Menu JTA Search

Rabbinical Assembly to Vote on the Applications for Membership of Two Reform Women Rabbis

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

Reform Rabbi Beverly Magidson, whose application to become the first Conservative woman rabbi was rejected last year by narrow margins in dramatic roll call votes at the 83rd convention of the Rabbinical Assembly, the association of Conservative rabbis, is again an applicant at the 84th RA convention this month.

Her application and that of another woman Reform rabbi, Jan Kaufman of Washington, D.C., have been approved by the appropriate RA committees and their applications to become RA members and thus Conservative rabbis will be voted on May 16 at the RA convention at Kiamesha Lake, N.Y., Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, RA executive vice president said. The convention will be held May 13-17 at the Concord Hotel.

Kelman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that because of a chronic shortage of rabbis for Conservative pulpits, the RA has accepted more than 500 applicants for membership in the RA from non-Conservative seminaries, notably Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis. The other route to the Conservative rabbinate was by attending and passing the courses at the rabbinical school of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS), followed by ordination.

But until Magidson made her unsuccessful bid at the 83rd RA convention in Dallas, all of the candidates who had been voted on in the convention route had been men. And at the time of the 83rd convention, women were not permitted admission to the JTS rabbinical school.

WIDESPREAD ATTENTION OVER BID BY MAGIDSON

Partly because the Conservative movement was in the throes of years of heated debate on admission of women to the JTS rabbinical school and partly because Magidson’s bid for RA membership was the first by a woman in RA history, the event at the Dallas Convention attracted widespread attention. Acceptance of a candidate at a convention requires a 75 percent vote of delegates present.

Last July, after the convention, Magidson was appointed rabbi of a Conservative synagogue in Clifton, N.J. She was named solo rabbi of Beth Shalom, taking her first pulpit last August I. She has been a hospital chaplain in St. Louis and left a position of associate director of the Hillel Foundation at Washington University to take the Clifton pulpit.

The term “solo rabbi” is used to refer to a congregation too small to need or to be able to afford more than one rabbi. The Beth Shalom congregation was then made up of more than 100 families.

Kaufman, like Magidson, was ordained in 1979 by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Reform institution, in New York City.

A continuing struggle within the Conservative movement over admission of women to the JTS rabbinical school, strongly endorsed by delegates at three successive RA conventions, ended last October when the JTS Faculty Senate voted to admit women, starting next fall.

Kelman, asked whether the May 16 vote on Magidson and Kaufman might be as sharply debated as it was on Magidson’s application last year, noted there was still strong opposition among some leading JTS faculty members to women rabbis in the Conservative movement.

But he also cited the JTS faculty vote to admit women to JTS rabbinical classes, which presumably had dampened the opposition to women Conservative rabbis.

Kaufman served as an assistant Hillel director at the University of Maryland and then joined the faculty of the Charles E. Smith day school, in Potomac, Md., where she is in charge of religious instruction. Kelman said she had attended a Conservative congregation and had joined it as an adult.

Kelman said both women Reform rabbis felt they belonged in the Conservative movement and opted for Reform ordination because, until last October, the JTS rabbinical school was closed to women. While the option will be open to them for the 1984-85 academic year, they apparently feel there is no valid reason for them to go through a second lengthy process of study for the rabbinate.

NEXT STORY