Conservative Rabbis Reject by a Narrow Margin the Membership of a Reform-ordained Woman Rabbi in the
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Conservative Rabbis Reject by a Narrow Margin the Membership of a Reform-ordained Woman Rabbi in the

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American Conservative rabbis, meeting at the 83rd annual convention here of their Rabbinical Assembly, rejected yesterday by narrow margins the application of a Reform ordained woman rabbi for membership by the first roll-call vote in the history of the RA. A vote of approval would have made Rabbi Beverly Magidson the first woman Conservative rabbi.

The name of Rabbi Magidson, a hospital chaplain ordained by the New York school of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1979, was submitted to the convention along with the names of six male rabbis.

There are two procedures for admission to the RA and to formal status as a Conservative rabbi. One is by ordination by the rabbinical school of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The other is by a process in the RA for rabbis ordained under other Jewish auspices. During the past 40 years, some 500 rabbis have been admitted by that process.

Magidson and the six male rabbis all had been examined and approved by the RA membership committee, the RA executive council and circulation of their applications among all 1,150 RA members. The final step is a 75 percent vote of approval at an RA convention.


Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, RA executive vice president, had told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, prior to the vote yesterday, that because applicants had passed the tests of approval by the RA membership committee and its executive council, the 75 percent acceptance vote at conventions was routine but that since Magidson was a woman, her application had “an extra dimension.”

Kelman’s suggestion that Magidson’s application presented a problem was borne out by results of the voting at the convention yesterday. The six male rabbis were admitted by the required 75 percent of the votes of rabbis “present and voting.”

For Magidson’s application, two votes were taken. She failed the required 75 percent by close margins. On the first ballot, 278 rabbis voted, 206 for and 72 opposed, three short of the required 75 percent. That vote was by the procedure of each of the 278 rabbis present standing and indicating his position orally.

The unprecedented roll-call tally took place on the second vote when an additional seven rabbis came in for the vote, which was 210 for and 75 opposed, four short of the required 75 percent.

Magidson said, in a telephoned statement from her home in St. Louis, that she would apply again for admission but did not indicate whether it would be at the 1984 convention. Rabbi Kelman said he had no information as to whether she would apply next year.


The issue of admitting women to the Conservative rabbinate has been one bitterly fought in recent years, with three successive RA conventions going on record in favor of the Jewish Theological Seminary ending its policy of refusing to accept women as rabbinical candidates.

Rabbi Arnold Goodman of Atlanta, Ga., RA president, commenting on the voting on Rabbi Magidson, said: “It is a tribute to the members that they are willing to take a public position on this most sensitive issue.”

Goodman, who voted for Magidson’s acceptance, also said that “obviously the admission of women rabbis will come.” He added that “it is obvious that an overwhelming majority of the members support admission of women into the Rabbinical Assembly, and I feel this vote reflects the feeling of our total membership.”

He expressed the hope that the issue would continue to be debated within the Conservative movement and called upon the Jewish Theological Seminary, “as the training institution of the movement, to reassess its current policy in the light of today’s voting and to ordain women as rabbis in the Conservative movement.”


Kelman summarized the opposing views expressed during the three hours of heated debate that preceded the voting. He said that those Conservative rabbis favoring Rabbi Magidson’s admission supported “an equalization of the role of men and women in Judaism so that women can participate fully in the religious life of the Jewish people.”

He said those opposing such a step believe that it would be “a revolution in traditional practice which ought not to be done lightly.” He also noted that some Conservative rabbis feel that the RA should not admit women as members as long as the Jewish Theological Seminary refuses to ordain them.

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