On the eve of its north American Centennial, the Conservative movement has demonstrated a series of accomplishments that point to its increased vitality within American religious Judaism. The National Jewish Population Study of 1990 found that the largest number of American Jews affiliate with Conservative synagogues. A shift within many Conservative synagogues away from late-Friday evening to Shabbat-morning services has been accompanied by a significant parallel increase in the number of young couples attending those services. Camp Ramah is oversubscribed. Day-school education, generally eschewed in the first hundred years of Conservative Judaism, is currently so accepted that the number of students in Solomon Schechter schools has burgeoned to 18,000 within the last decade. This parochial-school growth has occurred even in medium-sized cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix. Recent presidents of the Rabbinical Assembly (RA)(1) and the Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS)(2) are products of Conservatism's synagogues and institutions, rather than refugees from Orthodox or Reform. Remarkably, these religious and programmatic accomplishments have taken place at the same time that the Conservative movement remains hospitable to pluralistic ideological views which generate healthy, if sometimes heated, debates.
During my presidency of the Rabbinical Assembly, 1992-1994, I confronted both the energy and problematics that characterize the Conservative movement. Four major episodes illustrated the direction of the movement at the approach of the new century. The first, "Prioritizing the Sexual Agenda," was a debate over the boundaries of authentic Judaism as defined by Conservative Judaism. The second, "Religious Authority: Lay-Rabbinic Relations," defined who determines the Conservative definition of Judaism. The third, "Reasserting RA Presence in National Jewish Politics," refined the priority mission of the association of Conservative rabbis. The fourth, "Jewish Ecumenicism: A Lost Opportunity," was an example of our search for partners in achieving portions of that mission. All four matters were played out through an intellectual and political process, with implications not only for Conservative Judaism but for American Judaism as a whole.
Prioritizing the Sexual Agenda
In the last half of the twentieth century, three issues aroused contentious halakhic debate within Conservative Judaism: the agunah ("chained" woman, whose husband would not grant her a religious divorce), during the 1940s and 1950s; women's inclusion in public ritual and rabbinic ordination, during the 1970s and 1980s; and homosexuality, during the 1990s. The fact that all three subjects involve human sexuality is compelling evidence that religion and sex often cannot be separated.
The matter of homosexual egalitarianism had the potential of fracturing the Conservative movement in the early 1990s. The issue of female egalitarianism had already split the movement in the 1980s when significant numbers of Conservative rabbis and lay people established the separatist Union for Traditional Conservative Judaism, whose initial agenda was opposition to rabbinic ordination of women. My predecessor's administration produced a religious policy that disallowed the ordination of gays and lesbians, as well as the refusal of the movement to send rabbinic candidates to a gay congregation. On the eve of my installation as president of the RA, my predecessor warned me. "I fear that this question is not over and it threatens to subsume all else."
Conservative Judaism had proudly championed the slogan "Tradition and Change." The movement's debate historically on many issues concerned the proper weighing of these two influences. Again, on the issue of homosexuality, two polar viewpoints clashed. The first contended that the biblical and rabbinic delegitimation of homosexuality was the final word. Any change was beyond the parameters of traditional Judaism. Homosexuals, as all errant Jews, were to be welcomed in our movement, but acts of homosexuality were to be deemed religiously deviant. The other side argued that a moral imperative dictated that change should modify tradition. After all, the Halakhah had throughout Jewish history drawn on its own inner dynamics to effect similar change when morality compelled.
These polar ideological positions potentially could have split the Conservative movement. The Rabbinical Assembly convention of 1992 passed a resolution mandating a study of all human sexuality, and not exclusively homosexuality. It was to be completed within two years and reported to the Committee on Law and Standards (CJLS),(3) which establishes religious policy for the movement. My administration faithfully implemented that resolution; by absorbing the more divisive homosexual question into the larger topic, we hoped to mute the sharper ideological issues that might have created a fissure. This transformation was brought about through a tortuous but deliberate political process.
Much of the agitation for homosexual egalitarianism began within the Jewish Theological Seminary. Among the leading voices that stimulated the public discussion at the 1992 RA convention were professors on the Seminary faculty. In addition, a homosexual student group was permitted to meet within the Seminary walls. Nevertheless, it was the Seminary's chancellor, Dr. Ismar Schorsch, who, at the 1993 RA convention, spoke for those who chastised the RA for devoting its energies to the study of human sexuality:
The Rabbinical Assembly stands today before a momentous choice-whether
to persist grappling with the issue of homosexuality as if it were but a
replay of the [women's] egalitarian struggle, or to rededicate itself to the
challenge of Jewish Continuity. The former comes from outside, the latter
from below. To
persist will throw the Rabbinical Assembly into an ideological civil war in
there will be no winner.(4)
When, at a later date, I asked the chancellor about the contradiction between his internal and external stance, he explained that the incubation of this controversy at the Seminary was tolerated under the principle of academic freedom. Clearly, his dual role as head of an academic institution and titular head of the entire Conservative movement required contradictory postures on this sensitive matter.
By working through the governing board of the Rabbinical Assembly, known as the Executive Council,(5) I was determined to implement the convention's will and to insure that it was the CJLS which would ultimately determine final religious policy. At the Executive Council's first meeting in June 1992, and after much political posturing by all sides, a resolution was passed which charted the way of the Human Sexuality Commission:(6) "The Commission is charged to investigate the multiple areas and issues on human sexuality in order to inform the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards about the findings and understandings that its studies generate" (emphasis mine). During the course of Human Sexuality Commission meetings of the next two years, whenever individual members veered off course, they were reminded of these parameters.
My initial list of prospective appointees to the Commission attempted to include candidates representing the entire ideological and halakhic spectrum, but my intent was not realized. Regrettably, some more halakhically stringent candidates either rejected appointment or stonewalled. One acknowledged that the chancellor of the Seminary had persuaded him not to participate. When I objected to Dr. Schorsch of his interference in an internal matter of the RA, he responded. "There is no need for a second Reform Judaism in America." He was arguing that in this instance, tradition did not allow change; that halakhic Judaism could not accede to extra-halakhic considerations. The United Synagogue, the lay body of Conservative Judaism, also declined our invitation to participate on the Commission and its leadership was equally vocal in criticizing its establishment. Ironically, had the Seminary and the United Synagogue participated in the deliberations, they would have been able to help shape a different conclusion, which they both preferred. Their absence allowed some of the more controversial portions to emerge.
This process was seriously interrupted by an uproar over sexual allegations concerning a Seminary professor and by the public declaration of an RA member that he was a practicing homosexual. The press reported that at a Gay Rights march in Washington in March 1993, Rabbi Howard Handler alleged that his congregation in Manhattan had not renewed his contract after learning through an anonymous phone call that he was gay and that he sought rabbinical placement in another Synagogue.(7) "I'm a test case for the Conservative Movement," he challenged. "I wouldn't take a job without saying that I'm gay."(8)
The issues before the Rabbinical Assembly were. Was the placing of a gay colleague into a pulpit a de facto subversion of the Conservative movement's halakhic position that homosexuality was religiously deviant? In fairness, should we "grandfather" in a gay rabbi who was already a member of the RA prior to policy that denied admission of gays to the JTS Rabbinical School and the RA? Who should decide these questions? Within the leadership, some voices pleaded compassion. By not placing such a colleague, we were in effect expelling him from the Rabbinical Assembly. Others argued for justice. We had historically denied congregational placement to other colleagues who publicly violated the halakhah of the movement. Why should a gay rabbi, who abrogated the halakhah regarding sexuality, be treated differently?
Who would make this difficult decision? Because of its complexity, I decided on three stages. The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards would first rule on the halakhic components of the question. With the halakhah resolved, the movement's Joint Placement Commission(9) would then administer the decision. Lastly, the Executive Council would reserve its right to instruct our delegates votes on that same Commission.
The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards was asked to interpret the halakhah. The procedure of the CJLS for the last ten years is that a minimum of six votes constitute a valid opinion, irrespective of the number of votes endorsing diverse positions. It is not unusual, therefore, to have two equally accepted opinions that are far apart, even opposite. These diverse views constitute the range from which the local rabbinic authority, the mara d'atra,(10) is advised to formulate his/her own opinion. And so it happened in this debate. Two papers, one stating that the colleague could be placed in a congregation and the other that he could not, received the necessary votes. Both became Halakhah. My intent was to allow the Executive Council to function as the movement's mara d'atra and to choose between the two responsa.
My vice president and I crafted a compromise proposal which we felt would treat our colleague compassionately, yet at the same time maintain heterosexuality as the religious norm. Would the Placement Commission agree to allow Rabbi Handler to seek placement on his own initiative, without penalty, within the Conservative movement? My argument had been that this compromise enabled us to"grandfather" an already existent member, without abrogating the movement's policy not to ordain or accept homosexual rabbis into the RA. This item was put on the agenda of the Executive Council meeting of June 1994. On the eve of that meeting, I was heartened that both the Seminary and United Synagogue representatives on the Placement Commission agreed to the compromise. Seventy communications from RA members objecting to our treatment of Rabbi Handler underscored both the public and volatile nature of this dispute.
To my consternation, the Joint Placement Commission rejected the compromise; instead they ruled that Rabbi Handler could not be placed at that time. In their view, he had violated the halakhah of the movement as clearly as if had violated the Shabbat. Frustrated that a solution had slipped through my fingers, I reacted indignantly to the chairman, and in our teleconference call communicated my disappointment to the Executive Council. The council, agitated that we could not find relief for our colleague, instructed our professional staff not to penalize him if he sought a position on his own initiative. It allowed him to be the exception to the general rule that members of the RA can find congregational employment only through the aegis of the movement's joint Placement Commission.
Although resolution of the placement issue was organizationally sound, Rabbi Handler was ultimately left without a pulpit position. The solution was painfully inadequate, but the most that could be done within the current boundaries of the Conservative movement. A different administrative decision might, on the one hand, have been interpreted as equating homosexuality with heterosexuality, a symbolic upset of the delicate balance of "Tradition and Change." On the other hand, disenfranchising a colleague whose membership preceded the original Law Committee decision, might have been understood as an unjust and immoral action. The administration's political decisions implemented the ideology that is fundamental to our centrist movement, and maintained a moral stance.
Of all the correspondence on the matter, the most moving was a letter from the homosexual child of a colleague.
Can you understand the schizophrenic demand you are making of us? ... We
[gay and lesbian] Jews come into the synagogue ... but are not allowed to
consecrate our lives or our commitments with one another within any kind of
traditional Jewish context because [the RA] will not stand for that ... Look
at the full text of the Holiness Code and at how carefully our Movement has
chosen from among its parts. I was the son of a very traditional rabbi, yet
many years an adult before I ever learned of the practice of Nidah [family
purity]. I never learned any injunction against the eating of rare steak
it is in the code also.... Because... Judaism is important to me I feel
point out the inconsistencies of your position.... While the Law Committee
tries to untwist this pretzel and fashion a pilpul that your detractors
respect anyway, our lives are in the sand that passes through the glass.
In the course of the debate over the mega-issues of homosexuality, it became clear that a good part of the laity of the Conservative movement, as well as the rabbinic and Seminary community, will not accept radical innovations, for example, admission of practicing gays to the Seminary's Rabbinical School and/or sanctification of gay unions. The most that could be tolerated in the near future are changes on the many micro-issues faced in some congregations -- such as what status to afford the gay parents of a bar-mitzvah child; what mourning practices are permitted a homosexual who has lost a partner; should the gay commitment ceremonies of members of children be acknowledged in synagogue bulletins. The larger matters will have to be postponed for at least ten years.
Both a substantive and tonal change accompanied the final report at the RA convention of May 1994. The "Pastoral Letter on Human Intimacy" delineated the broad topic of human sexuality. It included four sections: general values of the Jewish religious tradition that bear upon sexuality; Jewish norms for marital intimacy; heterosexual relations outside of the bonds of marriage; and homosexuality. Disagreement between colleagues over that report was intense but civil. The rancor which prevailed one year earlier at the Los Angeles convention had mellowed. This change was partially because the administration had in the interim structured regional study days on the subject of homosexuality, at which members had already expressed their feelings.
Press reports on the final pastoral letter of the Human Sexuality Commission highlighted its statements on sexual relations between unmarried singles. The controversy over homosexuality was buried deep within each article. Findings on sex between singles, although also controversial, were still within the tolerable boundaries of movement-wide debate. That shift of both public and organizational attention was the result of this deliberate, if somewhat tortuous process throughout the two years.
Much was accomplished in placing a religious discussion of human sexuality on the Conservative movement's agenda. For the first time, a rabbinic group was willing to tackle publicly this fundamental and sacred aspect of life. The Rabbinical Assembly abandoned the far easier approach of "don't ask, don't tell" and creatively interpreted its watchwords "Tradition and Change" for the life issues of many American Jews who seek religious guidance in such matters. The pastoral letter is part of a broader process that will define religious norms of human sexuality through ongoing intramovement discussion and especially through the Committee on Law and Standards.
Religious Authority in Conservative Judaism:
In recent history, institutional religion and its spokespeople, the clergy, have been regularly challenged by informal religious arrangements. An April 1994 Gallup Poll discovered that whereas a large percentage of Americans pray daily, most worship at home and not in formal religious settings. William Mckinney goes so far as to contend that "for mainline churches, at least, individualism in religion reigns supreme. Questions of authority, discipline, community, and order seem foreign."(11) According to historian Jack Wertheimer, this extra-institutional spiritual propellant has caused such diverse Jewish growth within American Judaism as the havurah movement, feminist Judaism, gay synagogues, communities of rural jews, and the Jewish renewal movement.
The Conservative movement was created centrifugally. The Jewish Theological Seminary spawned an alumni association which became the Rabbinical Assembly; Solomon Schechter, first president of that new Seminary, was simultaneously the first president of the United Synagogue.(12)
Both the general societal context and Conservatism's history have caused the lay leadership of the United Synagogue to become increasingly frustrated with its position in the hierarchy of the movement. This has resulted in a decade-long struggle to rearrange the religious "pecking order" of Conservative Judaism. They are encouraged by some spokespeople of the movement, such as Neil Gillman, who advocates greater empowerment of the layperson:
Since the 1980s, this authoritarian model has begun to crumble ... our
no longer unlettered ... now the rabbi must learn to relate to congregants
in a very
different way. The rabbi must set forth expectations, primarily the
that the congregants will become responsible Jews. The rabbi must also be
to share his or her authority in determining the religious style of the
At stake is the issue of who determines what is Conservative Judaism and its religious policy. Is it the rabbi or the lay person; a central hierarchy or local authority?
The struggle over this question took place in the context of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the supreme and autonomous committee of rabbis which establishes halakhic religious policy for the Movement, and on the related issue of mara d'atra, the local rabbi as ultimate halakhic authority.
What is the ultimate authority for halakhic decision making within Conservative Judaism? The answer is summed up in Emet Vemunah,(14) a statement of principles, endorsed by all arms of the movement:
Authority for religious practice in each congregation resides in its rabbi,
its Mara D'Atra.
In making decisions, rabbis may consult with the Committee on Jewish Law and
Standards (CJLS). Parameters set by that Committee and at Rabbinical Assembly
conventions govern all of the rabbis of the Rabbinical Assembly, but within
Gerald L. Zelizer served as president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the International Association of Conservative Rabbis, from 1992 to 1994, and is currently a member of the Committee of Law & Standards of the Assembly. He has been the rabbi of Neve Shalom in Metuchen, New Jersey, from 1970 to the present. His previous articles and editorials have appeared in Judaism, The Reconstructionist, The Jewish Spectator, and The New York Times. This essay, which discusses salient issues that arose during Rabbi Zelizer's presidential tenure, was sent, at his request, for comment to three historians of the American Jewish scene, Henry Feingold, Jenna Weissman Joselit, and Jonathan Sarna. Their comments follow.
there are variations of practice recognized as both legitimate and in many
contributory to the richness of Jewish life (emphasis added).
The CJLS is a respected and influential guide for rabbis, but the local rabbi remains the final interpreter of halakhah. The only exception to this advisory role is when a CJLS ruling has been passed as a standard of rabbinic practice, which requires a recommendation by 80 percent of the membership of the CJLS, and confirmation by the plenum at a convention of the Rabbinical Assembly. There are only three standards that are binding; the prohibition of rabbinic officiation at intermarriage; matrilineal definition of Jewishness; and the requirement of a Get (religious divorce) prior to remarriage.
The goal of mara d'atra was to allow for decision-making by the local rabbi who best understood the idiosyncrasies of his/her community. It precludes the imposition of mandatory halakhic rulings from a religious hierarchy that is unaware or insensitive to the nuances created by local community. The system of mara d'atra has prevailed since the inception of the Conservative movement and was adopted from the responsa literature of Europe.
Lay initiatives to unilaterally overturn this policy of rabbinic authority became relentless. They unfolded in the context of the Rabbinical Assembly's attempt with the United Synagogue from 1990 to 1994 to formulate a joint model contract for rabbis and congregations. By January of 1993, after almost five years of negotiation, the RA had secured agreement on most of the document. A major outstanding disagreement was the precise relationship of the local rabbi to the CJLS.
In the spring of 1993, the United Synagogue mailed to congregational presidents a copy of its own contract. It included clauses intended to eviscerate the concept of mara d'atra. In their version of the contract, the rabbi was "specifically and expressly subject to all rulings of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly, and any changes to be made in the rituals, rites and customs heretofore conducted ... by the synagogue ... may be made by the Ritual Committee and/or Board of Trustees in consultation with the Rabbi." I asked that our own version of the contract be sent out immediately, retaining the clause that the rabbi was the mara d'atra, including a forewarning to colleagues not to negotiate away the essential and fundamental halakhic authority of the rabbi.
The matter is still unresolved. Two differing statements enunciating polar sources of religious authority are currently in the hands of the Conservative movement's lay people and their rabbis.
I defended the principle of mara d'atra so doggedly because the shifting of religious authority away from the rabbi to the layperson would result in halakhah being based on whim and feelings rather than learning and knowledge of Torah. In addition, if a Committee on Jewish Law and Standards were to impose more uniform religious categories, rigid hierarchical edicts would undermine nuanced responses to local conditions. Neither of those changes would serve the idiosyncratic conditions of local American congregations nor the defining principle of Judaism as a learned religious tradition. The principle of mara d'atra is central to the Conservative movement for good reason.
Reasserting RA Presence in National Jewish Politics:
Achievements and Limitations
Should a significant portion of a rabbinical organization's mission consist of impacting national Jewish policy-making? To what extent does that detract from the primary function of assisting member rabbis in furthering religious Judaism? During my administration I decided to reassert our presence nationally because I believed that a more prominent national presence for the Rabbinical Assembly elevated the profile of the local rabbi and assisted him/ her to further the core religious agenda.
The affirmation of our national presence took place in the arena of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.(15) The most consistent participation of the RA was in the 1970s, when both the president and the executive vice president were regular participants. In the 1980s and 1990s, however, that participation declined because the dominant view was that our involvement in national Jewish politics diluted our effort on behalf of our primary religious mission. During the two years of my administration, I reestablished an RA presence in this important assemblage. The executive vice president and I attended over fifty meetings of the Conference. They were of three kinds: ceremonial, in which a country's president, minister or ambassador would make a presentation and entertain questions and answers; special VIP missions to the Mideast; and regular working committees that established policy.
Because I attended regularly, I was sometimes invited to participate in the more substantive deliberations. For instance, during a mission to the Middle East, which included a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, the chairman of the Conference allowed my appeal for the release to Israel of hundreds of Torah scrolls which remained in synagogues of the near-extinct Egyptian Jewish community. The Israel-PLO accord in September 1993 resulted in acrimonious debate in the American Jewish community and a small bomb was found outside the offices of both Peace Now and the New Israel Fund. The President's Conference decided to respond by drawing up a statement on civil discourse among jews and accepted my draft proposal. These were all new opportunities for the RA to become a more significant player in the formulation of national Jewish policy.
Nevertheless, many secular Jewish leaders do not envision representation of rabbinic organizations in primary national leadership positions. Significantly, the chairmanship of the President's Conference has never been bestowed on an RA president. In recent years it has passed over all religious leadership to the presidents of secular organizations. Because the presidents of these organizations are either entrepreneurs or partners in New York law firms, they are more regularly available, whereas local commitments restrict the attendance of a congregational rabbi.
In needful moments the RA remained unassisted by the Conference because secular Jewish leadership does not envision the primacy of the rabbinic role in shaping national Jewish policy. Although Orthodox organizations are included in the President's Conference, they represent at best 10 percent of American Jewry. On the other hand, the Conservative and Reform components of the Conference constitute numerically the largest combined organizational constituency in American Judaism, "amcha," that is, grass-roots Judaism. The local and national leadership of the Jewish Federations are largely members of Conservative and Reform synagogues and the various stands taken by the Conference are hence more widely disseminated through the religious organizations than either secular or Orthodox bodies. The success of transmitting this reality may yet result in the presidents of rabbinic organizations becoming more prominent participants in national Jewish politics and policy-making.
Jewish Ecumenicism: A Lost Opportunity
With whom could the Rabbinical Assembly collaborate in implementing our religious mission? Indifference and assimilation are threats to all serious religious Jews and the problems would best be tackled in the unified actions of all Jewish denominations and their rabbis. In past years, there had been abortive efforts to create a unified Bet Din with the Orthodox and Reform in order to establish common standards of conversion, marriage, and religious divorce within the entire Jewish community. Those failed efforts had left many in the Conservative movement wary of attempting any further effort at serious Jewish ecumenicism. Perhaps that was because we sought concurrence instead of collaboration. Would we stand a better chance of shared forums in which each rabbinate presented its respective view on major issues, even when there was disagreement?
I decided that the college campus was a fertile area in which to begin, and therefore proposed to the President of Reform and Orthodox rabbinical organizations establishing panels of rabbis on selected university campuses to present our respective viewpoints on subjects such as Jewish continuity and intermarriage. SUNY-Binghamton was eventually selected as the site for the first panel discussion and both the professional and student population on campus were excited over the prospect. Regrettably, our attempts to concretize this plan with both Orthodox and Reform representatives over the next few months were unsuccessful: it became clear that it was a higher organizational priority for us than for them. The projected date passed and the effort was abandoned.
A similar experience was our discussion on the possibility of a conference on religious pluralism, to be convened in various cities. The executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis enthusiastically accepted the responsibility to coordinate such a conclave under the auspices of Boards of Rabbis in various key cities. Subjects, presenters, and sites were proposed and we agreed that each national rabbinic president would designate the attendees so as to exclude doctrinaire "hotheads" who might torpedo the conference. Yet again, on the verge of final planning, the President of the Rabbinical Council of America (Orthodox) informed us that resistance within his executive precluded the realistic possibility of such a parley.
These immediate frustrations should not force the matter off the agenda. The challenge of assimilation and indifference among American Jewry are too daunting to be combated by separate "spiritual armies" rather than in a coordinated campaign. Substantive changes will occur only after trust and confidence among rabbis have been established. The initiation of these discussions between the presidents of the three rabbinical organizations was an important beginning in forging that trust.
Both the critics and supporters of the Conservative movement acknowledge that it is "rabbi driven."
It is the rabbi, more than anyone else, who most exemplifies the religious
lifestyle of Conservative Judaism ... it [the Rabbinical Assembly] had also
become aware that the Conservative rabbi was a singularly lonely person. Both
the Reform and Orthodox colleagues of the Conservative rabbi enjoyed a
kinship of religious vision and practice with their lay communities. In
the Conservative rabbi inhabited a different world from that of the lay
The Rabbinical Assembly not only provides collegiality for the individual member rabbi in that "lonely world," but also the resources to shape the religious vision and practice which become Conservative Judaism.
The years 1992-94 yielded other contributions from the Rabbinical Assembly to both the Conservative movement and American Judaism: the publication of pamphlets on such contemporary religious issues as conversion, brit milah, and the afterlife; a comprehensive curriculum for outreach to interfaith couples which was tested by over fifty congregational rabbis; the initial editing of a new inspirational Humash commentary, and several social-justice initiatives.
But it is the four matters reviewed in this article which most shaped our religious vision and practice: the application of jewish values to the wide spectrum of human intimacy; the insistence on religious authority remaining with those who are most learned in Torah; the attempt to influence national Jewish policy with a rabbinic perspective; and the seeking of a partnership with our rabbinic counterparts in confronting the most daunting challenges to Jewish continuity.(17)
(1.) The international association of Conservative rabbis with approximately 1,400 members. Within the Conservative movement, the Rabbinical Assembly fulfills three major roles: it contributes to American Judaism; to the overall Conservative movement; and to the professional security and enhancement of the member rabbi.
(2.) The academic institution of the Conservative movement which educates candidates preparing to be rabbis, cantors, principals and teachers. Its professors also further Jewish scholarship through research.
(3.) This body establishes religious policy for the Conservative movement, based on scholarly papers which must be adopted by a minimum of six rabbis in order to become an official position. Twenty-four rabbis serve on the committee.
(4.) "Marching to the Wrong Drummer," Ismar Schorsch, Address to RA convention on March 23, 1993, reprinted in Conservative Judaism, Summer 1993, p. 19.
(5.) This is equivalent to a board of directors.
(6.) This commission, established by resolution at the RA's 1992 national convention, was empowered to study all forms of human sexuality and to present its findings at the 1994 convention to the Committee on Law and Standards.
(7.) Members of the RA may find employment only through the aegis of the movement's Joint Placement Commission, based on a system of seniority and eligibility. Neither rabbis nor congregations can arrange work outside of this system.
(8.) Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Daily News Bulletin, April 26, 1993; and June 1, 1993.
(9.) This is a joint committee of the Conservative movement composed of representatives from the Rabbinical Assembly, United Synagogue, and Jewish Theological Seminary, which facilitates placement of rabbis in congregations and other positions. Its operations are guided by both an administrative and ethical protocol that allows rabbis to interview for pulpits based on both the seniority of the rabbi and the size and location of the synagogue.
(10.) Aramaic, literally "teacher (authority) of the place."
(11.) Quoted in Jack Wertheimer, A People Divided: Contemporary Judaism in America (New York: Basic Books, 1993), pp. 89-90.
(12.) This lay arm of the Conservative movement represents approximately 800 synagogues throughout the world.
(13.) Neil Gillman, Conservative Judaism, The New Century (New York: Behrman House, 1993), p. 204.
(14.) Emet Ve-Emunah: Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism-Jewish Theological Seminary of America, The Rabbinical Assembly, United Synagogue of America, Women's League for Conservative Judaism and Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs, p. 25.
(15.) This is an umbrella organization composed of the president and executive vice president of most Jewish organizations with a national constituency and full-time executive. It was established in the mid-1960s in order to project a more unified voice on Israel-related matters.
(16.) Gillman, Conservative Judaism, p. 119.
(17.) Acknowledgements: The editorial assistance of my wife, Viviana Zelizer, was throughout, generous and insightful. My son Julian Zelizer made valuable suggestions in the latter stages. Rabbi Alan Silverstein was a true friend and helpful reader.…