Stances of Faiths on LGBTQ Issues: Conservative Judaism

Background

One of the four leading branches of Judaism, the Conservative Movement (also known as Masorti Movement outside of the United States and Canada) is intent on integrating contemporary societal values with religious and cultural traditions. As Rabbi Bradley Artson wrote in Conservative Judaism: Covenant and Commitment,

“It is precisely this traditional approach—which combines fidelity to inherited tradition and the courage to integrate necessary change—that motivates Conservative Judaism today. Whether asserting the equality of women, reaffirming the centrality of Shabbat (the Sabbath), kashrut (the dietary laws), tzedekah (charity/justice), and prayer, or applying timeless wisdom to contemporary issues, Conservative Judaism insists on observance of tradition and respect for visionary change.”

The denomination constitutes approximately one-fifth of the Jewish population in the United States, and includes Conservative schools, camps, national and local organizations and, of course, synagogues. While the Rabbinical Assembly, and it’s Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards, sets policy for the denomination as a whole, rabbis and their congregations make their own choices regarding LGBTQ ordination, same-sex marriages, and their commitment to the creation of welcoming and affirming communities.

LGBTQ Equality

On Inclusion

LGBTQ Conservative Jews will encounter a wide range of experiences at Conservative institutions. Some are welcoming and affirming, ordaining LGBTQ rabbis and celebrating same-sex marriages. Others are not. As a denomination, however, Conservative Judaism has taken a firm and public stance for inclusion.

As early as 1990, the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, which sets halakhic (legal) policy for the Conservative Movement, stated their desire to

“work for full and equal civil rights for gays and lesbians in our national life.” In 2011 the Committee recommitted themselves to that resolution and added specific goals that include extending “its call for full and equal civil rights to bisexual and transgender persons,” supporting “the extension of civil rights and privileges . . . to same sex couples,” and calling on communities to “develop an action plan to create a safe and welcoming atmosphere for GLBT individuals.”

In 2016, the Rabbinical Assembly passed a historic resolution on affirming the rights of transgender and non-conforming people affirming "its commitment to the full welcome, acceptance, and inclusion of people of all gender identities in Jewish life and general society." Experiences may vary significantly, however, between synagogues.

On Marriage Equality

The Conservative Movement recognizes and celebrates same-sex marriages. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of marriage equality in 2013, the Rabbinical Assembly released a statement, saying, “Judaism views marriage as a sacred responsibility, not only between the partners, but also between the couple and the larger community. Our Movement recognizes and celebrates marriages, whether between partners of the same sex or the opposite sex. We therefore celebrate today’s decisions on gay marriage by the Supreme Court.”

In 2012, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards approved two model wedding ceremonies that rabbis can adapt to suit the needs of specific congregants. However, LGBTQ couples, like straight couples, cannot be married by a Conservative rabbi if the marriage is between a Jew and a non-Jew. Individual synagogues remain autonomous and are not required to adopt the policies set by the Rabbinical Assembly.

On Ordination

Ordination has been available to openly LGBTQ rabbis since 2006, though it’s only recently that those rabbis have completed their seminary education and been ordained. Ordination has been available to women in the Conservative Movement since 1985.

On Employment

Along with many other religious organizations the Rabbincal Assembly, representing Conservative Judaism in the United States, endorsed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), adding their name to a statement that reads, in part, “As a nation, we cannot tolerate arbitrary discrimination against millions of Americans just because of who they are. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people should be able to earn a living, provide for their families and contribute to society without fear that who they are or who they love could cost them a job.”

Next Steps

While official policies of the Conservative Movement promote the development of welcoming and inclusive communities, many congregations continue to struggle towards that goal. Rabbis have the choice whether to celebrate same-sex marriages, or not. Congregations have the choice to be fully welcoming and affirming, or not. Many communities have recognized the need for change, often at the insistence of straight allies, and are taking action. A good first step for individuals seeking a welcoming congregation is Keshet’s “Equality Guide,” which can locate appropriate synagogues, camps, schools, youth groups and clergy near you.

For personal guidance on participating fully in a Conservative congregation, email religion@hrc.org to reserve a copy of HRC’s upcoming guide to “Coming Home” in Judaism.

Resources for LGBTQ Conservative Jews

Pluralistic Resources

  • Keshet, a national organization working for the full equality and inclusion of LGBTQ Jews in Jewish life.

  • Nehirim, is a national community of l LGBTQ Jews, families, and allies, committed to a more just and inclusive world.

Contact Information

United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
820 Second Avenue 10th Floor
New York, NY 10017
Website: www.uscj.org

Last revised: 05/31/2016