Conservative Movement and Egalitarianism- Really Time to make up their minds

Just a  few days ago the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) passed a Tshuvah (ruling) declaring that women are obliged to perform positive time bound mitzvot.*

Let’s take a step back and look at the evolution of Conservative halacha on this point (Thank you Rev Wikipedia for most of this history):

  • Early in its history (earliest reference I can find is 1955), Conservative Judaism determined that a mechitza separating men and women was not required in services, and that women could be called to the Torah if permitted by the synagogue rabbi.
  • The CJLS passed a takkanah which allowed Jewish women to count in the prayer minyan. Throughout 1973 the CJLS debated various responsa on this subject. In August 1973 a vote was taken. Instead of voting for or against a particular responsum, the committee voted on accepting the conclusions of the teshuvot. A motion was passed which stated that “Men and women should be counted equally for a minyan.”, with nine in favor and four opposed.
  • In 1983 a number of Conservative rabbis issued responsa on the same subject, arguing that women can and should be counted in the prayer minyan. These papers were written as part of the process of JTS deciding on whether or not to admit women to its rabbinic and cantorial programs. However, the Chancellor of JTS at the time took this process out of the hands of the CJLS, and made the process an affair of the JTS faculty. The decision to allow women to become rabbinical and cantorial candidates was then based on a vote of JTS faculty.
  • In 2002, long after the Conservative movement had adopted complete de facto egalitarianism, it offered its first responsum on the subject, the Fine responsum, holding that Jewish women as a corporate entity could agree to assume the same obligations as men and be bound by them corporately, without any individual woman having to do so personally.  The CJLS effectively passed a takkanah ruling that women may be counted as witnesses in all areas of Jewish law.


And now to the main question the current tshuvah raises:

How can they maintain non-egalitarian congregations and minyanim ( including the daily Stein minyan at JTS) when those entities actively prevent Jews from fulfilling mitzvot they are obliged to do. I am pretty sure, for example, that the Shulchan Aruch says that if you are in mourning and you are able to you should be shaliach tzibur/ prayer leader-but wouldn’t a non-egalitarian minyan be actively preventing you from performing this mitzvah?

Yes, I know that each rabbi is the  mara d’atra, or local religious decisor but certain things are deemed beyond the pale (Officiating at an intermarriage, for example).

For extra fun you could note how the evolution of Conservative Halacha is  does and does not match in the order of the evolution of Modern Orthodox Halacha on women.

Also- Nice abstention from local Toronto Rabbi Baruch Frydman Kohl, who recently ruled that women could be counted in a minyan but not lead services.

*In Judaism traditionally, women were excused from what are called positive commandments (the Thou Shalts as opposed to the Thou Shalt Nots) and time-bound commandments (ones that must be done at a specific time of day), which happen also to be the commandments that are done in public, are performance oriented and are associated with prestige. (More here  )





This entry was posted in Feminism and Jewish Ritual & Practice, Liberal Judaism and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Conservative Movement and Egalitarianism- Really Time to make up their minds

  1. Charles Cohen says:

    I’ve been agreeing with a rabbi who suggested that Judaism (in the Diaspora) would divide up into two groups:

    . . . the Orthodox, and
    . . . everyone else.

    I’ve also been thinking that the dividing line would be set by whether women were, or were not, “full members” of the religious community.

    Reading this, I have to wonder:

    . . . Which side of the line will “Conservative Judaism” be on?

    . Charles Cohen / Richmond, BC

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