Two Women Expected to Receive Their Cantorial Diplomas from the JTS Say the Decision Was Long Overdu
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Two Women Expected to Receive Their Cantorial Diplomas from the JTS Say the Decision Was Long Overdu

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Two women expected to be the first to receive the Jewish Theological Seminary of America’s diploma of Hazzan (cantor) agreed that the landmark decision was long overdue in the Conservative movement.

Erica Lippitz, 30, and Marla Rosenfeld-Barugel, 31, are scheduled to graduate from JTS in the 1987 commencement. Both will have completed a five-year course in the JTS’ Cantor’s Institute-Seminary College of Jewish Music.

Traditionally, only men received the diploma of Hazzan in addition to a Bachelor’s Degree in Sacred Music after completing the curriculum. But women who completed the identical curriculum only received the degree.

JTS Chancellor Ismar Schorsch announced last Thursday that JTS will begin granting the diploma of Hazzan to women also in the 1987 graduation. The diploma will certify women to lead prayers in Conservative synagogues, although women already function as cantors in some Conservative synagogues.

The decision to certify women cantors followed a landmark break with Conservative tradition in 1983 when JTS decided to ordain women rabbis. Currently 11 women out of 25 students study in the Cantor’s Institute.


Lippitz and Barugel discussed the decision during a press conference Thursday. Although the new policy was long awaited, Lippitz said she wouldn’t have wanted such important changes to be instituted rashly.

“Women wanted the decision to be in the framework of halacha,” Lippitz said. “I’m glad we have certain responsibilities to take on.”

Lippitz referred to the halachic reasoning JTS drew on to support the decision to give women more active leadership in the synagogue According to this reasoning, a woman can take on all the time-bound obligations which traditionally applied only to men and perform the role of rabbi or cantor.

Both Lippitz and Barugel came to JTS from careers they found did not satisfy all their Jewish or musical interests. Lippitz graduated college with a degree in Music Therapy but said she was “hungry for more Jewish knowledge.” She went on to complete a Masters Degree in Jewish Communal Service at Brandeis University. She then worked as the Hillel Director at Loyola University in Chicago before coming to JTS.

“I was compelled to work in music and in the Jewish community.” Lippitz said. “This role will enable me to do so many things; to build a community, to work with people. I think it is a tremendous honor and responsibility to deal with people in life-cycle events so critical in their lives.”

Lippitz said her family also played an influential role in her decision to become a cantor. One of her grandfathers was a cantor and one grandmother worked in a Jewish women’s organization campaigning vigorously for women to be permitted to read the Torah on Shabbat. “I’m following in her footsteps, I guess,” Lippitz said.

Barugel, the mother of a five-month old baby, said her route to cantorial school was “long and circuitous.”


Barugel worked as a Spanish teacher and international banker and then began taking courses in music at the Hebrew School of Music. “Music was becoming a dominant force in my life and Judaism had always dominated my life,” she said.

“It seems I was always teaching people about Judaism. So I thought I could combine teaching with my Judaism and languages,” Barugel said. With that in mind, she enrolled in the School of Jewish Music, not intending to become a cantor initially.

During her studies, Barugel served as a student cantor in a Reform synagogue in South Salem, NY.

Both women also discussed the need for women role models in synagogue leadership, noting that the cantor is one of the most influential figures for the Bar or Bat Mitzvah-aged child.

Schorsch said he hoped women cantors will fill a critical shortage of cantors in North America, saying “Cantors were a dying breed.”


Meanwhile, the Cantors Assembly issued a statement Friday expressing a similar hope to alleviate the cantors’ shortage.

“We are pleased that the Jewish Theological Seminary has lifted the cloud of indecision that has hovered over this issue for some time. The Executive Council of the Cantors Assembly will give the matter a fair and thorough hearing in deciding what action we should take in admitting women members,” the statement said.

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