Thursday, February 08, 2007

Conservative movement confusion

This week’s NY Jewish Week has an op-ed by R’ Jerome Epstein, a prominent Conservative Rabbi, reflecting on the recent survey within the Conservative movement which revealed great support for the acceptance and ordination of gay rabbis (there is also an op-ed by R' Michael Broyde, an Orthodox Rabbi, on the same topic). The ordination of gays and officiating at same sex unions has been approved by the Conservative Law Commitee, much to the consternation of a minority in the movement. In the same paper there is an article about Rabbi Plotkin, another Conservative Rabbi referred to as the movement’s “top kashrut kop”, who was “disappointed” to discover from the same survey that a majority of Conservative Rabbis and clergy eat hot dairy foods, including grilled fish, in non-kosher restaurants. This, Epstein feels, runs contrary to Conservative interpretation of Jewish law. He plans to write a paper and forward it to their Law Committee for consideration.

So let me guess this straight – homosexual unions are OK, but having grilled kosher fish in a treif restaurant is out? Something is not kosher here, and it ain’t the fish.


  1. kishnevi8:41 PM

    Are you familiar with how the Conservative "responsa" process works? An opinion that can gain at least one quarter or one third (I've forgotten the precise details)of the votes on the Law Committee is approved. That is, even if 2/3 of the members voted "no", it would still pass. The result is not mandatory for anyone--that is, no Conservative rabbi is required to officiate at a same sex "wedding", and no Conservative synagogue is prohibited from rejecting a pulpit candidate because of his/her homosexuality. What the decisions last year did is make it possible for Conservative rabbis/synagogues to do those things without jeopardizing their status within the Conservative movement. Before, an mixed-faith marriage and a homosexual marriage were equally against movement policies. Now only the former is forbidden.

    But the vote actually approved three different opinions--one of them more or less confirming what had been the status quo ante, and if I recall correctly, without anything that would strayed from Orthodox halacha. The other was more or less unenthusiastic about the whole thing. And even the most liberal opinion admitted that there was a prohibition in the Torah against homosexual anal sex which could not be set aside, and trotted out a set of halachic arguments that were meant to prove that only anal sex was involved in the prohibition of homosexuality. The most liberal opinion, which would have set aside even that, was rejected. So the decision was not nearly as decisive, or revolutionary, as it has been made out to be, or as revolutionary as the ultra liberal element hoped it would be.
    So there will be Conservative synagogues with homosexual rabbis and homosexual "weddings", and othes who discreetly avoid the whole issue. Given today's climate, I doubt there will be many who will openly reject homosexual rabbis/"weddings".

    What the Committee did that was much more radical occurred a month before the homosexuality decisions: it adopted, with much more support among the members than the homosexuality decision, an opinion that in effect nullified the extra days of counting imposed derabbanan for niddah,and ruling that a woman who counted only the minimum days mentioned in the Torah was in full compliance--and, in doing so, was fairly frank in rejecting the rulings of the Talmud and rishonim.
    But I'm not sure what the practical effect of this would be, given that the number of Conservative wives who obey niddah in any form is probably far fewer than the number of Conservatives who avoid eating in non-kosher restaurants. I can't help wondering if the fluff up a little while ago about an Israeli who suggested that the laws of niddah be loosened for those couples with fertility problems is somehow linked to that decision.

    And BTW, Epstein's gripe is simply that those who are Conservative rabbis should adhere to what is supposedly the standard position of the movement--that if you must eat in a non-kosher facility, eat unheated foods that would be considered kosher if prepared in a kosher kitchen.

  2. I find it very interesting that this problem is so widespread. Conservative youth groups (USY, Ramah, etc.) have a very strict COLD dairy policy that does not include anything that had been previously heated.

    Whether I agree with that (which I don't) or not isn't really the question is that there are Halachic leniencies to allow such practices.

    However, that 70% of C Rabbis eat hot pizza out is disturbing. How can Rabbis enforce the strict rule while violating Halacha at home?

    I happen to have spent much time with R' Epstein in the past and I'm shocked that he would challenge such a tshuva to argue that it's okay. I'm sure His son-in-law will not be pleased.

  3. I also found this very interesting:
    “I would assume that even the Orthodox or very Orthodox would eat cold food like salads [at non-kosher restaurants],” he said. “Warm food brings another level of observance in terms of the plates it was prepared on. I presume that most restaurants are clean and the question is whether you accept it or insist [that the plates] be ritually cleansed.”

    While I know some that do follow this practice it is far from the norm of those who describe themselves as Orthodox. She's got no clue.

  4. I actually appreciated that point - it showed minimal awareness of the difference between bliyos which applies only to hot food vs. cold veggies. In truth, if one eats a cold undressed salad off a clean plate with no davar charif included, what issur would be involved?

    Kishnevi - technical details of the Committee process aside, Epstein's response to the survey's revelation that the majority of the C movement is ready to accept gay rabbis is to countenance accepting and celebrating diversity. Plotikin's response to the revelation that the majority eat hot dairy foods in treid restaurants is too say the movement needs to clamp down on standards. Well, which is it - are there absolute standards that need to be upheld, or should we respond to change by moving the standard and "celebrating" change?