JTS Offers Program to Train Women for Religious Ministry Duties but Not for the Rabbinate
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JTS Offers Program to Train Women for Religious Ministry Duties but Not for the Rabbinate

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A program to enable women to be trained a’ the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS) for religious ministry duties, but not for the rabbinate, in Conservative Judaism has been announced by Dr. Gerson Cohen, JTS chancellor.

The decision to offer new program — so new that details of eligibility, curriculum and degree remain to be worked out by a faculty committee — was disclosed about four months after the JTS Faculty Senate tabled a resolution calling on the seminary to admit women as rabbinical candidates. The vote on Dec. 20 was 25 to 19.

Cohen, reporting he had announced the new program to the Faculty Senate on March 25, said that as of the date of his announcement, applications were being accepted and that the first students would enter the new program in September: A JTS spokesperson told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that no applications had yet been received but pointed out that the new program had just been announced.

The chancellor called the new program one "distinct from the rabbinical school, on the one hand, and from the graduate school, on the other. It is intended to train professional religious leadership to deal with newly perceived spiritual needs of the community." The spokesperson said one of the matters still to be determined was an appropriate name for the new degree.


Cohen said the curriculum for the new program "will be comparable in duration, breadth and depth to that of the rabbinical school, and the admissions criteria will be no less stringent." He noted that the program "will include critical study of traditional texts, and courses will be offered in liturgy, homiletics, and pastoral counseling, as well as in Jewish philosophy, history and literature. In addition, courses offered in other seminary schools will be open to the students." However, he said, "there will doubtless be certain special emphasis appropriate to the purposes of this program."

He said there was a shortage of qualified personnel in the Conservative movement and that the new program would open "a rich new source of able personnel" because it will provide training for women "to function in the religious roles for which their individual talents qualify them."

Cohen declared that "the form of religious ministry for which graduates of this program will be qualified is presently scarce or non-existent in our community. Those who complete the course will receive a professional degree in divinity from the Seminary, and will be prepared to teach, to preach, to guide young people, and to counsel their parents and grandparents."


During a plenary session of the JTS faculty and student body last jan. 15; Cohen said that "all of us" who felt the time had come to accept women as rabbinical candidates "now have the task of creating a climate of opinion which will make such change possible," Referring to women who had indicated they wanted to be admitted as rabbinical candidates, Cohen said that he hoped those women’ "will find the courage to serve the Jewish community in para-rabbinic functions, thus helping to teach the community the importance of accepting them in new roles, and welcoming their contributions."

Asked by the JTA for a clearer description of the religious functions for which the new program will train its applicants, Cohen said that "in recent years we have had examples that there are ways of leading a congregation in other than an ordained capacity." He said Carol Glass, who had been an assistant to Rabbi Arnold Goodman at Adath Je##run Synagogue in Minneapolis, "did not perform weddings or lead the congregation in prayer, but she provided spiritual leadership."

The spokesperson said that Ms. Glass had led youth groups, met with young married groups and taught adult education courses at the Minneapolis synagogue. The spokesperson also disclosed that the new program will be open to students with bachelor’s degrees and will require four years of graduate study. She said that while JTS officials expected women to apply, men who were qualified and sought admission would be accepted.


In his elaboration to the JTA, Cohen also said that graduates of the new program "will be role models in their communities, models of religious commitment and models by setting standards with their authentic classical knowledge and their abilty to respond in its terms to contemporary problems and needs."

The resolution rejected by the Faculty Senate had been based on a report and recommendation from a special commission, named by Cohen, with himself as chairman, in favor of admitting women. Cohen named the commission in exchange for agreement by delegates to the 1977 convention of the Rabbinical Assembly, the association of Conservative rabbis, to withdraw a resolution calling on the JTS to admit promptly women candidates for the Conservative rabbinate.

In announcing the new program, Cohen said that the Faculty Senate voted the decision to table in the belief that either a yes or no decision would polarize faculty opinion and could have had a divisive effect on the movement. He said the new program and "the special religious ministry for which its graduates will be prepared," would serve to avoid such polarization, both within the JTS faculty and in the "more than 800 congregations" affiliated with the movement.

He also said the new program would "enable women to provide spiritual leadership without reviving what threatened to become a pointless debate on ordination."

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