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Israel’s Conservative movement OKs gay and lesbian rabbis

JERUSALEM — In a landmark decision, the Israeli branch of Conservative Judaism announced that its rabbinical school will begin to accept gay and lesbian candidates for ordination.

Board members of the Schecter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem voted Thursday (April 19) to enroll gay and lesbian students starting in September.

The decision follows years of disagreement between leaders of the Conservative movement in the U.S., which permits openly gay and lesbian rabbis, and Masorti leaders in Israel, who have long resisted demands to be more inclusive.

The disagreement came to a head about two years ago, when some gay and straight rabbinical students from two U.S.-based seminaries began to refuse to study at Schecter during their mandatory year of study in Israel.

While more liberal than the Orthodox stream of Judaism, the Masorti movement typically has been more traditionalist than its U.S. counterpart.

A Schecter statement said its board made its decision following a “long process” of deliberation.

“The Schechter Rabbinical Seminary views the serious process leading to this decision as an example of confronting social dilemmas within the framework of tradition and halachah (Jewish law),” said Rabbi Hanan Alexander, chairman of the seminary’s board.

“This decision highlights the institution’s commitment to uphold halachah in a pluralist and changing world.”

In an interview, Rabbi Andy Sacks, who heads the Masorti Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, called the policy change “a victory for all who understand that Judaism holds respect for human beings as a supreme value. All people were created in the image of the divine. Morality and Jewish law do coexist as long as those who practice traditional Judaism understand this.”

Sacks said the change occurred when Schecter’s leaders “finally were persuaded that ... to continue on the previous course would make the institution irrelevant to the Masorti movement.”

Rabbi Barry Leff, a Schecter board member, wrote in a blog post that rabbinical courts, not the seminary, ordains rabbis.

“No rabbi will be required to be part of the beit din (rabbinic court) that ordains any particular individual. Candidates for ordination will be able to choose their beit din from rabbis serving on a new “rabbinic council” that Schechter will form.”

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