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Conservative Rabbis’ Group Turns Away Woman

Delegates to the 83rd annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international organization of Conservative rabbis, meeting in Dallas, TX this April, rejected by a narrow margin the admission of that body’s first woman member.

The final tally of the standing roll-call vote last April 12th, which observers described as “dramatic and moving,” was 210 in favor and 75 against accepting the application of Rabbi Beverly Magidson, ordained by the New York school of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (Reform) in 1979 and serving as interim chaplain at the Jewish Hospital of St. Louis, MO. A 75% majority—214 votes-is required to admit new RA members graduating from institutions other than the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Conservative movement’s main academic institution. Supporters of the admission of women into the Conservative rabbinate requested the roll call (and the presence of all Convention delegates) after a first vote of 206 for and 72 against signalled overwhelming support for Conservative women rabbis at the convention.

According to Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, Executive Director of the RA, non-JTS rabbis, some 500 of whom have been admitted to the RA in the past 40 years, submit applications (including evidence of ordination, and two years’ work in Jewish institutions) to the RA membership committee, which passes them along to the RA Executive Council for approval. The names are then circulated among the entire RA membership (currently 1,150) and finally placed before the convention. While Magidson and six male rabbis passed the earlier stages of the admission process, only she failed to receive the required 75% vote.

Magidson sought admission to the JTS Rabbinical School in September 1972, but was turned down after a faculty vote in February 1973. Following her graduation from HUC-JIR, she served as chaplain at Vassar College, rabbinic intern at the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (the association of American Reform synagogues) and, for two years, as associate director of the Hillel Foundation at Washington University in St. Louis. This July, she was hired as rabbi of Beth Shalom of Clifton Park, NY, a Conservative synagogue.

“This was such a close vote that it would be a shame not to try again,” Magidson told the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent after the convention. Rabbi Michael Mon-son of Philadelphia, Executive Director of the Jewish Association for College Youth, who sponsored Magidson’s application to the RA, asserted that “without doubt,” the issue would be raised at next year’s convention.

Many observers predicted that, prior to that convention, efforts will be made to reduce the percentage rate for admitting new members from 3/4, as currently stipulated by the RA constitution, to 2/3, and to permit member rabbis not attending the convention to mail in their votes, both of which may increase Magidson’s chances for acceptance.

The 12 women ordained as Reform rabbis, and the two graduated as Reconstructionist rabbis, last spring, bring to 75 the total number of American women ordained as Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis since 1972, according to an annual Jewish Telegraphic Agency survey.

The women named Reform rabbis in Cincinnati were: Susan Ellen Berman of Brooklyn; Uene Melamed of St. Paul, Minn.; Randi Musnitsky of Penn Valley, Pa.; and Jill Colman Ruskin, of South field, Mich.

Those ordained Reform rabbis in New York were: Shira Stern of New York City; Jacqueline Koch Ellison of New York City; Leslie Jean Alexander of Berkeley, CA.; Sandy Ellen Bogin, of Torrance, CA.; Elyse Goldstein of Scranton, Pa.; Carole Lee Meyers of Washington, D.C.; Marjorie Sue Yudkin of St. Paul, Minn.; and Susan Leslie Einbinder of Ridgewood, NJ.

The two women ordained as Reconstructionist rabbis were: Deborah Bartnoff of Englewood, NJ.; and Cynthia Kravitz of Philadelphia.