Monday, December 04, 2006

These and These

Thru Ezra Klein, the interesting story about the forthcoming decision by the Conservative Judaism movement (my denomination) on same-sex sex, marriage and rabbinic ordination.
Rabbi Avis D. Miller of Washington's Congregation Adas Israel said the "rabbinical scuttlebutt" is that the panel -- the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards -- will approve two conflicting answers, one upholding the status quo and one calling for change.

That is possible because it takes the votes of just six of the panel's 25 members to declare an answer to be valid -- meaning that it is a well-founded interpretation of Jewish law, not that it is the only legitimate interpretation. It would be possible to approve all the answers, or none of them.

If two or more contradictory answers are accepted, "that will be the strongest statement for America, because everything in America spiritually and religiously seems to have become political, and the way you know it's political is that it's either 'yes' or 'no,' " said Irwin Kula, a Conservative rabbi who heads the New York-based National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

A long-standing Jewish practice (dating back to Hillel and Shammei) known as the "these and these" principle allows for more than one interpretation (including mutually exclusive interpretations) to be considering equally valid and legitimate in the Jewish community. I agree with Rabbi Kula: there is beauty in this type of humility and refusal to declare only one interpretation to be ultimate or dogmatic. Klein notes how this stance--so rare in modern religious thought--seems to be in closer alignment with the view of imperfect and fallible humanity:
Organized religion's attempts to profess certainty about the will of the divine based on majority votes conducted by mortal arbiters has always been a discomfiting element: A belief system based on human fallibility and transcendent Truth allowing fallible humans to decide, deterministically, what that Truth is, or at least how it manifests? Yikes. This method seems much more aligned with the view of humanity put forth by the religion itself: That people are error-prone and unsure, that they can do their best to interpret the source documents and relevations they have, but claims to spiritual certainty or infallible guidance face avery, very high burden of proof.

The willignness of Judaism to entertain a variety of differing positions, rather than immediately asserting the primacy of orthodoxy, is one of the reasons I'm proud to be a Jew. And by sanctioning the equal dignity of gay and lesbians as a legitimate point of Jewish law, they will make a great stride toward establishing their equal dignity as a point of American morals.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was very informative for a non Jew. I thank you for sharing it. I am an Executuve Coach myself and am always interetsed in how people deal with conflict. I am going to link your Blog on my site.Thanks.

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