Ed. note: Rabbi Rick Brody serves Temple Ami Shalom in West Covina, CA. He is a 2002 graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.
As a member of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association I stand in proud and joyful solidarity with the more progressive members of the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative rabbis' group) who have won a major victory for Judaism and humanity. More specifically these beneficiaries include:
I know there are some in the Reconstructionist movement who are focusing on the many contradictions in yesterday's decisions. The most glaring of these is that the responsum that was passed permitting ordination and same-sex commitment ceremonies affirmed Leviticus' ban on male-male intercourse. Sure, we in the Reconstructionist world addressed this issue long ago. We should rejoice in an expanding of the egalitarian/humanitarian ethic that, as has now been demonstrated, can not only steer the course for those of us who subscribe to a post-halakhic evolution of Jewish civilization, but now for those who adhere to a halakhic process as well.
Those who voted for Rabbi Elliot Dorff's teshuvah (Jewish legal opinion—in this case the one allowing ordination of gays and lesbians and same-sex unions but affirming Leviticus) are advancing the process of halakhic change. They have established that basic human ethics, discoveries in the hard and social sciences, and the experience of pain and alienation among gay and lesbian Jews are critical factors in halakhic decision-making.
The four resigning members of the Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards (CJLS) disagree, but they know their narrowness is on the losing side here, even though Roth's contradictory teshuvah passed alongside Dorff's.
Regarding the apparent contradictory nature of Dorff's position, he admits that he himself preferred the teshuvot (plural of teshuvah) that argued for more comprehensive change. Those proposals were deemed takanot(a major change to the law which requires a higher vote threshold) and didn't pass. He saw his approach as pragmatic.
Dorff wanted something to pass. He wants to be able to ordain out gays and lesbians as rabbis (which, quite likely, will now occur this spring). He wants to advance the acceptance of same-sex commitment ceremonies. There was no reason for those goals to be deferred any longer. Dai kvar (enough already)!
Advocates for change within the Conservative movement see this teshuvah as not the greatest statement on the issue, but it remains worlds better than the status quo. Political deal-cutting, pragmatism, and moderation is a reality. Such machinations got Lincoln elected and thus helped end slavery. So, I say, thank God for Elliot Dorff.
There are implications that result from the contradictions of Dorff's teshuvah. There remains an official condemnation of anal penetration between men. However, the teshuva does not condemn any other form of intimacy. Nor does it question the validity of loving partnerships between members of the same sex.
Furthermore, the progressives within Conservative Movement leadership have made it clear that they have no interest—and there will be no presumption&mdashof expecting any kind of accountability or enforcement regarding this "ban;" it is really in name only with no practical application. It simply represents the movement's imperfect way of addressing problematic Torah texts. The real-life changes "on the ground," rather, are significant.
Sure, the Reconstructionist desire for complete equality and intellectual honesty prefers that we resolve such remaining relics of an outdated system, in this case the homophobic condemnation of an act between two adults that can be a deeply personal expression and celebration of their love. We in our movement HAVE resolved this potential problem by reading Torah not as a final word but rather in its civilizational context. But we should note that the liberal wing of the Conservative movement wishes to take this approach as well in its ethics-centered understanding of halakhah. Its adherents all wish they could have overcome the Levitical ban.
On a more personal note, I am very proud to say that my partner, Rachel Kobrin, in the rabbinical program at the University of Judaism, has made news as a vocal advocate for change on this issue. She penned a letter to the CJLS that 75% of UJ students signed advocating change. The Forward's recent article quoted her and mentioned the letter campaign.
Finally, as a rabbi in a USCJ congregation, I took advantage of the upcoming vote this past Shabbat to teach on the issue and encourage honest discussion—a move that was received very positively and that allowed many liberally-minded congregants to speak up in favor of change. So, at the least, this process has helped move the conversation along. We, the Jewish People, are definitely not standing still.