The middle ground is always the hardest ground to hold. Extremism on either side is quite often far more logical, at least on a superficial basis. While either end of a spectrum can claim a uniform and consistent set of views, those in the middle must often justify why they accept a bit of both ends and what their justifications for each view are. Some groups can do this well. Others inevitably slide off in one direction or the other until they become nearly identical to one of the extremes that they once stood apart from.
This is the story of what has afflicted Conservatism in recent decades. Whereas once they were the largest so-called denomination of North American Jews, in recent years their numbers have slipped behind Reform as their members slowly bleed away to the right and left. Those interested in a serious Torah lifestyle inevitably choose to become Orthodox which those who don't care about having the authority of halachah in their life become Reform. What used to work for them, a strong liberal philosophy combined with a perceived respect for halachic limits, is now seen as a liability as the Torah observant portion of North American Jewry grows more influential. If one is interested in eating like a Jew, why keep only partly kosher? If one believes in the sanctity of Shabbos, why only observe only certain rules? And if one isn't interested, why do anything at all? When given the choice between complete individualism and authoritative communitarianism, few people will decide on the identical mix of the two.
Yet as Conservatism slid slowly to the Reform side of the spectrum, it continued to loudly assert that it was somehow different. Perhaps it was the ritual part of things that the movement still observed in a semi-traditional fashion as opposed to Reform's free-for-all. Perhaps it was the insistence, despite all laughter to the contrary as well as the assertion of one of its major figures, that Conservatism was still "halachic".
What really ended the movement's distinction from Reform was the change in policy to hold that homosexual intercourse was no longer a sin and that people engaging in that practice were no longer acting contrary to Jewish law. Although the change was made through the official process that the Jewish Theological Seminary uses, this only highlighted the foolishness of their claims to halachic legitimacy. The rule was also passed in typical Conservative fashion:
The movement's legal authorities adopted conflicting rulings on the status of homosexuality in 2006. One permitted the ordination of gay rabbis, another upheld Judaism's longstanding ban on homosexual intercourse.
All this came to mind when I read this article on the recent controversy surrounding the first anniversary of the ruling allowing the "ordination" of Conservative students. This decision has proved to be far more polarizing than the previous major decision that the movement made, that of giving women the title "rabbi". In that case, both sides to the disagreement were able to move beyond the initial conflict, reassured by the fact that nowhere in the written text of the Torah are women prohibited to hold such a position. The decision regarding homosexual rabbis is different. It's one thing to reject the Oral Law as a fanciful invention of old rabbis who didn't speak English (so what did they really know?). It's quite another to have spent decades taking about the importance of the Written Law and then go and defy it with crazy explanation of clear cut rules. By doing so, Conservatism has essentially removed any fundamental different between themselves and Reform. The only real contrasts between the two are window dressing. If there was any doubt of this, then the position held by the group - and articulated by Einat Ramon, dean of the Conservative's Schechter Seminary - that does not accept the legitimacy of homosexual rabbis proves this beyond all doubt:
Ramon is a well-known critic of the liberalizing tendency toward gays within Conservative Judaism. She has said she views homosexuality as a choice and, in a speech last year to a conference in Israel, reportedly said the family is endangered by gays with an agenda who seek to destroy it.
Ramon said further that the Conservative movement must protect the family against these homosexuals, who already have succeeded within the Reconstructionist movement.
Despite her more "conservative" position, Ramon shows she is ignorant of one of the most fundamental principles of Judaism. The laws of the Torah were not given for reasons that make sense to us in every age and place. We do not perform mitzvos because of perceived gains or relevant social benefits. Mitzvos are fufilled by a Jew to fulfill the will of the Allmighty God who commanded them. To oppose the ordination and marriage of homosexuals because of considerations regarding the nuclear family misses that point entirely and proves that Conservatism is merely Reform with a different logo on the official letterhead.