Rabbinical Assembly Endorses Ordination of Women As Rabbis

The Rabbinical Assembly, the association of Conservative rabbis, endorsed today for the first time the ordination of women as rabbis. The RA, after six hours of heated debate, also called on the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, academic fountainhead of Conservative Judaism, whose faculty senate last December had tabled a resolution on such ordination, to remove it from the table and act on the resolution.

Although the resolution, passed today at the RA’s 80th annual convention by a 156-115 vote, “did not wish to dictate” which way the Seminary’s senate should vote, its proponents made it clear in the debate that they expected nothing less than approval of women’s ordination.

Arguments against the resolution were based generally on stated fears that approval would “split” the RA and the Conservative movement. It was pointed out that there was no guarantee that the Seminary would approve ordination of women, but members of the RA who have fought for it, said they could not be expected to give up even if the Seminary’s vote was negative.

There was a proposal, they pointed out, that would have been presented to the current convention if the call on the Seminary to act on the matter had not been adopted. This proposal would have had the Seminary devote itself solely to education for the rabbinate and leave ordination to a selected panel from the RA.

BACKGROUND OF DEBATE

At its convention in 1977, the RA was on the verge of approving ordination for women and asking the Seminary to accept candidates when the Seminary’s chancellor, Rabbi Gerson Cohen, who is a member of the RA, urged his colleagues to take no action pending a plan he had in mind. He proposed establishing a commission which would study the issue and report to the RA at its convention in 1979. The convention delegates agreed.

The commission was established with Cohen as chairman and it held hearings throughout the country and wrote its report. This report was presented to the RA by Cohen at the RA convention in Los Angeles in 1979.

The majority position–11 of the 14 members of the commission–stated there was nothing in Halacha to stand in the way of ordination of women, and it recommended approval to the Seminar faculty, the body authorized to act on additions or changes in curricula. Cohen stated to the 1979 convention that he would personally recommend approval, which he did.

Cohen told the RA convention in 1979 that it could expect action from the faculty in time for the acceptance of women candidates for the rabbinate by the fail of 1980. After a number of delays, the faculty senate took up the resolution and tabled it, removing it from consideration. Proponents of women’s ordination began immediately to organize for action at the current convention, and opponents began to plan counter-moves.

Several resolutions were prepared for the 1980 convention, ranging from one accepting the status quo of not ordaining women as rabbis to a draft text seeking to turn ordination over to a panel of rabbis and away from the Seminary.

BEGAN AS INNOCUOUS DRAFT

The resolution that was finally passed, started of as one of the more innocuous drafts, but was amended by pro-ordination delegates during debate. A sentence which had merely declared that the RA “stood ready” to help the Seminary “in its deliberations” whenever it “deemed it appropriate” was changed to: “Without wishing to dictate a decision

Rabbi Seymour Siegel, Ralph Simon, Professor of Ethics and Theology at the Seminary and chairman of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the RA, hailed the decision of the convention. “This vote will certainly influence the members of the faculty senate to reverse the decision of last year and approve the admission of women to the program of ordination,” Siegel told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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