I just got off the phone with Shira Dicker, who does public relations for the Rabbinical Assembly, which represents all the Conservative rabbis out there.
She had just left a day-long meeting of the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, which is trying to frame a new Conservative understanding of homosexuality.
The meeting, which will break a few minutes from now (it’s 5:45 p.m.), sounded like one for the books. It will continue tomorrow at Park Avenue Synagogue in NYC, when the committee expects to vote on five separate position papers.
“It has been completely fascinating,” Dicker told me. “Just the range of citations, everyone from Paul Tillich to Abraham Joshua Heschel.”
“Some rabbis talked about their meetings with members of their own communities, with their own families, about struggling with different sides of the issues.”
She said that the rabbis dealt directly with very difficult issues, like whether you can ask a lesbian couple to follow Jewish rules for abstaining from sex through their menstrual cycle.
And they talked about whether the movement can ask male couples to abstain from anal sex (as one position paper reportedly suggests).
“Can you ask people to refrain?” Dicker said. “Is it compassionate? Can it work? Does it make the behavior deviant?”
Dicker said that each of the rabbis has been careful to connect their arguments to an intepretation of Halacha — Jewish law. The Conservative movement strives to stay true to Jewish law and tradition, while grudgingly adapting to the times.
“Everyone is very careful that their arguments be seen as coming out of Halacha. That’s been a unanimous feature. No one is saying, ‘Let’s forget about this old thing.’ ”
Rabbi Joel Meyers of White Plains, head of the Rabbinical Assembly, opened the meeting by reading a poem written by an Hasidic woman.
“It was like an impressionistic dream,” Dicker said. “It set the tone, a serious, respectful and almost poetic tone.”
Two Westchester rabbis on the committee are authors of position papers. One is Gordon Tucker, the esteemed leader of Temple Israel Center of White Plains.
The other is Rabbi David Fine of Shaarei Tikvah in Scarsdale, who is in his early 30s and is a co-author with his father, Rabbi Robert Fine, the former spiritual leader of Bet Torah in Mount Kisco.
Also in attendence at the meeting, as an observer, is the much admired Rabbi Melvin Sirner of Beth El Synagogue Center in New Rochelle.
Dicker said the rabbis are concerned about how their decisions will affect the future of Conservative Judaism.
“There is this underlying feeling, concern and sadness, about the future of the movement,” she said. “You have a wide range of generations here. I was surprised to hear some of the older members, the real lions of the movement, expressing wonder at how society has changed so much in their lifetimes.”