KSSMA is a "Traditional Egalitarian" minyan group
That means that:
1) we generally follow a traditional Conservative liturgy, which is Hebrew-dominant;
2) women are ritually equal to men; they are counted in the minyan, called to the Torah for aliyot, read from the Torah scrolls, and lead parts of the service. Women are encouraged to wear tallitot and kippot (or other head coverings), and pray with tefillin, the same as men;
3) gay men and women are likewise treated with complete equality, and same-sex marriages are respected.
The Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative Judaism's international association of rabbis) sets acceptable policies for its members, including interpretation of halachot (Jewish law). As associate members of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Kehilla Shalom San Miguel de Allende (KSSMA) is expected to follow these guidelines to maintain our standing in the organization. The RA's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards meets regularly to discuss pressing halachic issues, such as "Should the Conservative movement allow the ordination of gay rabbis?" (2006). These types of questions are debated at length, and then voted upon. If a good enough case is made--based on Torah, Talmudic and other sources--and the measure is passed, that tshuva (answer, or ruling) becomes an acceptable practice within the Conservative movement. Unlike the US Supreme Court, however, new interpretations do not automatically become "the law of the land". A tshuva becomes an acceptable path to follow, but is not forced on everyone.
The mara d'atra, the person who sets each community's customs and practice, may choose to follow this newly interpreted halacha, or to follow another, previously accepted custom. Example: in regards to gay rabbis, the JTS in NY and the Conservative seminary in Los Angeles do ordain gay and lesbian rabbis, but the seminaries in Buenos Aires and Jerusalem do not. Each community's mara d'atra has the autonomy to decide what is best for his or her particular community.
Dan Lessner, who began the Conservative minyan in SMA 12 years ago and who has been leading it since its formation, is the mara d'atra of KSSMA, in consultation with Rabbi Juan Mejía (KSSMA's honorary rabbi for the past 8 years or so). This minyan group has always been proudly egalitarian.
The Jewish community in San Miguel de Allende is quite diverse, and every effort is made to accommodate different ways of being Jewish here in central Mexico. For example, every month there are different Friday night gatherings for those more interested in a Reform/English-dominant service, or a meditative group, or a musical Kabbalat Shabbat evening in a more Reconstructionist style. Anyone who is uncomfortable with women and gays having complete equality in KSSMA's ritual practice is welcome to form their own minyan group under the umbrella of the Comunidad Hebrea En SMA, (CHESMA, AC).
Below is a sampling of tshuvot passed in past few decades by the CJLS regarding women's equality, etc. Please click on the links for more complete reading of the reasoning behind these decisions.
The Status of Daughters of Kohanim And Leviyim for Aliyot RABBI JOEL ROTH (1989)
שאלה What is the status of daughters of kohanim and leviyim for aliyot?
תשובה CONCLUSION: On the basis of the evidence adduced it seems reasonable and proper for the Law Committee to decide that the daughters of priests and of levites be accorded the same aliyot that are normally accorded to priests and levites. This should be the case whether they are single or married. Their status regarding being called to the Torah should not by determined by the lineage of their husbands but by their own paternal lineage.
Regarding the Inclusion of the Names of the Matriarchs in the First Blessing of the Amida RABBI JOEL E. REMBAUM (1990)
שאלה May the names of the Matriarchs be included in the אבות blessing of the עמידה?
תשובה CONCLUSION: Because the Siddur, perhaps more than any other compilation of Jewish religious expression, has embodied the ideas that have both shaped and reflected the deepest beliefs and concerns of our people, significant ideological and communal developments and trends have always been represented in our prayers. In a generation when women are assuming a more significant role in the religious life of the Conservative Jewish community, it is appropriate that the prayer that expresses the unity, commitment and lofty aspirations of the Jewish people, the עמידה, be modified so that it can speak to all members of our congregations, male and female alike. The inclusion of the names of the Matriarchs in the אבות blessing of the עמידה is permissible and recommended.
Aliyot for Couples RABBI KASSEL ABELSON( 1993)
שאלה Many Conservative congregations have instituted the practice of calling couples to the Torah for an שוכרוכ, for baby namings, and to celebrate anniversaries. In other congregations the practice has developed of calling the parents of the bar/bat mitzvah or of the bride and groom to the Torah for an aliyah. Are these acceptable Conservative practices?
תשובה CONCLUSION: The answer to Rabbi Reisner's question - Are the needs of our congregations such as to make family and group aliyot a desirable development? - is a resounding "yes." The instituting of aliyot for couples by Conservative congregations to mark family events can be seen as a response to the compelling need to recognize the community importance of marriage ties and to jointly celebrate family events. Aliyot for couples can be justified halakhically by recognizing the readiness of tl1e rabbis of past generations to find good reasons to meet the needs of their changing congregations, by the baraita found in the Yerushalmi permitting two to read together from the Torah, by the precedent of group aliyot on Simhat Torah, by the contemporary responsum permitting joint aliyot for בני מצוה, and by the מנהג (custom) in many of our congregations of giving couples joint aliyot. Hence though aliyot for individuals remains the norm, the practice in many of our Conservative congregations of giving aliyot to couples is acceptable. Group aliyot for other members of a family or for communal occasions such as the installation of the officers of the congregation, honoring Hebrew school teachers, Volunteers for lsrael etc., may be desirable, but each instance will have to be carefully examined and individually justified, utilizing an approach similar to the one used for joint aliyot for couples.
May a Bat Cohen Participate in the Priestly Blessing? RABBI MAYER RABINOWITZ (1994)
שאלהMay a בת כהןparticipate in נשיאת כפים - the priestly blessing?
תשובהCONCLUSION: A בת כהן is permitted to participate נשיאת כפים for the following reasons--
(1) בניו does not mean only sons but rather children;
(2) The role of the kohen is either to serve as the medium for God's blessing to lsrael, or to pray for lsrael to be blessed;
(3) There has been a steady development in the נשיאת כפים ritual. and there is no reason for that development to stop;
(4) We have permitted a בת כהן to participate in all other honors accorded to kohanim, and נשיאת כפים should not be an exception;
(5) The Torah gives no indication of a direct connection between this ritual and the Temple, where women were excluded from participating. Therefore, there is no Biblical basis for excluding them.
Women and the Minyan RABBI DAVID J. FINE (2002)
שאלה May women count in the minyan and serve as שליחות ציבור?
תשובה SUMMARY: Conservative rabbis who permit women to count in the minyan and serve as שליחות ציבור argue such by various and opposing argumentations, either by reading the classicial halakhic sources as obligating women to prayer equally with men and thereby permitting them to have equal liturgical status, or by understanding the classical halakhic sources as not mandating the liturgical inequality of women, or by accepting the legislative authority of the 1973 תקנה, or by recognizing that women in the Conservative movement have, as a general class, accepted upon themselves the equal obligation to prayer with men.
CONCLUSION: Women may count in a minyan and may serve as שליחות ציבור.
Women and Mitzvot RABBI PAMELA BARMASH (2014)
שאלה Are Jewish women responsible for observing the mitzvot from which they have traditionally been exempted?
תשובה Summary: The general exclusion of women from many mitzvot is based on the characterization of those mitzvot as positive and time-bound. A number of reasons have been devised for the link between this category and the exclusion of women from those mitzvot. However, it turns out that this category was devised for exegetical (formal interpretive) purposes, and only later was the category extended to other mitzvot from which women had already been excluded. It was never a generative principle. Instead, women were excluded because they had subordinate status. They were exempted from the mitzvot that Jews are obligated to observe in the normal course of the day, week, and year because the essential ritual acts should be performed only by those of the highest social standing, those who were independent, those who were heads of their own households, not subordinate to anyone else. Only males were considered to be fitting candidates to honor God in the most fit way. The acts of those who were subordinate honor God in a lesser way and, therefore, women were excluded from them. Furthermore, social standing matters in relations between human beings, and those of higher social standing would lose their dignity if some of lower social standing functioned on their behalf. Women were endowed with ritual responsibilities for others inside the home because the rabbis thought that women had the intellect and reliability to do so. It was social status alone that determined whether women were exempted from certain mitzvot. Women were also not involved in public ritual ceremonies because of their position in social hierarchy. The involvement of women in Jewish religious and liturgical life has changed significantly in the past century and even more in the past few decades. Jewish women are aspiring to the privileges and responsibilities enjoyed by Jewish men through the millennia. The halakhah has recognized that when social customs change significantly, the new social reality requires a reappraisal of halakhic practices. The historical circumstances in which women were exempted from time-bound positive mitzvot are no longer operative, and the Conservative movement has for almost a century moved toward greater and greater inclusion of women in mitzvot. In Jewish thought and practice, the highest rank and esteem is for those who are required to fulfill mitzvot. We rule therefore that women and men are equally obligated to observe the mitzvot. We call upon Conservative synagogues, schools, and camps to educate men and women in equal observance of mitzvot and to expect and require their equal observance of mitzvot.
CONCLUSION: Women and men are equally obligated to observe the mitzvot, with the exception of those mitzvot that are determined by sexual anatomy.
Homosexuality, Human Dignity & Halakhah: A COMBINED RESPONSUM FOR THE COMMITTEE ON JEWISH LAW AND STANDARDS by RABBIS ELLIOT N. DORFF, DANIEL S. NEVINS & AVRAM I. REISNER (2006)
שאלות: What guidance does halakhah offer to Jews who are homosexual? Which intimate activities are permitted to them, and which are forbidden? How shall Conservative Judaism relate to gay and lesbian couples?
A. Piskei Din: Legal Findings Based upon our study of halakhic precedents regarding both sexual norms and human dignity, we reach the following conclusions:
1. The explicit biblical ban on anal sex between men remains in effect. Gay men are instructed to refrain from anal sex.
2. Heterosexual marriage between two Jews remains the halakhic ideal. For homosexuals who are incapable of maintaining a heterosexual relationship, the rabbinic prohibitions that have been associated with other gay and lesbian intimate acts are superseded based upon the Talmudic principle of kvod habriot, our obligation to preserve the human dignity of all people.
3. This ruling effectively normalizes the status of gay and lesbian Jews in the Jewish community. Extending the 1992 CJLS consensus statement, gay and lesbian Jews are to be welcomed into our synagogues and other institutions as full members with no restrictions. Furthermore, gay or lesbian Jews who demonstrate the depth of Jewish commitment, knowledge, faith and desire to serve as rabbis, cantors and educators shall be welcomed to apply to our professional schools and associations.
4. We are not prepared at this juncture to rule upon the halakhic status of gay and lesbian relationships. To do so would require establishing an entirely new institution in Jewish law that treats not only the ceremonies and legal instruments appropriate for creating homosexual unions but also the norms for the dissolution of such unions. This responsum does not provide kiddushin for same-sex couples. Nonetheless, we consider stable, committed, Jewish relationships to be as necessary and beneficial for homosexuals and their families as they are for heterosexuals. Promiscuity is not acceptable for either homosexual or heterosexual relationships. Such relationships should be conducted in consonance with the values set out in the RA pastoral letter on intimate relationships, “This Is My Beloved, This Is My Friend”: A Rabbinic Letter on Human Intimacy. The celebration of such a union is appropriate.
B. Afterword This subject has riveted the attention and commanded the energies of us as individuals and of our movement to a greater extent than any other topic in recent memory. Given the fact that observant Jews who are gay or lesbian constitute a small minority of the Jewish people, this might seem surprising. The great importance of this topic signifies a broader attempt to understand the nature of human dignity in our time. We realize that it will take time for our congregations and other arms of the Conservative movement to develop a consensus on this challenging subject. The concepts and policies we have advocated represent a sea change in attitude within traditional Judaism. There is a genuine conflict between our ancient heterosexual ideal and our imperative to safeguard the dignity of gay and lesbian Jews. We must dedicate significant efforts to education at all levels of our movement. Respectful disagreement on this subject is a sign of strength, not weakness, within Conservative Judaism. However, we must emphasize that even those opposed to our halakhic reasoning and piskei din remain obligated to show compassion to their fellow Jews who are homosexual. What once seemed like a willful rejection of the Torah’s ideal of heterosexual marriage is now understood to be a profound desire by gay and lesbian Jews to sanctify their lives and to establish faithful families guided by the light of Torah. In addressing this challenge, we have been determined to safeguard the integrity of both the halakhic system, which is our mechanism for following God’s teaching, and also the dignity of our fellow men and women, who are created in the very image of God. We pray that our work will strengthen the Jewish people in its sacred task of establishing holy communities, raising Jewish children, and sharing the light of Torah with the entire world. May God prosper the work of our hands.