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Cantors Assembly Again Turns Down Proposal to Admit Qualified Women

For the second year in a row, the Cantors Assembly has rejected a proposal to offer membership to women who receive cantorial degrees from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The vote on a motion to amend the assembly’s by-laws to admit women members was 108-82, 19 votes short of the two-thirds majority required for passage.

The balloting took place here Tuesday during the 42nd annual convention of the assembly, which is affiliated with the Conservative movement and is the world’s largest body of hazzanim. Cantor Robert Kieval of Rockville, Md., was elected president of the assembly, succeeding Cantor Solomon Mendelson of Long Beach, N.Y.

Since 1987, JTS has granted the diploma of hazzan to women who have successfully completed the required course of study at its Cantors Institute. But the Cantors Assembly, a professional organization of Conservative cantors, has not yet recognized women graduates of the institute.

Last May, a 97-95 majority of the assembly voted against a motion to admit qualified women cantors. This year, the forces supporting the admission of women picked up 13 votes, but that was not enough to change the rules.

In a statement issued by the assembly after the vote, outgoing President Mendelson said, “The issue of admitting women cantors to membership is a sensitive and emotional one that poses complex questions of tradition, religious authority, the status of women in the synagogue and many other factors.”

He added, “The Cantors Assembly calls on all its members and the American Jewish community, whatever their personal feelings, to accept this decision with understanding.”

‘SADDENED AND DISAPPOINTED’

Mendelson also pointed out that for years the Cantors Assembly has been providing scholarship assistance to both male and female students at the Cantors Institute.

“We shall, of course, continue this procedure in the future,” he said.

A statement issued by women cantors and cantorial students at JTS said: “We are saddened and disappointed that qualified women cantors have once again been denied membership in the Cantors Assembly.

“But the future is very clear. A majority of our colleagues already demand that women be admitted to this professional association. We know that all members of the Cantors Assembly will soon realize the invaluable contributions that women cantors are making to Jewish life.

“Together with those colleagues who lobbied passionately on our behalf, we will continue to insist that qualified women be granted admission to our movement’s professional organization.”

Cantor Samuel Rosenbaum, who was reelected executive vice president of the Cantors Assembly, acknowledged that the majority vote in favor of the admission of women cantors reflected “a change in mood and attitude” of the organization.

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