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The Conservative Movement

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on August 12, 2007 at 11:50:16 am




On Changes in Judaism - Zecharias Frankel (1845)
Emet V'Emunah
UTJ Declaration of Principles (1993)



The Ordination of Women as Conservative Rabbis


Amy Eilberg

First Conservative woman rabbi



The Conservative movement ordained its first woman rabbi in 1985, thirteen years after Sally Priesand was ordained by Hebrew Union College.  The debate over the ordination of women in the Conservative movement was far shorter in time frame, but far more difficult for the movement.  Both of these elements have much to teach us about the philosophy and theology of the Conservative movement.



















FIRST: Read the Final Report of the Commission for the Study of the Ordination of Women as Rabbis (1979) -- This is the report of a commission appointed by the RA-Rabbinical Assembly  to give a recommendation to the RA about the issue of ordaining women.  The RA is the organization of ordained Conservative rabbis.  (Its equivalent in the Reform Movement is the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) and in the Orthodox Movement is the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA).)


 Answer the following questions:


    1) Like the Reform Movement, the body of working rabbis of the movement pushed for women's ordination before the movement's rabbinical school agreed to admit women.  Why do you think this is so? 




      2)    In the section entitled "Procedures," how does the Commission explain the role of halakha in the making of its determination? 


Make a list of all the reasons outlined by the Report as to why women should have equal status to men in Reform Judaism.  After each reason, note what person or body stated the reason (some may be stated by the committee writing the report and others are past statements cited by the committee).  Now categorize each reason as either:  halachic, religious, historical or sociological.


    2)  Examine the following quote from the reading:


         Whatever may have been the specific legal status of Jewish women regarding certain religious functions,

         her general position in Jewish religious life has ever been an exalted one.  She has been the priestess in

         the home, and our sages have always recognized her as the preserver of Israel.  In view of these Jewish

         teachings and in keeping with the sprit of our age and the traditions of our Conference, we declare that

         woman cannot justly be denied the privilege of ordination.  (p. 70)


           How does this quote exemplify Reform philosophy and theology?  List as many examples as you can.


    3)  Why do you think the Report emphasizes that "The question before us is purely academic at this time"?   Is this related to the fact that HUC does not actually ordain the first woman rabbi until seventeen years after this report, and a full 71 years after the CCAR overwhelmingly adopted a resolution stating "[w]e declare that woman cannot justly be denied the privilege of ordination"?


 NEXT:  Read the introduction to the letter and the letter that Rabbi David Weiss Halivni, the then-chair of the Talmud and Rabbinics department at the Jewish Theological Seminary wrote upon his resignation from the faculty over the decision to ordain women.  (Taken from Rabbi Halivni's memoir, The Book and the Sword)


Answer the following questions:


1)  How does Rabbi Halivni view the process of change in halakha?


2)  Why does he believe that the ordination of women demonstrates a break with the halakhic process?


3)  How does Rabbi Halivni's view compare to the view of the halakhic process outlined in Emet V'Emunah? 



NOW - Visit the exhibit on Amy Eilberg at the Jewish Women's Archive.  Go to www.jwa.org/feminism.  Click on "Search the Collection" and then click on "Person."  Scroll down to Amy Eilberg and click on the icon that pops up next to her name.



A)  Statement of Amy EIlberg


        After reading the statement carefully, answer the following questions:


            1.  Rabbi Eilberg describes the process that her class underwent  in deciding to recite the Shehechiyanu prayer at their ordination.  How was this process uniquely Conservative?  How was the outcome uniquely Conservative?


            2.  Rabbi Eilberg writes at the end of her piece about her colleague Rabbi Lenny Gordon who approaches her at the end of the ordination ceremony and shares with her that when he recited the Shehechiyanu prayer, he said it for her.  What did he mean?  What can his act teach us about his theological view of the ordination of women?





 B)  Photograph of the ordination of Amy Eilberg:  After examining this photograph carefully, answer the following questions:


             1.  What are some adjectives you would use to describe this photograph?

             2.  What messages about Conservative Judaism does the photograph convey to you?

             3.  What messages about the type of individuals that choose to become rabbis in the Conservative Movement are conveyed by this                         photograph?

             4.  How does this photograph compare to the photograph of the ordination of Sally Priesand?


    C)  New York Times article about the ordination of Amy Eilberg:  CONSERVATIVE JEWS ORDAIN A WOMAN.doc



                After reading this article carefully, answer the following questions:


                1.  How does Dean Roseman of the Hebrew Union College describe Sally Priesand?  Do you think that his description/impression of her impacted on the Reform Movement's decision to begin ordaining women with her?

                2.  How does Dean Roseman describe the reasons women cannot be rabbis?

                3.  What reasons does he give for the Reform Movement changing this tradition?







We will complete this section in class.  Come prepared to answer the following questions in class discussion.



How was the process of beginning to ordain women in the Conservative movement in keeping with Conservative philosophy and theology?  Give as many examples as you can think of.


How was the process NOT in keeping with Conservative philosophy and theology, if at all?  Give examples.  Why do you think the issue of ordaining women diverged from this philosophy and theology in this way?


What can this process teach us about the interaction of theology/philosophy and society?





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