say, is you're getting sharper, but to argue for using Torah interpretation to your advantage, you have to learn more classic Torah interpretation. No, a cheeseburger from McDonalds would in no way be kosher, because not only is the mixing of the meat and dairy not kosher (d'rabbanan), but the meat has to have been slaughtered in a kosher manner (and it has to have been a kosher animal to begin with) d'oraisa.

That's just the plain meaning of what's written in the Torah. Now, we're a little off track.

We were talking about who can be a rabbi, not what someone can or can't think or be attracted to.

And I think we've established that by the Torah's standards (in any Torah perspective you want to take), only certain people can be rabbis.

But as far as being stam a community leader, that's up to the community. As far as being stam knowledgeable about Torah, that's up to the individual. But we're talking about being a rabbi.

Shabbat shalom if I don't see you.

Fri Mar 24, 01:06:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Rakdannit427 said...

What is the role of the rabbi today if the smicha is not even "that real"?

Why pretend that our ancestors were so much holier than what we could ever be? Did they not dance around a golden calf after their deliverance from bondage? After the miracles?

What are our miracles today?

When the "establishment" accepts a gay rabbi, that will be a miracle.

Fri Mar 24, 03:08:00 AM 2006  
Blogger G-D SQUAD said...

So that's the question, what is the role of rabbi today? Are you saying that it doesn't mean anything anymore, so we should just let anyone who wants to be a rabbi, be a rabbi?

And if it's so pointless today to be a rabbi, why do people care so much who gets to be a rabbi?

I think fedora made an excellent point that I missed until now: some of the greatest sages ever didn't necessarily even have the title "rabbi." And some of the greatest Jewish teachers I've had aren't rabbis and don't plan on ever becoming rabbis.

And, rakdannit, once again if we actually look into the Torah (as in THE WRITTEN TORAH, and even more so the ORAL TORAH), not all our ancestors danced around the golden calf. First of all, not even all the tribes were involved. And among the tribes that were involved, not all the people even participated. And the ones involved in the calf certainly were not rabbis. So, there goes that theory.

At the time, Moshe played the role of rabbi, as Fedora mentioned. Now, was Moshe holier than you or me or those involved in the golden calf incident? I should hope so. And Joshua, who Moshe gave smicha to, also was very holy.

So if we're still talking in terms of what it means to be a rabbi, Moshe, who was the only rabbi around at that time, lived his life so connected to G-d's Torah that holy light actually radiated off of Moshe's face. People at that time looked to Moshe completely to find out how to live their lives in alignment with G-d's will.

They looked to Moshe as the quintessential Jew, and even more so, the quintessential rabbi. So fine, the Jews as a people have a long tradition of arguing with G-d. That's true.

But if we're talking about rabbis, it's a whole 'nother ball game.

I get the feeling though that people don't value the role of the rabbi today as they did a thousand years ago or two thousand years ago. And if that's the case, so who cares really? Why do you even have to be Jewish to be a rabbi? And I'm being totally serious. If that's the case, why should you even have to be Jewish to be a rabbi?

Fri Mar 24, 04:15:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Fedora Black said...

Non-Jews as rabbis?

The answer is simple: One cannot teach and make judgments about halacha if one is not obligated to follow it!

That being said, it would be wonderful if there were non-Jews who were highly trained in the aspects of Torah that applies to non-Jews, i.e. learned about the 7 Noahide Laws.

To keep this debate on track vis-a-vis what a rabbi is, it might be good to know what the Conservative movemen's view of Torah is (e.g. is it divine in nature, or simply divinely inspired) and what their view of the Oral Torah is. Also, how do they view their Laws and Standards commitee? As a later day Sanhedrin? How far reaching do they see their ability to make changes?

Fri Mar 24, 05:17:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Fedora Black said...


I would argue that the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements are far more "establishment" than Orthodoxy is. Each of these movements have central bodies that seek to deal with religious matters and speak for all members of the movement. No such central body speaks for all Orthodox Jews. In addition, each of these movementss has a central institution of learning (in the case of Conservative, two such insitutions)with the specific purpose of training rabbis to work within that movement. Indeed, many of us here on the blog know a UCSC grad, a woman no less, who did not get into JTS, the Conservative main school, because they did not think that she had enough experience with the conservative movement!

No such central institution exists in the Orthodox world. There are hundreds of yeshivas, ranging from those with only a handful of students to giant yeshivas like the Mir and Lakewood, that each have at least 3000 students. And while each of these has its own style and emphasis, a student studying at one is not being trained to work for a specific movement.

Fri Mar 24, 06:51:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Rakdannit427 said...


Not ALL our ancestors danced. Did I seem to imply that? 3000 is a significant number of people who witnessed the revelation at Sinai and still committed idolatry. I was not referring to Moshe Rabeinu while discussing levels of human holiness. Some people are obviously spiritually higher. I was referring to the Jewish masses. Talk about miracles... and still they lost faith! Today, what are our miracles? (And I'm not being sarcastic either)


While the info on the movements is interesting, it really strays from the points raised. Not the ones I raised in particular, but the excellent ones Netmessiah raised, who has a good deal more halachik knowledge than I have.

1) Fathers publicly flogging wayward sons... no longer done. Without changing Torah text, the rabbis reinterpreted the law. This is what the Conservatives are doing now. Laws aren't static. If Plessy v Ferguson had not been overturned in 1954 with Brown, some people might still think that separate could be equal. But then again, some continue to think so.

2) If every person who claimed to be observant really was, wouldn't Moshiach have already come? Wouldn't the balance of mitzvahs have already tipped to prompt the arrival?

BTW there is no central institution in the Conservative world either. Geography is destiny, right? If one posits there is such a centralization, it would be of course in Jerusalem. Centralization of other sects, however, is diasporic. The number 770 is imbued with such meaning for some people; this goes to show the importance of this place, a locus of one kind of the various different Chassidisms.

I guess you do have a point, however, that there is no one body that speaks for all branches of Orthodoxy. Interesting that Orthodoxy has much diversity, and many different opinions. There is centralization, however, within the streams - ie studying at a Shlomo Carlebach-style yeshiva vs. Chabad Lubavitcher.

Sun Mar 26, 02:32:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Fedora Black said...

Regarding the case of the Ben Sorer Umoreh, why is everyone claiming that the Rabbis of the Talmub felt disturbed by this halacha? Have not read the Gammoreh myself, but I doubt that they say "this makes us feel bad, lets change it". Instead, they were seeking to define the limits of the law. Does anyone know where this Gammorah is so that we can have an honest look at this?

I am not sure what you mean about the Conservative movement not being centralized. Could you explain? Are you talking about the non-US branches such as Massorti?

It is true that various groups in Orthodoxy has central yeshivas. But the borders between them are much more fluid than they would be in the non-Orthodox takes on Judaism. Carlebach, for example, studied at the very non-Chassidic and Litvish Lakewook, and I think he has smicha from R' Aaron Kotler, the head of Lakewood at the time. However, Carlebach had a German Jewish background, and later hung out with Bobov Chassidim, got interested in Chabad Chassidus, became a Chabad shliach, and finally left Chabad and struck out on his own. Currently the Carlebach Shul in New York, which Carlebach ran with his brother Eli Chaim, is now run by Rabbi Naftali Citron, who is a good friend of the SC community. Rabbi Citron has his training and smicha from a Chabad yeshivah, but now runs a Carlebach style shul. No problem there.

Its true that where you are educated forms you and how you look at things in Orthodoxy. However, this is no different than, say, going to college. I am sure you would have been a different person if you had gone to UCLA, Harvard, or Kanasas State, then if you had gone to UCSC.

Sun Mar 26, 06:42:00 AM 2006  
Blogger G-D SQUAD said...

Rak, you said:

"Why pretend that our ancestors were so much holier than what we could ever be? Did they not dance around a golden calf after their deliverance from bondage?"

So, this entire discussion was about who can be a rabbi, and the point was made that rabbis are supposed to be role models who follow Torah. And you brought the example of the golden calf to show how unholy our ancestors were. I don't see the relevance.

All I was saying is, if we're talking rabbis, none of the golden calf worshippers were even close to being rabbis.

As far as miracles: I'm sure you'll agree the Yidden who witnessed the miracles of yetziat mitzraiim still had a free will. That's the nature of this world and of living a Torah lifestyle in general; we have to have a free will for it to matter at all.

Now imagine if you witnessed the miracles of yetziat mitzraiim. Would you really still have free choice to choose idolotry if you wanted? Not really, because it's so painfully obvious who the master of the universe is. So to balance the scales, those Yidden's capacity for disbelief was also strengthened. Otherwise there is no free will. (Big miracles)+(enforced will for dibelief)=(the capacity to sin and continued free will)

Today what are our miracles? Well, the Bochner's witnessed the miracle of childbirth recently. I woke up this morning, once again, which was pretty miraculous in the scheme of things. We still have an ozone layer and ice-caps, which is a miracle. It's a miracle that there are billions of people on Earth and the Earth hasn't failed us yet.

A person doesn't have to see miracles if they don't want to. Today, our capacity for disbelief matches the types of miracles we witness, to the point where it's pretty easy to say, "There are no miracles today. There is no G-d. The only thing I can really be sure of is that I exist."

Happy goyisha birthday tomorrow, btw.

Sun Mar 26, 11:57:00 AM 2006  
Blogger netmessiah said...

There are so may points being made, and Im a little lost. But I'll do my best to seem moderatle relevant to my own topic :)

1. In the case of Ben Sorer Umoreh, the Rabbis didnt out and declare that the Law D'oraita is wrong, but rather it is moderately understood that the for some reason they are developing gates and gates around the law as to prevent anyone from actually falling victom toits consequences. Im no expert, nor am I claiming ultimate understanding, but I did a senior thesis on this in high school (which included the memorization of the entire section with comentators), so i believe i have a firm grasp, though review is always necessary.

2. The conservative movement, though seemengly organized, is going through a rough revision. While the Comittee on Laws and Standards serves and the presiding body of legislation for the Conservative movement, and most Conservative rabbis belong to the Rabbinical Assembly, what appears to be unity is really a cover for momentary confusion. The Jewish Theological Seminary, one of two rabbinical schools is looking for a new chancellor (they might have found someone since i last checked on that), there is no continuity between the Schechter day schools, the Ramah Camps, the United Synagogue Youth Movement, the Mens Clubs and Womens Leagues, and every other Conservative organization. while they all have share board members, and common goals, none of them are unified with the others.

3. The issue is Gay Rabbis. In fact, Gay Conservatie Rabbis. If you would like some good reading on the conservative movement, check out Emet V'Emunah, its a short book on the standards of the Conservative Movement. Rabbi Brad Artson who is one of the publishers for the legalization of gay conservative rabbis has a listerve, where he talks about the parashah. But a reminder, the topic is Gay Conservative Rabbis. Does anyone have some sort of a stance on this issue??

Mon Mar 27, 12:06:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Fedora Black said...


Re: 1)

As you wrote a paper on the Ben sorer umoreh, do you remember where in Gammorah it is dealt with?

As for fences (gezerot), the parameters surounding this halacha are not gezerot as far as I can tell. A gezera is something extra added to keep a law from being violated. For example, chicken is actually parve, but because it is very similar to meat in texture, appearence, and taste (where "meat" in this context is flesh from a kosher mammal), it is rabbinically treated as meat, thus avoiding that one might by accident eat a cornedbeef sandwich with cheese, thinking it was just processed chicken breast. Also it avoids people thinking that one might be doing something wrong when in reality one is not, i.e one has a chicken sandwich with cheese, but it looks to others like it is meat and dairy.

A gezera in the case of the Ben would be something like declaring that all male children must be sent away from home at age 12 and never see or hear from their parents again. That way, they could never rebel against or disobey their parents, and the halacha would be less likely to come into effect!

Re: 2)

So if the various bits and pieces that make up the Conservative movement are less unified than what I thought, how would a ruling on gay rabbis by the Laws and Standards commitee affect things? What if the commitee decides that openly and practicing gay and lesbian rabbis are OK, and ordains them, but Conservative congregations decide that they don't want them? Can the Scechter day schools say no to openly gay rabbis as teachers and counselors, even if Rabbinical Assembly OKs them? One the other hand, what if gay rabbis are not approved, but a Schechter school hires and openly gay reform or reconstructionist rabbi? I am not asking these questions to provoke anyone. I am just curious how things work on a practical level.

Re: 3)

I think that those of us who are on the traditional side of the fence have made our thoughts clear on the issue already.

I guess what you are really looking for is input from those who actively affiliate with the Conservative movement.

Mon Mar 27, 12:21:00 PM 2006  

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