Open Debate

Apr 14, 2016 | Uncategorized

Last week, on a Times of Israel blog, Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom offered his opinion regarding intermarriage and the Conservative Movement. Rabbi Dan Ornstein responded. Once again we have dueling Conservative rabbis in the news. This was never the intention. A blog provides, among other things, an open forum for healthy, public debate. They are opinion pieces. They are not announcements of policy. Rabbis Rosenbloom and Ornstein wrote respectfully and openly.

The comments tell a different story. Comments offered online are rarely offered for respectful debate. Instead, they are filled with venom, targeting both the original writer and other commenters. In fact, often the conversations between the comments are more numerous than the comments on the original article.

It seems that, as with many topics, the issue of whether or not Conservative rabbis should officiate at intermarriages reaches out into the public forum each year. And, as with other movements, each Conservative rabbi is treated as if she or he speaks for us all. It’s always been this way. I am a woman; therefore I must speak for Women. I am an American, so I speak for Americans. I am a Jew, so I speak for Jews, and I am a Conservative rabbi, so I speak for Conservative Judaism. And pity to me if someone doesn’t agree. It seems the boundaries of good manners extend only to those with whom I agree.

Recently, I participated in a panel co-sponsored by the Wexner Foundation, called Young Rabbis Speak. The point was to bring individuals from across the spectrum – Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform – together to discuss issues in Jewish life. I was privileged to be included, both as a “young rabbi” and as a panelist in general. Our topic was Gender and Sexuality, not without controversy or extreme differences in how our movements relate to the issue. Made clear from the beginning was, although we come to the table connected to whatever denomination to which we belong, we were there as individuals, and we spoke only as individuals. I was there as Rabbi Jennifer Gorman. What we did have was respect and a shared desire for openness, honesty, and to help Jews feel comfortable finding their place in Judaism and Jewish life. When Rabbi Noah Cheses taught a Mishnah expressing the volatility of this issue, and the need for privacy, and when Rabbi Miriam Margles responded with the idea that “understanding… [requires] the diversity of all our voices,” it was not a debate. They each spoke for us all. If not, we would not have been there that day.

The short time we had together was interesting and illuminating. We shared experiences and love for Judaism. Together, we built bridges instead of walls. We opened doors instead of closing them.

In a couple of weeks, we will open our doors saying, All who are hungry come and eat. All who are needy come and share the Pesach with us. Seder is a perfect time for respectful debate. Its very nature embraces the Socratic method of teaching, questioning, debating, and examining. Our door is open. Our table is welcoming. We don’t ask individuals to check their views at the door. We do expect that all debate will take place with respect and openness and friendship.

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