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Conservative Rabbis Take No Action on Ordination of Women As Rabbis

February 1, 1979
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Delegates attending the 79th annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly, the International organization of Conservative rabbis, today passed on to the Jewish Theological Seminary of America the Final Report of the Commission for the Study of the Ordination of Women as Rabbis without recommendation. The action was taken by a vote of 127-110.

This, however, did not reflect the division within the Rabbinical Assembly over the issue of ordination of women, since many of those who voted against wanted a stronger resolution which would have called on the Seminary to consider favorably the Commission’s recommendation. The rabbis, in acting as they did to send the report on to the Seminary, acted in accordance with the arrangements under which Dr. Gerson D. Cohen, Seminary Chancellor, convened the special Commission in 1977 at the request of the Rabbinical Assembly and which he has led as chairman during the intervening two years.

Fears were expressed during the debate that ordaining women would cause irreparable harm to the Conservative Movement and this brought on counter-statements that it would strengthen the Movement. The debate took place following the submission of the report last night by the special Commission to the convention. Following that, Rabbi Saul Teplitz, RA president, hailed it as "affirmative" and "rooted in halacha with reverence for Jewish tradition."

The resolution, as adopted, declared that the RA "will take no action on the question of the ordination of women or on the Commission’s recommendation prior to the study of the report by the full membership and the study, analysis and decision of the Seminary faculty on the recommendation." The faculty plans to vote on the Commission’s recommendations May 30.

The resolution also commended Cohen and the members of the Commission for the report, praising the "thoroughness with which all aspects of the issue were studied, making it a classic contribution to the literature of the status of women in the Jewish tradition."


(Rabbi I. Usher Kirshblum of Kew Gardens Hills, N. Y., who has led a fight for years against greater ritual authority for women in Conservative Judaism, declared, in a statement issued in New York, that the recommendation of the Commission, "once adopted by the faculty" of the Seminary, will utterly destroy Solomon Schechter’s principle of ‘catholic Israel’ and his program for a United Synagogue of America, the organization of Conservative congregations.

(Kirshblum, who organized and is chairman of the Committee for the Preservation of Tradition within the Rabbinical Assembly, added that Seminary approval of ordination of women "will inevitably divide the Conservative Movement into two distinct camps–one for conservative Reform Jews and the other for true Conservative Jews."

(Simon Schwartz, president of the United Synagogue of America, in a statement also issued in New York, said he was pleased with the "affirmative report" of the Commission. He termed the recommendation for ordination of women as "quite properly in the direction" that the Conservative Movement has been taking toward "full and equal participation of women in Jewish life."

(While declaring that the congregational movement looked forward to implementation of the Commission report, Schwartz stressed that "in the normative procedures of the Conservative Movement, each synagogue ultimately makes its own decision as to the rabbi it elects."

(Kirshblum said he would convene the steering committee of his dissident faction on Feb. 21, immediately after his return from a 10-day United Jewish Appeal mission to Israel, to map concrete plans for future action.)

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