Special to the JTA Little Opposition Seen in Conservative Judaism to Women Acting As Religious Leade
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Special to the JTA Little Opposition Seen in Conservative Judaism to Women Acting As Religious Leade

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"I am convinced the mainstream of leadership of the Conservative movement now believes there is no further impediment to women acting as religious leaders in the Jewish community," Amy Eilberg, who this year is expected to be the first woman ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, said here yesterday.

Eilberg spoke with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency after teaching a session of "The Liturgy of the Jewish Wedding Service" at the annual Study Day of Women’s League for Conservative Judaism. Some 300 League members from the New York area attended the study day.

"We can now move forward to incorporate woman leaders into every facet of religious life in our movement, including officiating at weddings," Eilberg said. "In the Conservative movement there is relatively little opposition to the notion of a woman officiating at a wedding."

Eilberg pointed out that there are still a number of questions regarding women’s participation in Jewish rituals which some members of the Conservative movement feel are unsatisfactorily resolved. These questions include officiating at weddings. But most problematic is the acceptance of the signature of woman as witness on a Jewish legal document, she said.

"We live in a Jewish world which is pluralistic, and I believe that this pluralism is a strength. We will learn to move forward with this issue as well," she added.


Dr. Neil Gillman, associate provost of the Seminary, told JTA that the large majority of the Rabbinical Assembly, the organization of Conservative rabbis, supports full participation by women. He cautioned, however, that Eilberg and the first generation of woman rabbis will have a difficult time.

"We have a major job of reeducation ahead of us," he said. "Symbolically, Amy Eilberg’s ordination is an extraordinarily important event. It is the beginning of a process of education that will take a long time."

Rabbi Stanley Schachter, vice chancellor of the Seminary, said that officiating at a wedding will be one of the easiest areas for a woman rabbi to move into in the Conservative movement. "A wedding is fundamentally a public celebration of an enactment between a bride and groom, in the presence of witnesses. The officiator is the equivalent of a master of ceremonies," he said.

The official signature of a rabbi on a ketubah, or marriage certificate, is needed only for civil authorities, Schachter explained. The rabbi is not a witness, and the officiation of a woman rabbi would not affect the halachic question of women as witnesses.

But Schachter added that a wedding is a communal event, and many "rational and non-rational factors" go into the decision to have a woman officiate at one’s wedding. "The impediment is primarily inertial — one of tradition and custom," he said.

Eilberg’s teaching session on Jewish weddings was followed by a discussion by Dr. Jack Wertheimer, assistant professor in Jewish history at the Seminary, on "The Conservative Synagogue in Historic Perspective." Schachter spoke on "The Seminary at 100: Plans for the 1986 Centennial."

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