NY Jewish Seminary to Accept Gay Students

A Conservative Jewish seminary in New York has agreed to admit gays and lesbians who want to become rabbis and cantors, but declined to take a stand on whether rabbis should officiate at same-sex unions.

The Jewish Theological Seminary announced its decision yesterday, more than three months after the Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards authorized the ordination of gays and lesbians.

While most Orthodox Jews ban same-sex unions or gay rabbis, and Reform Jews have accepted them for years, Conservative Jews have been split with sentiment growing for acceptance.

A survey commissioned by the seminary and released in January showed 65 percent of Conservative rabbis in favor of allowing gay and lesbian rabbis and cantors compared to 28 percent who were opposed.

"This is really historic. It took a lot of leadership," said Jake Goodman, a member of Keshet, a group at the seminary that has advocated gay rights within the Conservative movement.

The chancellor of the New York seminary, Arnold Eisen, told Haaretz that he made the decision after a long and tedious process of consulting with hundreds of Conservative Jews, rabbis, cantors, educators, students and lay leaders from the United States and abroad. He found there was widespread support for admitting gays to the seminar, he said.

"The immediate issue for congregations and rabbis is whether they are going to do commitment ceremonies. Each congregation will have to decide whether it hires gay and lesbian clergy," Eisen said.

The wider problem is how to remain faithful to tradition and halakha while being part of our society, he said.