JTS Faculty Senate Votes to Admit Women
October 24, 1983
Following a lengthy and intense debate within the Conservative movement, the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) faculty senate, on October 24, 1983, voted 34-8 to admit women to the JTS Rabbinical School. The favorable vote was facilitated by the decision of several JTS faculty members—who opposed the innovation—not to participate in the vote.
The Reform movement had ordained its first woman rabbi in 1972 and the Reconstructionist movement had done the same in 1974. Many in the Conservative movement believed that there was no way to justify ordaining women within the framework of Jewish law. For them, maintaining a male rabbinate represented the movement's commitment to law and tradition. Still, The United Synagogue, the congregational arm of the Conservative movement, passed a resolution calling for women's rabbinical ordination in 1973. Although the Rabbinical Assembly, representing the movement's rabbis, had deferred to the Seminary's authority on the matter, many of its members also pressed the school to change its stance. In 1977, the seminary's chancellor, Gerson Cohen, appointed a Committee for the Study of the Ordination of Women as Rabbis. Despite the committee's final report in 1979, recommending ordination for women by a vote of 11 to 3, tensions within JTS and the movement delayed a positive vote until October 1983.
In September 1984, 23 women entered JTS as members of the seminary's first class to include female rabbinical students. In the spring of 1985, Amy Eilberg, who was already studying at JTS when women's ordination was approved, became the first woman ordained as a rabbi by the Conservative movement.
See also: This Week in History for May 12, 1985 Amy Eilberg ordained as first female Conservative rabbi; Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution.
Sources: Beth S. Wenger, "The Politics of Women's Ordination: Jewish Law, Institutional Power and the Debate over Women in the Rabbinate," in Jack Wertheimer, ed., Tradition Renewed: A History of the Jewish Theological Seminary (New York, 1997), pp. 485-523; Pamela S. Nadell, Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination 1889-1985 (Boston,1998), pp. 211-214; Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 275-278; Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution, jwa.org/feminism/index.html?id=JWA020.