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Women Again Fail to Muster Votes for Admission to Cantors Assembly

May 9, 1990
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

For the third year in a row, the Cantors Assembly has voted down a motion to admit fully accredited women cantors as members.

The 100-68 vote in favor of amending the assembly’s bylaws fell 12 short of the required two-thirds vote needed for passage. A similar resolution last year fell 19 votes short.

This year’s vote took place Tuesday during the 43rd annual convention of the Cantors Assembly in Loch Sheldrake, N.Y. The assembly, which is affiliated with the Conservative movement of Judaism, claims to be the world’s largest professional organization of chazzanim (cantors).

“The issue of admitting women 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,” Cantor Robert Kieval, who was elected to a second term as president of the assembly, said in a statement.

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

Despite controversy over the halachic propriety of women leading a congregation in prayer, the Jewish Theological Seminary, the leading Conservative educational institution, has been granting cantorial degrees to women since 1987.

But the Cantors Assembly has never recognized women ordained as cantors by the seminary.

The assembly, while a voluntary organization, is responsible for the placement of its members in cantorial positions. Some women cantors have contended that by not having membership in the assembly, they are missing out on opportunities for professional placement and advancement.


Cantor Marla Barugel, spokeswoman for the eight women seeking membership, expressed her “shock and dismay” at the result of the vote.

“We are disheartened, considering that we share the same goals, qualifications, professional concerns and the same love of chazzanut as those who have rejected us today,” she said.

“The problem has to do with the traditional model of the chazzan and various interpretations of what the halachah stands for,” Cantor Samuel Rosenbaum, executive vice president of the assembly, explained in a telephone interview. He was sharply critical of those who voted against the proposal.

After last year’s vote, members of the assembly tried to work out a proposal that would satisfy a constitutional majority of the assembly. Most were expecting the vote to pass Tuesday.

In fact, a simple majority of the assembly was in favor of granting women cantors membership, but not enough to fulfill the two-thirds vote requirement.

“I regret very much that though the majority of members voting were in favor of the admission of women, the constitutional structure of our assembly has overruled the will of the majority,” said Rosenbaum. “The admission of women would have brought an added dimension to the liturgical spirit of the synagogue,” he said.

Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, also expressed disappointment with the decision.

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