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New Rabbinical College Excludes Women

A new rabbinical school founded by a group of rabbis, some of whom were once affiliated with the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS), will ordain men only.

A self-termed non-denominational “coalition of traditional rabbis, lay leaders and Jewish scholars from universities in the United States, Canada and Israel” has established the Institute of Traditional Judaism (ITJ) in Mt. Vernon, NY.

For the upcoming academic year, the institute plans to admit a maximum of five male rabbinical students, all of whom will be traditionally observant and will have studied traditional texts. “There are at least one to two women interested in Torah I’shma (study for its own sake)’,’ states Rabbi Ronald Price, dean of ITJ. They will be permitted to study as non-matriculated students in the same classes as the men preparing for ordination.

There are currently no academic programs at ITJ other than the rabbinical track, although the board of directors is reportedly interested in pursuing this option.

Price denies that the institute was created “in order not to ordain women. [Opposition to the] ordination of women is not a test that someone has to pass in order to be on the board” Yet, he adds, “all of the board members are comfortable with the fact that we will not ordain women”

Despite these claims, the women’s issue appears to have been a key motivator in the establishment of the new institution. As Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, puts it: “Their position on women is clear. They are not prepared to ordain women for the rabbinate. This makes them indistinguishable from Yeshiva University.”

Anne Lapidus Lerner, dean of JTS’s List College, adds, “To the extent to which the exclusion of women is the basis for founding an institution, then it seems to me that this is a weak foundation. Other than women’s ordination, they don’t differ with the Seminary”

The new institute appears to be closely linked with the Union of Traditional Conservative Judaism(UOTCJ), which was formed in 1983, in response to the JTS decision to ordain women. Price says that the nucleus of backing for ITJ is based in this Union. But Rabbi David Weiss Halivni, rector of ITJ, denies it is an outgrowth of UOTCJ. He claims that the establishment of the new institute is due to differences in “religious outlook and practice;’ and he refuses to speak about the ordination of women.

Yet Price terms women’s ordination “the final stroke that made’ traditionalists in the Conservative movement feel that there was no longer hope for halachic (Jewish legal) process in the Conservative movement.