Tuesday, December 2, 2008

no one can say you can't play

In the recent issue of CJ, a publication of the Conservative movement, R. Brad Artson, Dean of the Ziegler School (and a classmate of mine back in the day), makes a powerful case for what might be called “strong pluralism”, a movement with room for both egalitarians and non-egalitarians; those in favor of normalizing lesbian and gay Jews, and those not. It sounds open and warm and all kinds of good things, but it’s also wrong in a way that ultimately betrays itself.

See, the deal with a tent of whatever size is that everyone inside it has to be welcome everywhere inside it. Right now, under the banner of “halachic pluralism” a rabbi has the option of counting women as witnesses to legal documents or not. Sounds fair – I should be able to choose who gets to sign a document I’m supervising. But it currently means that a person can be converted by one Conservative rabbi in full accordance with the standards of the Movement – can be fully observant, can be a Conservative rabbi for heaven’s sake – and can find that he or she isn’t considered a Jew by rabbis in other synagogues if a woman was one of the witnesses. That’s not pluralism, that’s nonsense. “Pluralism” is not a right to delegitimize other members. While we should embrace the idea that practices and beliefs in the Movement may vary from shul to shul and from Jew to Jew, there cannot be bubbles where one’s fundamental status is changed simply by being there. Relationship to God and the Covenant cannot be contingent on location.

Further: not only must every member of the Movement have the right to be recognized as a member throughout the Movement, each member living a path sanctioned by the CJLS has the right to be recognized as an observant Jew. That is, while one blade of pluralism may give the individual rabbi the right to decide who to marry or who to use as a witness, the other blade must constrain said rabbi from judging others who are living according to Conservative Halacha.

I don’t think anyone can know how this will play out with GLBT issues, but at the very least it must mean that gay and lesbian Jews cannot have their condition defined for them by someone else. By accepting a responsum that says that homosexual desire is neither chosen, nor pathological, nor immoral, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards has given gay and lesbian Jews recognition as “normal,” and that recognition, it seems to me, cannot be negotiable.

Pluralism may allow for a lot of things, but even under the biggest tent, no one can say you can't play.

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