Special to the JTA Group of RA Members Move to Force Vote on Ordination of Women
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Special to the JTA Group of RA Members Move to Force Vote on Ordination of Women

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Action taken here yesterday by a group of some 175 Rabbinical Assembly (RA) members calling themselves the Conference on Halachic Process may force a vote tomorrow on the ordination of women by the Conservative movement.

Conference chairmen were Rabbi David Algaze, Rabbi David Feldman, Rabbi Albert Lewis and Rabbi Hershel Portnoy, with some 145 co-sponsors listed. The meeting was held in Terrace on the Park, in Flushing Meadow, because it was considered “neutral territory” by the planners.

A meeting of the “Seoate,” a group of 50 mem- bers of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America faculty who must decide on the issue, will take place at the Seminary tomorrow. Although such a meeting had been previously scheduled, the vote was not originally expected until January.

Sixteen members of the Senate, most of whom were co-sponsors of yesterday’s meeting, had stated on Nov. 6 that they would not vote on the question of the ordination of women “unless a proper body is constituted to deal with the issue.”

According to reliable sources, the 16 have now decided to vote for a motion to table the vote and put the issue of the status of women into the hands of a committee of halachists, to be appointed by the Seminary’s Chancellor, Dr. Gerson Cohen.

“I would regard the passage of such a motion as de facto defeat of ordination,” Cohen told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “However, I believe that the Conservative movement must maintain its pluralism, and the proponents of this motion to table assure me that the passage of their motion would assure” pluralism. Cohen said he is deeply religiously convinced that the ordination of women is “halachically correct and spiritually necessary.”


After hearing position papers by the five senior members of the Jewish Theological Seminary Talmud Department, the group at yesterday’s meeting passed a resolution that stated:

“Whereas the decision on the ordination of women by the Seminary must be made in consonance with halachic process and whereas the major halachists of the Talmud faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary have presented their halachic positions on the question of the ordination of women and whereas the weight of these presentations is overwhelmingly in opposition to the ordination of women at this time, be it resolved that we, more than 200 members of the RA assembled at the Conference on Halachic Process express our opposition to the ordination of women by the Jewish Theological Seminary at this time. We call upon the Seminary to assure our continuation as a movement committed to halacha and halachic process.”


The five professors who presented their views on halachic process and the ordination of women were: Israel Francus, Day Zlotnick, Jose Faur, Haim Zalman Dimitrovsky and David Weiss Halivni. All opposed the ordination of women by the Conservative movement but approached the issue from different aspects of halacha.

Francus paper was based on the premise that women who voluntarily impose upon themselves the mitzvot (commandments) from which they are exempt cannot be considered halachically equal with men, who are required to perform these mitzvot. Anyone who votes to allow the Conservative movement to ordain women will be “assisting transgressors,” he said.

Zlotnick stated that he was using the Mishna his medium and “the medium is the message.” He declared that “without halacha, no movement can claim it represents the mainstream of Judaism. No commission, no action of the Senate can change two millennia and make women acceptable to Klat Yisrael.”

Faur pointed out that there are two aspects to the issue of ordination. More important than the question of ordination of women is the issue of “halachic process,” he said. “In Judaism the law transcends human bureaucracy and protects us.”

Dimitrovsky discussed the problem of women us witnesses, in areas not halachically permitted. He said that he believed that the function of a rabbi cannot be separated from the function of serving as a witness for marriages and divorces.

Weiss said that those who do not consider it necessary for a rabbi to be a shaliach tzibur, one who officiates, are in error. Even a “cursory study” reveals that officiating at a wedding is the highest form of shaliach tzibur, he stated.

If a woman takes upon herself the obligations of a man, she can change her mind afterwards, he explained. He suggested that after a generation in which all women observe time-bound mitzvot, then the issue of women’s ordination could be approached halachically. He also urged the Conservative movement not to rush into a decision about so major a change.


In addition to the resolution on the ordination of women, the delegates at yesterday’s meeting passed a resolution on the Conservative law committee which reads in part: “Because of out desire that halacha and halachic process be strengthened within the Conservative movement, we hereby resolve that a committee be formed to study, evaluate and recommend plans and proposals for me restructuring of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.”

A proposal to form a “fellowship” of RA members dedicated to halacha was vehemently debated by some rabbis present who felt that such a step would cause divisiveness. Proposals on publication of the papers presented and on a committee to upgrade Jewish education met no opposition.

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