|Thirteen ‘ayes,’ one abstention|
|By Nancy Kirsch|
|Friday, 22 June 2012 01:13|
| Torat Yisrael’s Rabbi Amy Levin explains her rationale |
PROVIDENCE – Rabbi Amy Levin explained why she abstained from voting (see “Conservative rabbinic group issues guidelines”, at left) on a document providing suggested same-sex ceremonies and guidelines for dissolving such unions or marriages.
Appointed last summer to the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (the Committee) of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly last summer, Rabbi Levin was the only rabbi abstaining at the May 31 vote of the Committee on “Rituals and Documents of Marriage and Divorce for Same-Sex Couples.”
Thirteen rabbis voted in favor and none voted to oppose the document.
In a telephone interview with The Voice & Herald, she said that the Committee was voting on an appendix to the original responsa, passed by the Committee in 2006, before she was a member of the Committee.
“I am in favor of same-sex marriages or unions even within a religious context,” she said. “My abstention came from my discomfort with the process laid out in the document regarding the dissolution of such unions.”
Her objection focuses on the fact that either partner may unilaterally sign and submit a document that would ultimately dissolve the union. In other words, “Someone could walk in and hand a rabbi a document and say, ‘My union is over,’ with no obligation to involve both partners about the dissolution of the union,” said Rabbi Levin.
Noting the complexities of the problem, she said that she sympathizes completely with the desire to avoid new agunot [Jewish women whose husbands simply refuse to sign a get, a Jewish divorce, and who are thus left in limbo] and now potentially agunim [Jewish men whose same-sex partners might do the same thing], she added, “I just felt like the process put in place by the Appendix was missing some essential steps.”
She said that her preference is to have each partner of the couple dissolving their union sign his or her own documents, all of which would be submitted to the beit din (the rabbinical court ruling on the get).
Rabbi Levin was not a member of the Committee on Standards during the period of time that the then-draft Appendix was being circulated for comment.
She said that the Appendix was created largely at the request of rabbinic colleagues who wanted some guidance on officiating commitment ceremonies or same-sex weddings. “Some colleagues had crated their own ceremonies, but others were waiting for the responsa before going ahead,” said Rabbi Levin. “It gives us a framework for a ceremony.”
Would Rabbi Levin perform a same-sex marriage or civil union?
“I would be happy to,” she said.
The Voice & Herald contacted other Rhode Island Conservative clergy to learn their positions on same-sex marriages.
Responding via email, Rev. Ethan Adler, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth David in North Kingstown, wrote that he had performed a same-sex commitment ceremony several years ago. “I would perform a same-sex ceremony in a state where it is legal to do so,” he wrote.
At Temple Emanu-El, where Rabbi Joel Seltzer performed a same-sex wedding ceremony (“Temple Emanu-El clergy perform same-sex wedding” in the Jan. 20, 2012 issue), Rabbi Wayne Franklin said that he has not been asked to conduct a same-sex marriage or civil union ceremony. Like Rabbi Levin, he, too, would be happy to perform such a ceremony if asked.
Rabbi Franklin also acknowledged that he, Cantor Brian Mayer and Rabbi Alvan Kaunfer (Emanu-El clergy at the time the Conservative movement allowed clergy to perform same-sex marriage or civil union ceremonies, if they so chose) endorsed the responsum.
As no one has yet approached Rabbi Richard Perlman of Temple Am David in Warwick about performing gay or lesbian marriages or commitment ceremonies, he said he’s not had to think about the issue.
“I have no problem with people being in a committed relationship, but I until I evaluate the word ‘marriage’ and the subject, it’s hard for me to comment,” Rabbi Perlman said. “I want to review the responsa and would need to evaluate it and discuss it with my synagogue.”
Rabbi Marc Jagolinzer of Temple Shalom in Middletown couldn’t be reached for comment.