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Conservative Lay People, Rabbis Agree to Discuss Differences

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The United Synagogue of America, the two-million-member association of Conservative congregations, passed two resolutions here last week designed to heal a rift with Conservative rabbis, and another that may have exacerbated a conflict with Conservative cantors.

Some 1,300 Conservative rabbis and delegates gathered at the Concord Hotel here Nov. 15-19 for the association’s biennial convention, which included study, workshops and the celebration of United Synagogue’s 75th anniversary.

The two rabbinic-related resolutions were adopted at the urging of Franklin Kreutzer of Miami, who was elected to a second two-year term as United Synagogue president.

One called for binding arbitration to resolve all disputes between rabbis, educators and cantors and their employers. The other urged a thoughtful review of the roles of lay and rabbinic representatives on the various joint commissions and committees that relate to Conservative movement affairs.

Under provisions of both resolutions, a task force of equal numbers of rabbis, lay persons and seminarians will work out the details for giving the laity a greater voice and for resolving lay-rabbinic disputes.

A report by the task force, to be chaired by Jewish Theological Seminary Chancellor Ismar Schorsch, will be delivered to each organization by June 30, 1988. Kreutzer said Schorsch, a rabbi, is sensitive to the concerns of both sides.

The resolutions came about in part because of the rift that developed between the Rabbinical Assembly, the association of Conservative rabbis, and United Synagogue. The assembly supported the lawsuit of a member against the United Synagogue over his recent dismissal from a job with the latter.

(However, a United Synagogue spokesman said that issue will be handled separately from other issues of arbitration.)

United Synagogue also passed a resolution that would allow it to set up its own cantorial placement organization. This came about because the Cantors’ Assembly, an independent body within the Conservative movement, has refused to stop placing its cantors with congregations that are not affiliated with United Synagogue.

Currently, cantorial placements are handled by a joint committee of United Synagogue and the Cantors’ Assembly.

Delegates overwhelmingly approved the measure, which was seen as necessary to keep congregations from disassociating with United Synagogue because they could receive its services without paying dues.

With a shortage of available cantors, Kreutzer said affiliated congregations should be considered first.

However, Cantor Saul Rosenbaum, vice president of the Cantors’ Assembly, said the association didn’t have the right to stop a cantor from taking a job that pays more money with a nonaffiliated congregation.

Rosenbaum said the key issue is the membership of the joint placement commission, which is now dominated by the Cantors’ Assembly. He said United Synagogue wants increased representation on it — an issue which Rosenbaum said the assembly is prepared to discuss.

Kreutzer noted that the resolution gives the assembly time to reconsider its position. However, if the laity has to set up its own placement service, then it will, he said.

Kreutzer also declared it was time for lay leaders to join with the rabbis in building the movement. “I am not blaming the rabbis for the decline in synagogue attendance or the high rate of intermarriage,” he said. “It is not their fault.

“What we are saying is that if the tide is to be turned on both problems, then the rabbis must let lay leaders accept their role in addressing these problems. We believe the partnership will benefit us both. The 1,100 Conservative rabbis are not capable of doing it alone.”

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