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“Jewish Women Call for Change”

March 13, 2018

[caption id=“attachment_69450” align=“alignleft” width=“179”] Paula Hyman[/caption]

On this date in 1972, a Jewish feminist study group, Ezrat Nashim (named for the women’s section of synagogue), submitted a manifesto to the Rabbinical Assembly, the rabbinic arm of the movement for Conservative Judaism, at the RA’s national convention. The document, entitled “Jewish Women Call for Change,” petitioned the Conservative movement to count women in minyans, ordain women as rabbis and cantors, permit women to initiate religious divorce proceedings and serve as witnesses in religious courts, and consider women to be fully equal with men in the fulfillment of mitzvot. While the Reform movement would ordain America’s first woman rabbi, Sally Priesand, less than three months later, the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary would wait more than eleven years before following suit. Members of Ezrat Nashim, including Paula Hyman (who died in December 2011), Martha Ackelsberg, and Elizabeth Koltun, went on to play catalytic roles in opening the world of American Judaism to feminist influence -- transforming the rabbinate, along with the congregational and spiritual lives of Jewish Americans.

“The Jewish tradition regarding women, once far ahead of other cultures, has now fallen disgracefully behind in failing to come to terms with developments of the past century. . . For three thousand years, one-half of the Jewish people have been excluded from full participation in Jewish communal life. We call for an end to the second-class status of women in Jewish life.” —from Ezrat Nashim’s “Jewish Women Call for Change” manifesto