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A Historic Development: 18 Women to Begin Studies at JTS Rabbinical School for Ordination

August 31, 1984
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Eighteen women will make Jewish history Wednesday when they enter classrooms at the rabbinical school of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS) to begin studies to qualify them for ordination as the first Women Conservative rabbis, an event expected to end a longrunning dispute on the issue in Conservative Judaism.

The 19th woman in the first entering class chose to begin her studies at the movement’s school in Jerusalem, Neva Schechter, according to Rabbi Gordon Tucker, the JTS rabbinical school dean. Twenty-one women had been scheduled to be members of the first class but two decided to defer entrance, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency was told.

The program of study for the Conservative rabbinate is six years. But Tucker said that women had previously studied courses required for the rabbinate but did not receive rabbinical school credits.

But credits for such courses, if they are part of the rabbinical school curriculum, have been added to the records of the first woman students. Tucker told the JTA there was a “mathematical possibility” that one of the women students has acquired enought credits by that procedure to be graduated and ordained at commencement exercises at JTS next May 12.

Tucker said another innovation associated with the first class of women rabbinical students will be the inauguration of two daily services. One will continue a service with separate seating for women and no women’s ritual participation. The new service will treat the women students as full participants.

The student who began her rabbinical studies in Israel is Melody Johnston of North Hollywood.

The 18 entering the JTS rabbinical school are: Toba August, Brooklyn; Deborah Blank, Peru, Ind.; Susan Grossman Boder, the Bronx; Carolyn Braun, San Mateo, Cal.; Deborah Cantor, Hartford; Amy Eilberg, Providence, R.I.; Lori Forman, Berkley, Cal. Jodie Feutornickl, West Orange, N.J.; Pamela Hoffman, Highland Park, N.Y.; Elana Kantor, Rochester, N.Y; Naomi Levy, Brooklyn; Shelley Meltzer, Madison, Wis.; Rhoda Nabel, Stoughton, Mass.; Debora Orenstein, South Orange, N.J; Nina Cardin Reisner, Teaneck, N.J.; Michal Shekel, Oberlin, Ohio; Marion Shulevitz, Hialeah, Fla.; and Jonina Skoff, St. Louis, Mo.

The first admission of woman in the 99-year history of the rabbinical school was made possible by a 34-8 vote of the JTS Faculty last October 24 at a special meeting called by JTS chancellor Gerson Cohen, approving admission of women to the rabbinical school.

For all practical purposes, the JTA was told, that vote ended a long and sometimes bitterly divisive debate, in which a steadily growing number of Conservative rabbis endorsed JTS admission of Women for ordination, while a substantial number of JTS faculty members were — and some still remain — in adamant opposition.

Three faculty members boycotted the October 24 meeting but the 42 present and voting represented nearly 75 percent of the faculty. Before that, a commission was named by Cohen which concluded hearings with a recommendation that women be admitted to the rabbinical school.

Earlier, there had been votes on the application of a woman to join the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), the association of Conservative rabbis, at two succeeding conventions. The application had been voted down for failure to get a required 75 percent majority of delegates for such admission.

The Conservative movement thus joins Reform and Reconstructionism in ordaining women as rabbis. There are now about 90 women ordained as rabbis, mainly Reform.

Tucker, asked whether there was any likelihood that the long-debated decision to admit women to the JTS rabbinical school could be delayed or halted, said that with the procedure now in operation, he could not see how it could be affected by the continuing opposition.

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