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Female rabbis assume leadership of Rabbinical Assembly

By Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal

Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal

SAN DIEGO–On Thursday evening I returned from attending the International Rabbinical Assembly Convention. For the first time in its history, this year’s RA Convention was held at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. JTS is the premiere academic institution of the Conservative Movement and many  JTS scholars, as well as scholars from many other colleges and universities, taught advanced learning sessions for rabbis.
This conference was distinguished from others in that rabbis were given the opportunity to attend several different classes organized by institutions which offered specialized, advanced, and certificated training. I took a course in mediation training in which we learned skills to help disputants resolve their issues on their own before seeking outside adjudication (such as arbitration or a court of law).

Although I was familiar with many of the tools and procedures of mediation, I had not realized how different professional mediation is from Rabbinic mediation. A professional mediator is required to be “value neutral.” That is, the mediator is supposed to guide the disputants to a resolution without ever imposing their own value system on the participants or allowing their beliefs to influence the discussion.

Rabbis, however, are not value neutral. When we are called upon by parties to help resolve differences, there is an expectation by all that Jewish tradition and values will be brought to the table. This can be helpful but also problematic, depending upon the expectations of those who come to us for help. Most Jews agree that Jewish values are important, but they do not always agree on what Judaism has to say about any particular issue.
This conference was also distinguished by the positive steps being taken to reorganize and re-energize the Conservative Movement. I plan to share this information with you in the coming weeks and months, but for now I will suffice to inform you that for the first time in its history the Rabbinical Assembly has elected a female rabbi as its President. Not only is Rabbi Gilah Dror a distinguished and creative rabbi, but she is also the first President of the Rabbinical Assembly to be born in Israel and ordained by the Conservative Movement’s Schechter Institute in Jerusalem. She shared her vision with all of us and was greeted with overwhelming applause.

In addition, for the first time in its history the Rabbinical Assembly has chosen a woman rabbi as its Executive Vice President. Rabbi Julie Schonfeld has already served the Rabbinical Assembly for eight years as Director of Rabbinic Development and now serves as its professional leader. She spoke to us of the changing Jewish community, changing modes of identification, affiliation, and communication, and how we need to adapt to the realities and meet the needs of modern Jews.

Finally, a new High Holy Day Mahzor, Mahzor Lev Shalem, was dedicated. So far 130,000 have been sold and it is in its second printing. I have seen the new Mahzor and believe it is a masterpiece. It includes not only beautifully typeset Hebrew, but elegant translation, thoughtful commentaries, and contemporary readings and poetry. Our Ritual Committee saw a small pre-publication selection from Mahzor Lev Shalem and decided to wait until the final version was published to consider whether or not it should be adopted by our congregation.

I am bringing back five copies for review and will make sure at least one of them will be included in our Helen and Hal Cohen and Gussie and Mike Zaks Sifrei Kodesh Collection at the rear of our sanctuary. Please take the time to review it when you come to services. I am sure that you will be as excited about it as am I.

It’s nice to be away and nice to be back! I look forward to seeing you in the coming weeks.

Rosenthal is spiritual leader of Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Diego

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