KIAMESHA LAKE, N.Y. (Nov. 15)
The United Synagogue of America, the congregational arm of Conservative Judaism, refused today to endorse “Mercaz,” a Zionist organization recently founded to express the aims of the Conservative movement within the Zionist movement in America.
The biennial convention, attended by 2000 delegates from 830 congregations in the United States and Canada, after a long and bitter debate, removed the question from consideration by voting overwhelmingly to table a resolution which would have endorsed the organization.
The resolution did not mention the organization, Mercaz (Center, in Hebrew), by name which has already been formed and which has Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz of Washington, president of the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), the association of Conservative rabbis, as pro-tem chairman, and Rabbi Bernard Raskas of St. Paul, as pro-tem chairman of the governing council.
Mercaz is an acronym for the “Movement for the Reaffirmation of Conservative Zionism.” Raskas, who participated in the debate, and Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, RA executive vice-president, declared that the United Synagogue’s action would not halt the new organization.
Both men declared that Mercaz does not depend either on the endorsement of the United Synagogue, the RA or any other element of the Conservative movement. Membership in Mercaz is on an individual basis of adherence to Conservative Judaism, it was explained. The two rabbis said that the organization, which was launched at the RA convention at Grossingers last March, already has more than 1000 members and a budget and that it hopes to have a founding convention shortly.
LENGTHY DEBATE ON MERCAZ ISSUE
The formal debate, which took up all of Monday evening and which preceded statements from the floor and final action on the floor today, had Dr. Robert Gordis, professor of Bible and of the Philosophies of Religion at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS), the Conservative school, arguing for endorsement of Mercaz, and Jacob Stein, former United Synagogue president, against.
Gordis assailed the Orthodox establishment in Israel, and the politics which he said keeps it in power and listed the disabilities of the Conservative movement and other non-Orthodox religious bodies in Israel.
If Mercaz can only help “guarantee freedom and equality for Conservative Jewry in Israel, if it can create a climate for all in the land,” it would be enough, Gordis declared. “There is freedom of religion for everyone in Israel but the Jews,” he charged.
Stein ridiculed Mercaz as a “club” formed by a small group of rabbis. “Why another Zionist club” with a budget and a bureaucracy to be added to the already existing Zionist organizations in the United States?” he asked. “Why should we participate in a declaration of war against our neighbors?” He was referring to the Zionist Organization of America, to which he has belonged for the past 35 years, and to Hadassah, of which his wife is a life member.
The convention was preceded by the designation by Dr. Gerson Cohen, JTS chancellor, of a 12-member commission, made in fulfillment of his pledge last spring, to study the role and status of women in American Judaism–with particular reference to the possibility of ordination as Conservative rabbis.
COMMISSION ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN
Cohen named the Commission for the Study of Women in the Rabbinate in response to a resolution approved by the RA at its convention last spring asking him “to establish an interdisciplinary commission to study all aspects of the role of women as spiritual leaders in the Conservative movement.”
The resolution also requested the study commission to present a progress report at the executive council of the RA next spring and a final report and recommendations at the 1979 RA convention. Rabbi Cohen, a RA member, is chairman of the study commission, which includes nine men and three women in a variety of scholarly and professional fields. Other than himself, there are no official representatives of any affiliates of the Conservative movement.
Cohen said that if the commission recommends admitting women to the rabbinical school of the JTS, he would transmit that recommendation to the faculty and would also recommend admission of ordained women to the RA. He said the final decision, regardless of commission recommendations, would have to be made by the congregations, which will have to decide on whether they want women rabbis.