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Special to the JTA Number of Women Rabbis Nears the 100 Mark in June Graduations

December 20, 1983
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

There are currently 17 women rabbinical students in the final year of their Reform studies and two women candidates in their final year at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) whose expected ordination next summer will bring to 94 the total number of American women ordained as rabbis since such ordination began 11 years ago, according to an annual Jewish Telegraphic Agency survey.

Moreover, assuming that the 15 women Reform candidates now in their next-to-last year, and the five women Reconstructionist candidates also in the some year, complete their studies and are ordained, the total of ordained women rabbis will substantially top 100 by the summer of 1985.

Twelve women were ordained as Reform rabbis last May, and two as Reconstructionist rabbis in June, according to data provided by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the Reform seminary, and the RCC.

Those two ceremonies brought to 75 the total number of women ordained as rabbis since Sally Preisand was ordained by the Reform seminary as the first woman rabbi in American Jewish history. The RCC is now located in Wyncote, Pa., near Philadelphia. The HUC-JIR has campuses in New York, Cincinnati and Los Angeles.

There are now five more Reform women rabbinical candidates in their final year of studies than during the 1982-83 year but the some number — two — for each of those academic years at the RCC.

Currently, including the women candidates in their last year of study, there are 73 women and 119 men studying for the Reform rabbinate, for a total of 192 Reform rabbinical candidates during the current academic year. There are 27 men and 21 women studying for the rabbinate this year at the RCC, for a total of 48 Reconstructionist rabbinical candidates.


A completely new chapter in the history of preparation of American Jewish women for rabbinical study is expected to begin next September when the rabbinical school of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS) in Manhattan is expected to admit its first class in its history of women candidates for the Conservative rabbinate.

That step was made possible, after years of frequently heated debate in the Conservative movement, by the decision of the JTS faculty last October 24 to admit women to the JTS rabbinical school. While no official data is available as yet, it is expected that the entering class of women candidates for the Conservative rabbinate at the JTS will be between 25 and 30.

A majority of the women ordained to date as Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis hold pulpit posts, most of them as assistant rabbis, with a few advanced to associate rabbis, a generalization that also applies to newly-ordained male rabbis.

No woman has yet been reported to have achieved the rank of senior rabbi at what, by definition, would be a large urban or suburban congregation. However, in recent years, a growing number of women rabbis have been appointed “solo rabbis.” This term refers to pulpit positions in congregations too small to either need or afford more than one rabbi. Some of the women rabbis have taken Hillel posts. Others have been named to teaching, administrative and organizational staff positions.

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