A Statement by Rabbi Eric Yoffie Greensboro, NC March 29, 2000
This afternoon the Central Conference of American Rabbis, meeting in Greensboro, NC, adopted a resolution by an overwhelming vote stating, in part, that "the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual."
It is important to note what the resolution on same gender unions does and does not say. It does not compel any rabbi to officiate at such a ritual, and indeed supports the right of a rabbi not to officiate. It does not specify what ritual is appropriate for such a ceremony. It does not say that the ceremony performed should be called a "marriage."
Nonetheless, the historical and religious significance of this resolution is indisputable. For the first time in history, a major rabbinical body has affirmed the Jewish validity of committed, same gender relationships.
What do the members of UAHC congregations think about this resolution? It is impossible to know for certain. Some have told me of their strong support, while others have indicated their opposition. Still others have said that they are sympathetic to the ideas expressed but felt no resolution was necessary at this time.
Over the last quarter century, the UAHC Biennial Assembly has spoken out strongly in support of human and civil rights for gays and lesbians. We have admitted to membership a number of congregations that offer special outreach to gay and lesbian Jews, and called upon Reform synagogues to welcome gay and lesbian Jews as singles, couples, and families, and not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in matters related to employment and volunteer leadership. And the UAHC has initiated vigorous education programs to heighten awareness of discrimination and to achieve fuller acceptance of gay and lesbian Jews in our midst.
The Union, however, has always refrained from addressing the issue of rabbinic participation in same gender weddingsor commitment ceremonies. As a congregational body, it is our task to provide guidance on issues of congregational policy that are normally decided by synagogue boards. But performance or non-performance of a same gender commitment ceremony is a rabbinical matter, to be determined by each rabbi according to his or her conscience and understanding of Jewish tradition. Therefore, while our synagogue members have felt free to present their views to their own rabbis, and many have done so vigorously, the Union as an organization has appropriately remained silent on the CCAR resolution, and took no part in the many months of debate prior to the convention.
But I too am a rabbi, of course, and I was present at Greensboro. And I would like you to know that, voting as an individual, I cast my ballot in favor the resolution. I did so because of my belief that our gay and lesbian children, relatives, and friends are in great need of spiritual support; that the Torah?s prohibition of homosexuality can reasonably be understood as a general condemnation of ancient cultic practice; that loving, permanent homosexual relationships, once difficult to conceive, are now recognized as an indisputable reality; and that in these relationships, whether or not we see them as "marriages" it is surely true that God and holiness can be present.
I know that many disagree. But whatever one thinks on the commitment ceremony question, I assume that we will respect those who believe otherwise, and remember what unites us in this debate: our responsibility to welcome gays and lesbians into our synagogues. Because this I know: if there is anything at all that Reform Jews do, it is to create an inclusive spiritual home for all those who seek the solace of our sanctuaries. And if this Movement does not extend support to all who have been victims of discrimination, including gays and lesbians, then we have no right to call ourselves Reform Jews.