RA Defeats Move to Replace Jewish Law and Standards Committee

The 76th annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly overwhelmingly rejected yesterday a resolution that would have “dissolved and replaced the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards with a new committee to function on an advisory basis.”

The decision, made after a heated debate, was precipitated by recent rulings on the status of women in the synagogue, particularly a 1973 decision that women could be counted in a minyan. The Law Committee, which was established in its present form in 1948, has made policy rulings for the guidance of Conservative rabbis on such subjects as marriage and divorce, Bat Mitzvahs. kashruth, the Agunah problem and mixed seating, as well as other aspects of the place of women in Judaism.

According to Rabbi Seymour Siegel, Professor of Theology at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Conservative seminary, the law committee, of which he is chairman, has been “charged with responsibility of interpreting Jewish Law for the Conservative movement, in addition to answering inquiries from member rabbis about Halachic problems, the committee has also attempted to make Jewish Law relevant and responsive to the needs of the Jews of our time.”

He also said the “decisions of the committee have reflected the various views of the members of the Rabbinical Assembly. Where there is no unanimity,” he explained, “the local rabbi may decide which of the options presented by Jewish Law he wishes to institute in his congregation.”

The defeated resolution, which was presented to the resolutions committee by Rabbi David Novak of Baltimore on behalf of a group of more traditionally minded members, would have seriously curtailed the authority of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards and changed the makeup of the membership of a successor committee.

DYNAMIC PERIOD OF JEWISH HISTORY

At an earlier session. Rabbi Wolfe Kelman. who marked his 25th anniversary as a leader of Conservative Judaism, expressed optimism about the future of American Judaism. The executive vice-president of the 1000-member association of Conservative rabbis said he doesn’t “mourn for the good old days” but rather feels that this is “one of the most dynamic periods of Jewish history.”

He told the convention delegates, in response to tributes from many of his associates, that Judaism despite the problem of changing neighborhoods, economic inflation and a diminished birth rate, is at “the threshold of a creative age which has been unsurpassed in recent centuries.” Kelman noted particularly the phenomenon in Judaism of the steady flow of the “baal teshuvah”–the returning ones–often whose parents disregarded religion, with the new generation rediscovering the faith of their grandparents.

He expressed belief that a great many American Jews have “moved away from an age suspicious of emotion, skeptical about the transcendent dimension of our lives and inhibited by public displays of our Jewishness.” Although this new Jewry which has emerged “doesn’t worry too much about ideology, it has sought to establish a sense of vanity for themselves as Jews.” Kelman said.

Focusing on the growth of Conservative Judaism in the past 30 years, Kelman attributed this to its “non-fundamentalist but intensely traditional approach to contemporary Jewish life and living. It is because Conservative Judaism recognizes that there are some areas in which the tension between modernity and tradition cannot be fully resolved by any slogans or other instant solutions.”

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