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´╗┐Conservative Jews reconsider ordaining gays

"They would like this, or related issues, to become the bright yellow line that helps everybody understand how Conservative and Reform Judaism differ," he said. "I think what remains to be seen is whether this is the right issue to use to establish that kind of boundary."

"It will be an important symbolic case for the Conservative movement," said Jonathan Sarna, an expert on American Jewish history at Brandeis University.

Jewish law.

"I think the general thrust in American society has been toward recognizing not only the right of gays and lesbians to form committed relationships but almost their duty to do so, in the same way that heterosexuals are both medically and morally better off if they form monogamous relationships," Dorff said Monday.

But advocates for gays say these fears are overblown and add similar warnings were made three decades ago over the movement's decision to ordain women. In fact, advocates argue the movement Omega Watch New Model has suffered for not embracing gays.

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The committee is revisiting the issue at the request of Judy Yudof, lay president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents about 800 North American congregations. She declined to comment.

Pressure has been building on Conservative Jewish leaders to liberalize core teachings and prevent less observant Jews from leaving for the Reform stream, which has overtaken Conservative Judaism as the largest North American branch. Between 5 million and 6 million Jews live in the United States, and Conservative leaders have worried openly about their movement's dwindling appeal.

Schorsch and other Conservative Jewish leaders believe maintaining those differences is key to the movement's future, Sarna says.

Experts in religious law for Conservative Jews gather Tuesday and Wednesday in a retreat center Omega Seamaster Professional Chronograph

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Sarna noted that the massively successful Manhattan synagogue B'Nai Jeshurun considered a national model for other congregations broke from the Conservative movement to protest its position on homosexuality.

outside Baltimore, where they will reconsider their 1992 decision opposing both ordination for homosexuals and commitment ceremonies for same sex couples.

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The vote of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, if taken there, will not be Omega Watch Repair

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Rabbi Elliot Dorff, the committee vice chairman and rector of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, has argued the verses in Leviticus refer to promiscuous sex, not monogamous relations between adults. He said telling gays to be celibate would be "cruel" and "un Jewish" because Jewish tradition says sexual desires should be channeled into "legitimate modes of expression," not completely suppressed.

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Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Conservative movement's flagship institution, declined to comment. But he has previously warned ordaining gays would be such a major break from Jewish law that it could obliterate the distinction between Reform and Conservative streams.

A decade ago, the panel approved a "Consensus Statement on Homosexuality," which stated Conservative rabbis would not lead same sex blessings nor "knowingly admit avowed homosexuals to our rabbinical or cantorial schools" or professional organizations for clergy.

Jewish opposition to homosexuality is based on Leviticus 18:22, "Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence."

binding, nor will it resolve disagreements about homosexuality among Conservative Jews. But it will send a strong message about how much the branch will reinterpret traditional understanding of Omega Speedmaster Black Face

Rabbi Joel Roth, a Conservative expert in Jewish law based in Israel, has said ignoring these prohibitions "would undermine the integrity of the very legal system which stands as the unassailable foundation of our movement."

The only major branch of American Judaism still debating the role of gays in rabbinical schools and synagogues is preparing to take up the issue in a closed door meeting that could change the direction of the movement.

Conservative Jews adhere to tradition but allow some re evaluation of Jewish law for modern circumstances. The movement occupies a middle ground between the Reform branch, which ordains gays and blesses same sex couples, and Orthodox Judaism, which bars gays from becoming rabbis and condemns homosexuality.

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