Conservative Judaism Leaders Differ on JTS Move to Admit Women to JTS Rabbinical School for Ordinati
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Conservative Judaism Leaders Differ on JTS Move to Admit Women to JTS Rabbinical School for Ordinati

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Rabbinical and lay leaders of Conservative Judaism expressed opposing viewpoints on the decision of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America faculty to admit women to the JTS Rabbinical School for ordination, but more support than opposition apparently was voiced.

The discussion of the ordination of women as Conservative rabbis took place last week at the final session of the 1983 biennial convention of the United Synagogue of America, attended by 2,000 delegates.

Rabbi Kassel Abelson of Minneapolis said that October 24, the day the JTS faculty senate voted to accept women for ordination, was “a watershed date, the beginning of the end of a long era of gradual development and the start of a new era of creative responsibilities.”

But he cautioned that Conservative women rabbis would be expected to shoulder the same obligations, in terms of observing the rituals of the rabbinate, as their male counterparts.

Max Goldberg, president of the United Synagogue Seaboard region, said the Conservative movement “has again opted for credibility and practicality.” Predicting that women rabbis would be “a positive force in the pulpit and in the Jewish community,” he called the JTS faculty decision “an act of courage.


Rabbi David Novak of Far Rockaway, N.Y., an adamant foe of such ordination, called the October 24 decision a violation of halacha, warning its effect would be to weaken traditional Judaism and strengthen a new organization in the movement, the Union for Traditional Conservative Judaism, of which he is head. Abelson and Novak both are members of the Committee on Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly, the association of Conservative rabbis.

Ernest Greenwald of Silver Springs, Md., United Synagogue financial secretary, said he agreed with Novak but rejected the idea that the decision, or any other controversial decision, would split the movement. He said “there is room for all of us” in the United Synagogue and in Conservative Judaism.

Dr. Simon Greenberg, JTS vice chancellor, declaring that the movement was “in the midst of a creative renaissance,” said about the discussion of women rabbis, that “there is no forum in the world where the kind of discussion heard at this convention could have been held with such mutual respect and affection.”

Marshall Wolke of Chicago, who was reelected for a second two-year term as United Synagogue president, asserted that Conservative Judaism was not a “one-issue movement.”

He said he did not feel a member’s opinion on the question of women rabbis was the “criterion for being a good Conservative Jew.” He said the “essence” of the movement was “observance of tradition and ritual, ethical living, study of the Torah and commitment to the Jewish people.”

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