The influence and participation of women in both religious and non-religious life have increased greatly in the fifty years since the founding of the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods in 1913. As women have assumed more and more responsibility and leadership in Reform Temples, congregational life has been immeasurably enriched.
In Judaism no woman has ever been ordained as rabbi despite the fact that some women have completed at least part of the required course of study at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. As early as 1922 the Central Conference of American Rabbis approved the following statement:
Whatever may have been the specific legal status of the Jewish woman regarding certain religious functions, her general position in Jewish religious life has ever been an exalted one. She has been the priestess in the home and our sages have always recognized her as the preserver of Israel. In view of these Jewish teachings and in keeping with the spirit of our age and the traditions of our conference, we declare that women cannot justly be denied the privilege of ordination.
The late Dr. Barnett R. Brickner of blessed memory in his president’s message to the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 1955 reopened the subject, pointing out that the Harvard Divinity School and the Presbyterian Church have already approved the ordination of women as ministers (there being no prohibition in the Bible against it) and he believed that there was nothing in Reform Jewish practice to forbid the ordination of Jewish women as rabbis.
The committee appointed to study the question brought in a report in 1956 which concluded with the words:
In view of woman’s parity with man we believe that the unwarranted and outmoded tradition of reducing woman to an inferior status with regard to ordination for the rabbinate be abandoned. Specifically, we believe that she should be ordained if and when she has properly completed the course of study.
The report was signed by Rabbis Joseph I. Fink, Chairman, Louis Binstock, Beryl D. Cohen, Alfred L. Friedman, James C. Heller, Ferdinand M. Isserman, and Maurice N. Eisendrath, President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and Nelson Glueck, President of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
The report was discussed and a motion passed to table action so that those who have an opposite point of view may have an opportunity to present a report. Up to the present time, no report has been offered and no action has been taken by the Conference or the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. The National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, in its XXIIIrd Biennial Assembly in November, 1961, accepted the recommendation of our Executive Director, Jane Evans, that the matter of ordination of women as rabbis be studied for further action.
We therefore urge that the XXIVth Biennial Assembly, in marking the fiftieth anniversary of the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods as the major women’s agency of Reform Judaism call for a conference of representative leaders of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods to determine appropriate action.