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January 31, 2007

JTS polls gay ordination

When I predicted that the decision of Conservative Judaism to ordain gay rabbis would be divisive, I could have been wrong -- and I was, at least if you believe the polling that the Jewish Theological Seminary has now done.

According to the press release I just linked, between 58% and 86% of different groups polled favored the decision. The 58% represents pro-decision rabbincal and cantorial students at JTS, and the 86% represents pro-decision women. The press release doesn't give the total percentages pro and con, but you'd have to peg support somewhere in the 60's, with opposition somewhere in the low 20's. What the poll doesn't say is what 20-plus percent opposition means. Do these people stay or leave? Now or later? If I were a supporter of the decision at JTS, I might be relieved that the support is so high but still worried about that level of minority opposition. But that's just a question of keeping the movement together.

Here's what drives me nuts about Conservative Judaism: At the same time Chancellor-elect Eisen is trumpeting the "remarkable unity of Conservative Jews nationwide in their support of the centrality of halakhah as a key principle of Conservative Judaism," he's announcing this poll, which was designed to find out how Conservative Jews feel about the issue of gay ordination.

Should the poll results matter? If there were more widespread opposition, would this change the halachic reasoning behind the decision? Does the support in the poll somehow validate the halachic reasoning?

When people like me move away from Conservative Judaism, it's because we think it's out there trying to validate the facts on the ground, rather than trying to act as a restraining influence to keep Conservative Jews closer to our tradition. We don't want the movement to come to us saying, "What you're already doing is right." That's why we're moving away from it -- because we want something to try to live up to, even if we don't, instead of a religion that wants to live down to us.