Israel's Masorti (Conservative) Movement decided to approve the ordination of homosexual rabbis, in a dramatic vote on Thursday.
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The Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, affiliated with the movement, will admit gay and lesbian students for training as spiritual leaders as of the upcoming school year.
In doing so the Israeli Conservative Movement is joining the American branch of the movement, whose rabbinical seminaries have been admitting gay students for some years.
The question whether or not to ordain gay and lesbian rabbis has been rattling the Conservative Movement in Israel and the U.S. for the past decade. Unlike the Reform movement that took to the question with ease, deciding firmly on the acceptance of gay rabbis. The Conservative Movement, whose rabbis see themselves bound to Jewish law, has been caught up in heated debate over the subject.
Years of discussion led to two contradictory religious rulings in 2006, one requiring the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis and another banning any such act. The two rabbinical seminaries affiliated with the movement in the U.S. move the ruling allowing the ordination, while the seminaries in Jerusalem and Buenos Aires adopted the ban on ordination. The issue nearly caused a rift in the movement.
The debate continued to wage at the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, with two female rabbis quitting the institute, one in opposition to the ordination of gay rabbis; the other over the hesitation shown by the organization in accepting gay and lesbian students into its ranks.
On Thursday, the institute’s general council held another vote on the subject. Out of the 18 rabbis that attended, all voted to admit homosexual students, with one rabbi abstaining.
Rabbi Mauricio Balter, President of the Israeli Conservative Movement Rabbinical Assembly expressed his support of the move.
“I see it as a very important development in Jewish law,” Rabbi Balter told Haaretz, adding: “It is the right thing to do. We were all made in the image of god, and as such we are all made equal. For me this is a very important value. I always said we should admit gay and lesbians into our ranks.”
“I’m glad we had the vote and that it went the way it did,” Rabbi Balter continued. “The decision to hold a vote was correct as can be seen by the fact that there wasn’t a single dissenting vote,” he said
The seminary’s rabbinic program – a two year study program incorporating a MA in Jewish studies that ends with an examination by a council of conservative rabbis, who authorize the ordination, similar to the examination exams in Orthodox Judaism.
As of next year the students will select their testers, as long as their choice is authorized by the school’s dean, thus avoiding the possibility that rabbis that opposed the integration of homosexual students will thwart the ordination of candidates based on their sexual orientation.
The Schechter Rabbinical Seminary stressed that the students ordained as rabbis will continue to meet the institute standards and will be committed to a moral, Jewish, and Zionist lifestyle. In addition, applicants are expected to have a extensive background in Jewish studies including the Talmud, Jewish law, bible studies, rabbinic teachings, and Jewish philosophy, as well as an express willingness to participate in public works, such as working in the community, in Jewish education or spiritual counseling.
People working at the seminary admitted that over the years, members of the American Conservative Movement have been applying pressure to accept gay and lesbian students, as the American seminaries have been doing for some years now.
The institute also stressed that the decision was mostly a formality since it had never checked for the sexual orientation of its applicants.