« Free-speech beer | Main | Torture, the Belfast Indictment, and an Interesting Question »

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Statement by Conservative Judaism Movement on Homosexuality and Jewish Law

Thanks to Dan and the Prawfs for asking me back - it's nice to guest again here.

I hope to talk about a few upcoming things (no, not to avoid exam-writing but to engage in deep scholarly discussion!), but I wanted to at least mention today's statement by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) of the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism on the issue of Homosexuality and Halakhah (Jewish law).  The Conservative movement has been struggling with the issue for some time, and held formal meetings yesterday and today in an effort to reach an official position on the place of homosexuality in Jewish law.

Two points: first, though I say "official," to a large extent it is explicitly not a legislative or judicial body, imposing such rulings.  Under the approach of the CJLS, multiple, even contradictory positions may be set out by the Committee; when that happens, it is left to the local rabbi to determine what rules or practices a particular congregation will follow.  And that is what happened today; according to a press release (which I have not seen posted yet), one position was approved that prohibits rabbinical ordination to active homosexuals and prohibits same-sex commitment ceremonies or marriage.  A second was accepted that would approve gay ordination and same-sex commitment ceremonies, but not marriage.  (However, the press release that I saw also includes a statement that "During its deliberations the CJLS did not discuss - nor do any of the papers reflect - any determination regarding gay marriage.")

The second point is the practical implications that will certainly get lots of play in the secular legal world: the broader legal implications for ordination and marriage, and what sort of deference secular courts will and should give to religious determinations about them.  Lots of ecclesiastical abstention issues here, of course (as well as others), though I wonder if the fact that Jewish law does not involve the same sort of hierarchical arrangement as does, e.g., Catholicism makes a difference for that analysis.

Anyway - something sure to arouse legal commentary, and comments welcome.  Good to be back!

Posted by jeremy_blumenthal on December 6, 2006 at 03:58 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Statement by Conservative Judaism Movement on Homosexuality and Jewish Law:

» Two Jews, Three Opinions from The Debate Link
So the old saying goes. Anyway, a Conservative Jewish panel on the issue of same-sex sex, ordination, and commitment ceremonies has approved 3 teshuvot (legal opinions) on the subject--two of which uphold the traditional view, and a third which allow... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 6, 2006 4:38:26 PM


This is what was said in a "traditional" teshuva:

Myth #5: Same-sex attraction (sexual orientation) cannot be changed through therapy
This position has been forwarded by mental health organizations such as the APA and has come to be accepted as dogma.
Fact #5: While it is true that many people who have attempted to change their sexual orientation through therapy have failed to do so, and many of them have been harmed in the process, there are people who report that their sexual orientation has changed following therapy.
The credibility of many of these reports was confirmed in a study by Dr. Robert Spitzer, the psychiatrist who edited the DSM-III and was instrumental in removing homosexuality as a diagnosis. Dr. Spitzer started the study skeptical of the possibility of changing sexual orientation but after conducting interviews with the 200 subjects of the study, he became convinced their claims to "have made major changes from a predominantly homosexual orientation to a predominantly heterosexual orientation" were credible, in his opinion. The major changes were "not limited to sexual behavior and sexual orientation self-identity," but also “encompassed sexual attraction, arousal, fantasy, yearning, and being bothered by homosexual feelings. The changes encompassed the core aspects of sexual orientation. Even participants who only made a limited change nevertheless regarded the therapy as extremely beneficial. Participants reported benefit from nonsexual changes, such as decreased depression, a greater sense of masculinity in males, and femininity in females, and developing intimate nonsexual relations with members of the same sex”.
Spitzer continues:
“The findings of this study have implications for clinical practice. First, it questions the current conventional view that desire for therapy to change sexual orientation is always succumbing to societal pressure and irrational internalized homophobia. For some individuals, changing sexual orientation can be a rational, self-directed goal. Second, it suggests that the mental health professionals should stop moving in the direction of banning therapy that has as a goal a change in sexual orientation. Many patients, provided with informed consent about the possibility that they will be disappointed if the therapy does not succeed, can make a rational choice to work toward developing their heterosexual potential and minimizing their unwanted homosexual attractions. In fact, the ability to make such a choice should be considered fundamental to client autonomy and self-determination”.

These findings of considerable benefits and no obvious harms in the study sample suggest that the current recommendation by the American Psychiatric Association (2000) that “ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals sexual orientation” is based on a double standard: It implies that it is unethical for a clinician to provide reparative therapy because there is inadequate scientific evidence of effectiveness, whereas it assumes that it is ethical to provide gay affirmative therapy for which there is also no rigorous scientific evidence of effectiveness and for which, like reparative therapy, there are reports and testimonials of harm.
When people are distressed by their same-sex attractions and seek professional help in dealing with them, it is extremely important to carefully follow ethical guidelines to minimize the potential harm that could come from any treatment, whether its goal is to help the person accept his or her same-sex orientation or to attempt to reduce or eliminate the SSA and help develop or increase opposite-sex attraction.

Reference: Robert L. Spitzer, M.D., “Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation? Participants Reporting a Change from Homosexual to Heterosexual Orientation,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 32, no. 5 (October 2003): 403–17

Posted by: Ezra Schwartz | Dec 7, 2006 9:03:59 PM

It's worth noting that (unfortunately, to my mind), the committee approved a third "traditional" Teshuvot that also endorsed so-called reparative therapy for homosexuals, which is a step beyond what even strict textualism would seem to require.

Posted by: David Schraub | Dec 6, 2006 4:40:10 PM

It's worth noting that (unfortunately, to my mind), the committee approved a third "traditional" Teshuvot that also endorsed so-called reparative therapy for homosexuals, which is a step beyond what even strict textualism would seem to require.

Posted by: David Schraub | Dec 6, 2006 4:40:09 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.