Upcoming gay-marriage vote worries Reform rabbis

Years of work by the Reform rabbinate to formulate a policy on gay marriage was scheduled to come to a head in June, when the Central Conference of American Rabbis was slated to vote on a resolution endorsing the idea of a Reform Jewish ceremony aimed at sanctifying same-sex unions.

But rabbis against bringing the issue to a vote have intensified their opposition.

Given all the controversy, informed sources suggest that a resolution might not be introduced when the group meets in Anaheim in June.

"It is not certain that a resolution will be brought to the floor at the convention," said a Reform rabbi close to the issue who asked not to be identified.

"That would be a good thing," this rabbi said, "if a way could be found to respect the divergent views" of individual rabbis "without bringing a resolution to the convention."

Although the resolution has been endorsed by the Reform movement's top official, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, many in the movement worry that such a move would further alienate Reform Judaism from other streams of Judaism.

They also worry about risking the arduously won new bonds with the Israeli public and government.

The controversial issue is emerging in the wake of a bruising battle over the issue of non-Orthodox conversions in Israel, which remains unresolved.

"The masses of Israelis — secular and traditional Jews who are our target audience — will turn against us. The worst propaganda of the ultra-Orthodox will be confirmed in their minds," Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, said in a recent memo to all Reform rabbis.

Already, Israeli Reform leaders made their case against officiation at same-sex marriages a few weeks ago, saying that passage of such a resolution would "jeopardize the progress made in Israel toward recognizing [Reform's] legitimacy as an authentic movement."

"The Israeli government would never have invited Reform representatives to sit on an official government commission if it did not perceive them as our representatives," Hirsch said, referring to the Ne'eman Committee, whose Reform, Conservative and Orthodox representatives worked on the conversion issue.

Hirsch and others questioned the value of the resolution altogether, saying this is not an issue worth the wrath it invites.

"We will be spending the next two months in a full-blown ideological confrontation, all played out…in the media," he said, adding, "Reform rabbis do not require a resolution to officiate at same sex ceremonies."

The issue has become so controversial in the movement that Yoffie, the president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, who has publicly endorsed the idea of rabbinic officiation, is referring comment requests to the CCAR.

Furthermore, many Reform supporters of the resolution believe that Conservative Jews, and eventually modern Jewry as a whole, will follow the lead of the Reform and Reconstructionist — the only movement to officially sanction religious gay marriages — to accept Jewish gay marriages.