More Female Cantors and Rabbis in Pulpits

Meanwhile, progress in the ambivalent zone can be seen with recent Jewish Theological Seminary graduate Carol Glass taking on the responsibilities of an assistant rabbi at Adath Jeshurun, the only Conservative congregation within the city of Minneapolis.

Glass, who earned a Master’s Degree in Jewish Education, has the title of programming planner and coordinator, but her duties include running shivah (mourning) minyans, responsibilities in the morning minyan, working with converts, and filling in for the rabbi when necessary.

She said, “I see myself not only as showing that women can serve in a spiritual capacity but creating a new position so that the rabbi doesn’t have a monopoly in these areas.”

Glass characterized the 1100-family Conservative congregation as “ahead of a lot of places in a lot of things. Women read from the Torah and conduct services regularly. I’ve encountered very little resistance because of my sex. More because of my age. I’m 23 and look even younger. When people see me come in for a shivah minyan they look twice.”

Glass has just completed a packet on “How to Do Jewish Feminist Programming,” prepared for the North American Jewish Students’ Network.

The issue of whether women will be accepted as cantors within Conservative Judaism has yet to reach the intensity of the debate over women rabbis.

Although the Jewish Theological Seminary refuses to admit women to its cantorial program, and the Conservative movement’s Cantors Assembly has yet to consider the possibility of admitting a woman, small changes are taking place.

Elaine Shapiro, who as a JTS student kept unsuccessfully pressuring the Seminary Cantors Institute to treat her as a cantorial student, has now been hired as cantor of Temple Bet Am Shalom, a Conservative Reconstructionist congregation in White Plains, N.Y.

Shapiro, who has her Bachelor of Sacred Music from the JTS Cantors Institute-Seminary College of Music, said, “I could have gotten a job in the Reform movement with maybe two or three times the salary, but I chose the Conservative movement. That’s where my heart and my education are, and I was trying to make the breakthrough,” which she feels she has accomplished.

Her commitment to Conservative Judaism recalls the words of Sandy Levine, who was determined to be accepted as a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary (see “Gentlemen’s Agreement at the Seminary” by Amy Stone, LILITH Vol. I, No. 3). Levine is now a Reform rabbinical student in her first year at the New York branch of Hebrew Union College. She said: “They’re open, they’re warm, they’re human. I wouldn’t change at this point though I’ll fight for change, and I’ll fight for the women who want to become Conservative rabbis.”

Levine received supportive responses from around the country for her fight to be admitted as a Conservative rabbinical student. One of the most supportive letters, from Robert Scherr, cantor of Temple Israel of Natick, Mass., broadened the issue to include both rabbis and cantors. He wrote:

“In my concern for admitting women to the cantorate in Conservative synagogues, I’m standing in a pretty lonely corner of the shul….

“I know that the Cantors Assembly is light-years away from ever facing the issue squarely. Yet I also know that there are individual cantors like myself who feel a need to encourage anyone interested in the cantorate to pursue such studies….

“I would be pleased to give any encouragement I can, either by moral support or training, to women interested in pursuing the role of cantor.

“It is a long, slow process—I don’t need to tell you—for the RA, CA, and faculty of JTS to come to an appreciation of women as active leaders in ritual life. As important as the political lobbying to the school and to the rabbinic and cantorial organizations, encouragement of individuals and their aspirations will help to build a climate in which ideas once difficult to deal with will be eased into even the popular consciousness.


Congregation Beth El Zedeck, a Conservative synagogue in Indianapolis, has set a “first” in American synagogue life by employing a wife-and-husband rabbinical team. Rabbi Sandy Sasso has been appointed director of the congregation’s youth and educational programs. Her husband, Rabbi Dennis Sasso, has been named Rabbi of the congregation. Both rabbis were ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philidelphia.

Beverly Weintraub Magidson of Detroit served as student rabbi to the Reform Congregation in San Juan, Puerto Rico during the High Holy Days in September. She is a fourth-year student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and will be ordained as a rabbi in spring 1979. She’s a graduate of Brandeis University, and has received numerous prizes in Bible and Talmud.