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NEW YORK - The incoming chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of Conservative Judaism in America, Professor Arnold M. Eisen, has announced that he supports the ordination of gay rabbis.

Eisen was appointed leader of Conservative Judaism, one of the four large movements in North American Jewry. He will be replacing Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, who is retiring in July.

The issue of gay rabbis has been preoccupying the leaders of the movement for several years, along with same-sex unions and dwindling membership.

The movement's 25-strong Va'ad Halakha (halakhic committee) is authorized to determine the issue.

A few weeks ago the Va'ad Halakha held a special debate on the ordination of gay rabbis, deciding finally to delay the final debate until a special session in December this year. Rabbi Joel Myers, executive vice president of the movement's Rabbinical Assembly, told Haaretz yesterday that in a private conversation with Eisen on Monday the new chancellor told him he supported lifting the movement's ban on gay rabbis.

Myers said Eisen said he supported the halakhic procedure required, as customary, to such a significant move and will wait until the Va'ad Halakha's decision.

Outgoing chancellor Schorsch objects to any change in the movement's position on gay rabbis and same-sex unions.

In an New York Times interview Eisen said this week, "I'd like to see it possible for gay and lesbian students to be ordained."

"I'm going to leave same-sex ceremonies to the rabbis," he said, adding that some Conservative rabbis were performing these functions.

Eisen said he was not an expert in Jewish law, but his opinion is based on "knowing gay and lesbian people, friends, students, coworkers - and the sense that Judaism has always adapted itself to changing circumstances. Not every change is good, but this is one in which I think it's time."