SEATTLE, JUNE 25 -- The progressive Reform branch of Judaism today became the largest Judeo-Christian body to openly welcome gay and lesbian clergy as full-fledged officials.
Delegates to the 101st annual convention of Reform Judaism's Central Conference of American Rabbis overwhelmingly adopted the recommendation from a committee of rabbis even though the Bible and Jewish law says homosexual behavior is sinful.
"All Jews are religiously equal regardless of their sexual orientation," entitling them to ordination and placement in synagogues that would accept them, a report by the committee said.
The report, released last month after four years of study, does not back homosexual weddings and declared that heterosexual, monogamous marriage is still the norm in Jewish life.
"It was a pretty narrow tightrope to walk, but I believe it was a mature statement made with integrity," said Rabbi Joseph Glaser, executive vice president of the 1,550-member conference of rabbis. Glaser added that he did not know how many congregations would be willing to accept a homosexual rabbi.
The Reform branch of Judaism, with 1.3 million members nationally, is the largest and most liberal of the three major wings of American Judaism. Conservative Judaism, the next largest, steers a more moderate course in adapting Judaism to modern life. Orthodox synagogues, which strictly observe Jewish law, embrace about 10 percent of U.S. Jewry.
Biblical tradition calls homosexual behavior an "abomination," but major Jewish and Christian denominations which tend to re-examine the Bible in the light of contemporary events have agonized over the question of accepting gays as clergy.
Only the small Unitarian Universalist Association and the tiny Reconstructionist Jewish movement have removed all bars to homosexual clergy. The 1.1-million-member United Church of Christ decided in 1983 that local units should not discriminate against gay and lesbian clergy candidates, and some openly homosexual ministers have been ordained.
Yet, the reform statement is more sympathetic than the United Church of Christ resolution. The rabbis say that they are "aware of loving and committed relationships between people of the same sex" and that gay and lesbian rabbis "are serving their communities effectively, with dignity, compassion and integrity."
After the 17-member Reform Committee on Homosexuality and the Rabbinate made its recommendations public last month, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations condemned the recommendations, saying "The entire idea is an abomination."