Opponents to Ordination of Women As Rabbis Protest RA Announcement
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Opponents to Ordination of Women As Rabbis Protest RA Announcement

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Opponents to the ordination of women as rabbis — both within and outside the Conservative movement — have come forward to protest the announcement last week by the Rabbinical Assembly (RA) that it had cleared the way for the acceptance of its first female member, Amy Eilberg, upon her graduation from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America’s Rabbinical School in May. (See the Feb. 19 issue of the Daily News Bulletin).

The Union for Traditional Conservative Judaism, a group of rabbis and laity who oppose women’s ordination in the Conservative movement, said that the passage of an amendment to the RA constitution — which guarantees the acceptance of women by mandating the automatic admission of each entire JTS graduating class — “should not be seen as a wholehearted endorsement” of women as rabbis.

The group’s co-chairman, Rabbi David Novak, claimed that 30 percent of the RA membership voted against the amendment. (In the mail ballot, 267 members out of 903 voted against the amendment, but 247 did not cast ballots at all.) Had this percentage of numbers voted according to the original procedure, which required a 75 percent vote for the acceptance of individual members rather than a simple majority, the admission of women into the RA would have been “precluded, “Novak said.

He noted that many RA members voted for the amendment because “its wording ostensibly made it a question of loyalty” to the JTS. But, he added, “We know for a fact that a considerable segment of them share our reservations about the halachic validity of women’s ordination.”


The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations condemned the RA decision as representing a “radical and definitive break with Jewish tradition, shattering all claims and pretenses that the Conservative movement is a branch of halachic Judaism.”

Charging that the decision is part of the movement’s “continuing breach with traditional Judaism,”Union president Sidney Kwestel called it “religion by popular demand, a pandering to pressure groups” that “further obliterates the distinction between the Conservative and Reform movements” in the U.S.

The Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the U.S. and Canada, whose president is halachist Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, expressed the view that no woman,”even Orthodox, “can serve as a rabbi according to Jewish law, which, he said Reform and Conservative movements “have done everything to break down.”

But Rabbi Hersh Ginsberg, the group’s director, said that even the men ordained as Conservative and Reform rabbis are not real rabbis, “and their marriages, divorces and conversions are invalid.” He cited Feinstein’s statement that ” it is a serious violation even to pray in a Reform or Conservative temple.”


Rabbi Avraham Weiss, spiritual leader of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and Assistant Professor of Judaic Studies at Stem College, the women’s undergraduate college of Yeshiva University, called the RA decision “potentially divisive” but did not condemn it outright. He split the functions of rabbi into two parts. One part involves those aspects of the rabbinate that, he said, are halachically closed to women: serving as witnesses and as religious arbiters, and leading public prayer. Because these are forbidden to women, he said, a conversion by a Bet Din (religious court) in which a woman rabbi participates would be unacceptable to Orthodox rabbis and many Conservative rabbis, as well.

However, there are aspects of the rabbinate which constitute what he called the “major part of a rabbi’s duties — teaching of Torah and counseling — that women can fully participate in on the same level as men.”

Weiss, who serves as rabbi and advisor to many Orthodox women’s services in the tri-state area, expressed the hope that the Orthodox movement will initiate a course of study leading to a new title for women who would carry out these roles of teacher and counselor” on an equal level with men.”

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