May 10, 2004

Conservative Judaism and Halakhah (Jewish Law)

By David Steinberg


1. The Role of Women in Conservative Judaism

2. Driving on Shabbat

3. Use of Electricity on Shabbat

4. Yom Tov Sheni in Conservative Judaism

Annex 1 - "Tradition and change" is the Conservative movement's motto, balancing adherence to Jewish law with a willingness to introduce major innovations.





"OF ALL THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF Conservative Judaism, its work in modifying the halachah has been the most significant. Conservative Judaism has molded American Judaism to give it a unique character and has spread its minhag and influence into a thousand synagogues and millions of homes. The rigid fences which separated men and women in the synagogue have been broken down, the liturgy has been modernized, the prohibition of electricity on the Sabbath has been questioned, kohanim have been allowed to marry divorcees and proselytes, and the scandal of a recalcitrant husband refusing a get for his wife has been solved. No other group has worked so creatively in the field of halachah as the Conservative movement....  For the Conservative Jew, the nature of halachah is that it is a dynamic concept, changing and changeable with each generation. Based on a doctrine of Revelation which makes Scripture not the ipsimma verba of God but the human recordings of Israel's experience of God's teaching, it has presented an approach to halachah which called for the never ending process of adaptation. The authority for change is then found in the nature of the law and in the history of the tradition which did not permit the law to become ossified but subjected it to continuous reinterpretation to keep it a dynamic force in the ever changing conditions of life. Once we accept the concept of a dynamic law it must follow that its interpretation is demanded of the accepted scholars of every age.

"Another problem which the Conservative scholar has to face is the question "By what method?" The traditionalist argues that only the old methods of rabbinic exegesis are valid. The modernist will claim that the old talmudic rules of exegesis might not be sufficient to effect the changes or encourage the development that we need.... To the credit of Conservative teaching, we have reemphasized ... the guide line of ethics. ...A law which is not ethical cannot be the law of God or the law of Judaism. Siegel...  argues that the ethical values of our tradition should have the power to define the particulars of Jewish law. If any law in our tradition does not fulfill our ethical values then the law should be abolished or revised. ... Opponents of the ethical emphasis will argue that it is only the halachah which is final and absolute. Ethics can sometimes be situational and values only temporary. And we then face the question who decides what is ethical? The answer comes back to Schechter's concept of Catholic Israel-the collective conscience of an educated community of Jews. For sure, even then there can be a conflict of views, which on that account legitimizes the existence of religious pluralism...."

From review of Conservative Judaism And Jewish Law, edited by Seymour Siegel; the Rabbinical Assembly, 1977, distributed by KTAV, New York. in Conservative Judaism  Fall 1978, Volume XXXII, Number 1


“Halakhah -- Jewish law -- plays a significant role in the ideology and principles of the Conservative Movement. Congregations root themselves in halakhah….

We have succeeded in creating an evolving body of halakhah. It reflects the best of a process that synthesizes Jewish sources and values, applying them to conditions in our society. We need not apologize for our approach to halakhah; for it emulates with integrity the practice of our ancestors. "Tradition and Change," however, is based not only on the principle of an evolving halakhah, but on one that is binding as well. Although we have created a halakhah that evolves, we have not yet succeeded in creating commitment to it. In the life of most Conservative Jews, halakhah does not represent "obligation."

The sad truth is that halakhah -- which is a foundation block of our ideology -- is irrelevant to most Conservative Jews. It's not that they reject halakhah, which would imply that they think about it. Too few feel it relevant enough to consider for their lives. We do not require surveys or population studies to tell us what we already know. There is a gap, a chasm, between what we say and what most people do.”

From Halakhah: Evolving and Binding by Rabbi Jerome M Epstein Executive Vice-President, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism delivered at the United Synagogue Biennial Convention, October 26-30, 2003, Dallas, Texas


The central halakhic authority of the movement is the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS), which was founded by the Rabbinical Assembly (RA) in the 1920s. It is composed of 25 rabbis, who are voting members, and five laypeople, who do not vote, but participate fully in deliberations. When any six (or more) members vote in favor of a position, that position becomes an official position of the committee. Any particular issue can generate from one to four official positions. (When multiple positions are validated, they usually have much common ground.)

When more than one position is validated, each congregational rabbi functions as the mara de-atra (communal halakhic authority), adopting for their congregation the position he or she considers most compelling. In the overwhelming majority of cases, Conservative rabbis choose among the law committee's validated positions. On rare occasions, an individual rabbi may ignore the committee and act in accordance with his or her own convictions regarding what is halakhically correct.

CJLS decisions are not enforceable on rabbis, except regarding standards. A standard requires an 80% vote of the full membership of the CJLS and a majority vote by the plenum of the Rabbinical Assembly. Willful violations have led to resignations or expulsions from membership of the Rabbinical Assembly (RA). At present, there are four standards:

1) A complete prohibition on rabbis and cantors to officiate in any way at intermarriages.

2) A complete prohibition against officiating at the remarriage of a Jew whose previous marriage has not been halakhically terminated, whether by a halakhic divorce [get], hafka'at Kiddushin [annulment of the marriage], or death.

3) A complete prohibition against taking any action that would intimate that native Jewishness can be confirmed in any way but matrilineal descent.

4) A complete prohibition against supervising a conversion to Judaism that does not include circumcision for males, and immersion in a Mikvah for both males and females.


Four Lieniencies of Conservative Halakhah compared to Orthodox

In each of these cases Conservative rabbis can choose between interpretations of halakhah as severe as Orthodox practice and the lenient positions outlined below without violating the conservative interpretations of halakhah.


1. The Role of Women in Conservative Judaism

The past 30 years have seen a revolution in how Conservative Judaism views women. Conservative Judaism believes in the equality of men and women, and, where necessary, has produced responsa and innovative rituals to address religious needs in this area. The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) of the Rabbinical Assembly has approved a number of responsa on this topic. Responsa have been accepted that justify women's active participation in synagogue life:

A rabbi may or may not decide to adopt particular rulings for the congregation; thus, some Conservative congregations will be more or less egalitarian than others. However, there are other areas where legal differences remain between men and women, including:

 See the full coverage to issue of the role of women in From Conservative Judaism: The New Century by NEIL GILLMAN, Behrman House, Inc., 1993 and Custom Drives Jewish Law on Women by Elliot N. Dorff


2. Driving on Shabbat

Jews that closely follow traditional practice don't do a whole category of activities, known in Hebrew as Melacha, on Shabbat. Melacha is usually badly translated as "work"; but it is better to use the Hebrew word, because the English word carries connotations of hard labor and other concepts that are inappropriate. Technically, there are 39 supercategories of melacha. They are derived from the classes of activities performed during the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert, following the exodus from Egypt.

One of the prohibited forms of melacha is lighting a fire. So Jews that closely follow traditional practice do not light fires on the Sabbath. (In fact it is traditional to light candles just before the Sabbath comes in as the last act of melacha done before the Sabbath descends). Now, when you drive a car, and you put your foot on the ignition, you produce a spark of fire. Thus, such Jews also do not use   motor vehicles on the Sabbath, for it violates the prohibition against lighting fire on Shabbat.

In the area of driving on Shabbat, the actual stance of the Conservative movement is stated in "Travel on the Sabbath: A statement unanimously adopted by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards" which was affirmed unanimously on 2/17/60. This statement indicates that "the Sabbath cannot function as the great day of the Lord unless we consciously "make a fence around it". The most important of the fences we must make to safeguard the Sabbath as an oasis of peace and of holiness is the avoidance of travel."

However, Conservative Judaism exempts a specific type of travel from the above limitation: travel to a synagogue for attendance at worship.

This exemption was granted based both on the needs of modern conditions, were people live in widely scattered areas, as well as a view that it was an emergency measure which the individual might make when in his conscience he or she knows that no alternative exists, stressing the values that would be lost by travel even in such instance. Note that both opinions limit this exemption to the need of reaching the synagogue for attendance at worship. Still prohibited is   travel for other ends, such as travel for social purposes, or travel to the synagogue for purposes other than to worship (for example, in order to attend a Bar Mitzvah ceremony or reception, for the motivation here is not the service of G-d but the honor of man).




3. Use of Electricity on Shabbat

Within the Conservative Movement, there is a halakhic dispute re. whether electricity is halakhically “fire”. Some in Conservative Judaism hold that electricity is not a form of fire, nor does the use of electricity inherently violate any other Shabbat prohibitions. Thus, it is an acceptable opinion within the Conservative movement for electric lights, telephones and other electrical appliances to be used on Shabbat. Note that other prohibitions, such as the prohibition of cooking, remain. Others in the movement follow the traditional practices seen in Orthodoxy, and restrict the use of electricity in addition to other prohibitions.

Source “Use of Electricity


“It appears to me that the most prevalent Conservative view is that electricity is not fire. There is a majority opinion of the Law Committee to this effect (Klein, page 87). Although there is a wide range of Conservative thought and practice concerning use of electricity, one prevalent view is that the use of electricity is allowed for any permitted activity (such as turning on lights for reading) and forbidden for any prohibited activity (such as cooking; see the 39 categories of prohibited activities below and in an attachment at the end of this Guide). This position holds that: using the telephone is acceptable (if done without money), turning on a radio, CD player or television is acceptable, turning on lights is acceptable, heating already prepared (i.e., cooked) solid food in a microwave is acceptable since it is not cooking (nor does it involve heating metal until it is ), broiling a raw chicken in an electric rotisserie is not acceptable, and using an electric lawnmower is not acceptable. In addition, the uses of electricity should be in the spirit of Shabbat so, for example, not all (and perhaps few) television programs would be appropriate on Shabbat. Some people who use electricity draw the line at the use of electric motors, or at heating metal until it is . Others do not turn on electric or electronic devices on Shabbat for the sake of the spirit of the day, or for other reasons (and they typically rely on timers to turn lights on and off).”

Source DRAFT Guide to Practical Halacha and Home Ritual For Conservative Jews By Yehuda Wiesen


4. Yom Tov Sheni in Conservative Judaism

From the 1930s to the 1960s, Yom Tov Sheni was a topic of periodic discussion by the Conservative movement's law committee. A teshuva by Rabbi Aaron Blumenthal was unanimously accepted by the law committee in 1963. After giving a review of the legal sources and responsa literature, the teshuva affirmed that it is possible to change the law in this regard, yet such a change is not obligatory or recommended. The conclusion reasoned that:

"The suggestion to eliminate Yom Tov Sheni comes from two sources: 1. From observant Jews for whom the new status of the T'futzah and a yearning to invest Israel with greater spiritual influence are sufficient warrant for the change. Their religious life would not suffer. The elimination of unnecessary hardships and superfluous duplication would enhance the observance of festivals in their homes. Yielding to their suggestion would stem from factors of strength in Judaism. 2. From non-observant Jews, or at best from would-he observant Jews, for whom the lesser demands of Judaism might contribute to a wider observance of the holidays...One hesitates to predict the measure of success that would follow from yielding to their suggestions, but it would derive from factors of weakness in contemporary Jewish life. The simple truth of the matter is that Jewish observance in America is not strong enough in depth to justify the assumption that elimination of the second day will enhance our religious life. On the other hand, its elimination will deny us the utilization of the second day for religious inspiration..." In closing, this teshuva concluded that it would be premature to make any official changes in Yom Tov Sheni, and that retaining it would allow for more advantages than disadvantages."

Four years later the Rabbinical Assembly instructed the law committee to re-open the issue. After much debate, three teshuvot were eventually accepted by the law committee. All of these teshuvot are considered as valid positions within normative halakha. Following the traditional Jewish stance, the Conservative movement holds that a congregation must follow the ruling of its rabbi, who as mara d'atra [local halakhic authority] has the sole responsibility and authority in making such a p'sak [ruling/decision].

Overwhelmingly, most American Conservative synagogues, and all Masorti synagogues in England, have retained observance of Yom Tov Shenei. It is, of course, not observed in Masorti synagogues in Israel.


The three teshuvot are summarized below.

(1) Rabbis Philip Sigal and Abraham J. Ehrlich conclude that observance of Yom Tov Sheni is a minhag which can be decided by the local rabbi. "While we reaffirm the inherent value of Yom Tov Sheni, in order to provide relief to those who no longer find in it spiritual enrichment, and to those who for socio-economic reasons find it is not feasible to observe the second day of yom tov, we declare that yom tov sheni is not a hok, a permanent enactment, but a minhag, a custom Congregations need not feel compelled to observe other than the second day of Rosh Ha-Shanah. On the other hand, those who still desire to maintain it as an expression of personal piety, as a chumrah, might do so, vetavo aleihem berakhah, may God bless them."

 (2) Rabbi Wilfred Shuchat offered a dissenting view in which he ruled that (a) the observance of Yom Tov Sheni must be seen as a takkanah, and not a minhag, (b) it is important in general to build a "fence around the Torah", (c) In a reference to the Reform movement, he writes that "If, however, the second day of Yom Tov were eliminated, it would not be long before the first day would fall into desuetude. We have living proof of this contention. A large and influential religious movement in Judaism has eliminated the second day of Yom Tov for the past two generations. De facto, if not de jure, the first day no longer exists as a significant factor in that movement" In conclusion, he urges the retention of the observance of Yom Tov Sheni for a host of practical matters.

Interestingly, Rabbi Shuchat concludes by saying that he would agree to the elimination of Yom Tov Sheni if it were to come from a recognized halakhic body in the land of Israel. This echoes the view of some Modern Orthodox rabbis, who are willing in theory to make many of the same changes made by Conservative Jews, but who state that they are unwilling to make such rulings on their own authority; rather, they are waiting for a more recognized body in Israel to someday appear.

 (3) Rabbi Aaron Blumenthal writes "that it would be tragic for us to initiate a program which must lead inevitably to the abandonment of the second day of the festivals. Let those who have no alternative... not feel that they are in violation of halakhah if they observe only one day. But we cannot condone the initiation of discussions about the second day in those Congregations which do have regular and meaningful services on it."

 All of the Conservative teshuvot can be found in "Proceedings of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement 1927-1970", volume III, pages 1228-1272. This is part of a three volume set that is available from the United Synagogue Book Service.

Source -



Annex 1

"Tradition and change" is the Conservative movement's motto, balancing adherence to Jewish law with a willingness to introduce major innovations.

This article is excerpted from a statement of principles issued in 1988 by the major institutions of the North American arm of the Conservative movement (known outside North America as the Masorti ["traditional"] movement). Reprinted with permission from Emet Ve-emunah: Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism, published by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the Rabbinical Assembly, United Synagogue of America (now called United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism), Women's League for Conservative Judaism, and Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs.

The sanctity and authority of halakhah attaches to the body of the law, not to each law separately, for throughout Jewish history halakhah has been subject to change. Reverence for the tradition and concern for its continuity prevented rash revision of the law, but Jewish practice was modified from time to time. Most often, new interpretation or application of existing precedents produced the needed development, but sometimes new ordinances were necessary. Sometimes, as in the education of girls and the creation of the Simhat Torah festival, the changes occurred first in the conduct of the rabbis or the people and only then were confirmed in law.

Tradition and Development in Halakhah

The rabbis of the Mishnah, the Talmud, and midrash recognized that changes had occurred and that they themselves were instituting them. They took pains to justify the legitimacy of rabbis in each generation applying the law in new ways to meet the demands of the time. They pointed out that the Torah itself requires such judicial activity, a mandate which they interpreted broadly to include, at times, even outright revisions of the law.


Each individual cannot be empowered to make changes in the law, for that would undermine its authority and coherence; only the rabbinic leaders of the community, because of their knowledge of the content aims, and methods of halakhah, are authorized by Jewish tradition to make the necessary changes, although they must keep the customs and needs of the community in mind as they deliberate.


We in the Conservative community are committed to carrying on the rabbinic tradition of preserving and enhancing halakhah by making appropriate changes in it through rabbinic decision. This flows from our conviction thathalakhahis indispensable for each age. As in the past, the nature and number of adjustments of the law will vary with the degree of change in the environment in which Jews live.


The rapid technological and social change of our time, as well as new ethical insights and goals, have required new interpretations and applications of halakhah to keep it vital for our lives; more adjustments will undoubtedly be necessary in the future. These include additions to the received tradition to deal with new circumstances and, in some cases, modifications of the corpus of halakhah.

Regulating Change

While change is both a traditional and a necessary part of halakhah, we, like our ancestors, are not committed to change for its own sake. Hence, the thrust of the Jewish tradition and the Conservative community is to maintain the law and practices of the past as much as possible, and the burden of proof is on the one who wants to alter them.


Halakhah has responded and must continue to respond to changing conditions, sometimes through alteration of the law and sometimes by standing firm against passing fads and skewed values. Moreover, the necessity for change does not justify any particular proposal for revision. Each suggestion cannot be treated mechanically but must rather be judged in its own terms, a process which requires thorough knowledge of both halakhah and the contemporary scene as well as carefully honed skills of judgment.


Following the example of our rabbinic predecessors over the ages, however, we consider instituting changes for a variety of reasons. Occasionally the integrity of the law must be maintained by adjusting it to conform to contemporary practice among observant Jews. Every legal system from time to time must adjust what is on the books to be in line with actual practice if the law is to be taken seriously as a guide to conduct. New technological, social, economic, or political realities sometimes require legal action.


Some changes in law are designed to improve the material conditions of the Jewish people or society at large. The goal of others is to foster better relations among Jews or between Jews and the larger community. In some cases, changes are necessary to prevent or remove injustice, while in others they constitute a positive program to enhance the quality of Jewish life by elevating its moral standards or deepening its piety.

When Normal Halakhic Development is Insufficient

We affirm that the halakhic process has striven to embody the highest moral principles. Where changing conditions produce what seem to be immoral consequences and human anguish, varying approaches exist within our community to rectify the situation. Where it is deemed possible and desirable to solve the problem through the existing halakhic norms, we prefer to use them.


If not, some within the Conservative community are prepared to amend the existing law by means of a formal procedure of legislation (takkanah). Some are willing to make a change only when they find it justified by sources in the halakhi erature. All of us, however, are committed to the indispensability of halakhah for authentic Jewish living.


Our dedication to halakhah flows from our deep awareness of the divine element and the positive values inherent in it. Every effort is made to conserve and enhance it. When changes are necessary, they are made with the express goal of insuring that halakhah remains an effective, viable, and moral guide for our lives.



Are women required to recite the amidah three times a day? Are they required to recite musaf and neilah? Is it permissible to count them in the minyan for barekhu, kaddish, and the repetition of the amidah? May they serve as cantor for shaharit, minhah, ma'ariv, musaf, and neilah?

According to the Mishnah (Berakhot 3:3), women are required to recite the tefilah, and tefilah in the Mishnah does not mean "prayer" but rather the amidah or the eighteen benedictions. The discussion of this Mishnah in the Bavli (20b) had been preserved in three different versions and the Rishonim ruled according to the text which they had in front of them. The Rif, Maimonides and others ruled that tefilah was originally a positive commandment for men and women without a fixed time or text; when Ezra and his court enacted fixed times and texts, men and women were obligated equally. Halakhot Gedolot, Rashi and Ramban ruled that tefilah was originally a rabbinic enactment, which applied equally to men and women since tefilah involves asking God for mercy. In any case, according to the Mishnah, the Bavli in all of its versions and the Rishonim cited in the responsum, women are required to recite the amidah three times a day exactly like men. Furthermore, there are many testimonies from the Talmudic period until the eighteenth century which prove that women actually prayed every day and even three times a day at home or in the synagogue just like men.

There is a disagreement among the Aharonim as to whether women are required to recite musaf, but the proofs adduced by both sides are not very convincing. In such a case, it is preferable to rely on the early sources and, according to the plain meaning of the Mishnah and the Rambam, women are required to recite musaf and neilah just as they are required to recite shaharit, minhah and ma'ariv.

Barekhu, kaddish and the loud repetition of the amidah are usually called devarim shebikedushah and many authorities forbid women from being counted in the minyan for these prayers. However, this prohibition is nowhere mentioned in the Talmud or in the Rambam. On the contrary, a careful reading of the Talmud and the Rambam reveals that it is permissible to count women in the minyan for these prayers. The Talmud derives the need for a minyan for certain ceremonies from a derashah found in Megilah 23b (= Berakhot 21b). The very same derashah appears word for word in Sanhedrin 74b as an asmakhta for sanctifying God's name in the presence of a minyan. The latter passage in the Talmud assumes that Esther and other women are required to sanctify God's name in the presence of ten Jews, and this was codified by the major codes of Jewish law. Furthermore, a number of authorities ruled that women may even be counted in the minyan required for the sanctification of God's name. It is clear from the identical derashot adduced in these two passages that devarim shebikedushah and kiddush hashem are two sides of the same coin, since they both stem from the desire to sanctify God's name in public. Therefore, if it is permissible to count women in the minyan for kiddush hashem, they can be counted in the minyan for barekhu, kaddish and kedushah as well.

Finally, there is a basic principle that whoever is obligated to do something, may fulfill the obligation of the congregation (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 3:8). We have proved above that women are required to recite the amidah in every prayer service and that they are required to sanctify God's name in public. As a result, it is permissible for them to act as cantor for all of the parts of the service under discussion.

Rabbi David Golinkin
In favor: Rabbi Michael Graetz
Rabbi Gilah Dror
Rabbi David Frankel
Rabbi David Lazar
Rabbi Simchah Roth
Opposed: Rabbi Yisrael Warman


Annex 2



Rabbi Joel Roth spoke at Agudath Israel April 30-May 2, 2004.  Rabbi Roth is a prominent halakhic decisor (posek) for the Conservative Movement. He is a member of the assembly's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) which deals with questions of Jewish law and tradition, and serves as a professor of Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

He is the author of "The Halakhic Process" and wrote the responsa, accepted by JTS, that allowed women to become ordained as rabbis.

Lecture I – Conservative Judaism and Jewish Law

Rabbi Roth made 4 points:

1. The mitzvahs are compulsory on Jews.  If a Jew does not keep a relevant mitzvah he has sinned i.e. rebelled against the will of the Creator).

Rabbi Roth ignored the theological underpinnings of halakhah (see Conservative Theology) which are seen to make the halakhah obligatory.  In doing that he highly emphasized the similarity of Conservative and Orthodox Judaism (the halakhah is obligatory on Jews and the theoretical considerations and processes of halakhic change) while ignoring Conservatism’s similarities to Reform “under the hood” ((1) their rejection of “verbal revelation” i.e. that the Written Torah and the bases of the Oral Torah were given verbatim to Moses by God on Sinai; (2) their willingness to accept the results of modern historic scholarship supporting the conclusion that the Torah is a human artifact however those humans might have been inspired by God; (3) and, their desire to engage with modern life accepting the changes that this implies)

2. Only trained rabbinical scholars are qualified to give an opinion on halakhah.  Conservative rabbis are “trained GPs” equipped to give authoritative replies on most halakhic issues and knowing enough to pass on other matters to the relevant rabbinic specialists.

3, There has always been a pluralism within halakhic Judaism (see Dorff’s explication and that of Gillman).  This usually occurs either due to differences in regional custom (e.g. Sephardic vs. Ashkenazi) or, more fundamentally, when an issue is still under dispute.  Normally, in time, the halakhah becomes settled on one of the options.  Prior to this resolution, all the halakhic options are valid with Jews normally following the opinion of a single authority on all issues – i.e. you don’t have a right to accept an opinion of one authority in one disputed issue and that of another authority in another disputed issue.

Rabbi Roth’s argument was virtually identical to that recently stated by Rabbi Jerome M Epstein

“For the Conservative Jew, the goal is to make it (halakhah) both evolving and binding. That is tradition and change. I have intentionally avoided reference to "the" halakhah, a phrase fundamentalists use. There is not one body of Jewish law to which everyone agrees. That our halakhah differs from the halakhah of others follows the rich precedent of our ancestors who differed -- sometimes widely-- in interpretation of halakhah and daily practices. Nevertheless, halakhah structured their daily behavior and determined how they lived. In discussing whether the School of Hillel or the School of Shammai was truly right in their debates, the Talmud teaches that "Both are the words of the Living God," even though the halakhah usually follows the teachings of the School of Hillel. I am struck by the fact that the rabbis of the Talmud believed that the reading of the Torah could yield differing and inconsistent rulings and acknowledged the existence of divergent understandings of texts.

There was individuality of thought and belief. But, in the end, the conmmnity determined one position as binding. As Conservative Jews, we have a right to choose an interpretation of halakhah based on personal understanding of the texts, but ultimately, it is critical that we obligate ourselves to live by that chosen interpretation. To quote the late legal scholar Robert Cover, "One might have independent and divergent understandings of the obligations imposed by God through his chosen people, but one could not have a world view which denied the obligation."

From Halakhah: Evolving and Binding by Rabbi Jerome M Epstein Executive Vice-President, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism delivered at the United Synagogue Biennial Convention, October 26-30, 2003, Dallas, Texas

4. Judaism of the Future does not Need to Look Like our Grandfather’s Judaism i.e. change is possible and necessary within the Halakhic system but it must occur in halakhically legitimately ways (see the annex for details).


Lecture II – Processes for Change Within Halakhah

In fact he did not really speak to this topic (see Dorff’s explication and A TREE OF LIFE: Diversity, Flexibility, and Creativity in Jewish Law by LOUIS JACOBS).  .  Rather, he described a single process i.e. a posek has a right to change an accepted rabbinic halakhah when all the following are true:


Lecture III – Women and Jewish Law

He pointed out that there are two major issues –

a. Aliyot and Reading the Torah – the reasons for excluding women from this in traditional halakhah is kvod hatzibur i.e. selecting a woman implies that there are no men able to undertake the task (see ).  This is a minor halakhic issue.

b. Counting a Woman in the Minyan and Women as Hazzan

This is a more difficult halakhic question.  Halakhically, women can only be counted in the minyan or serve as a hazzan if they have the same level of obligation for praying the statutory prayers.  Traditionally, the statutory prayers have been counted as one of the “time dependant mitzvahs” from which women are exempt. 

Rabbis of the Conservative Movement could issue a takkana declaring all Jewish women to henceforth have the same prayer obligations as men.  Rabbi Roth would not approve of this because he considers that most Conservative women would not perform the mitzvah and hence would be sinners i.e. a whole new class of sinners would be created.

The following are acceptable Conservative positions i.e. rabbis can follow any of them:

1. To follow historic minority opinions of important rabbis who held that women are in fact obligated to say the statutory prayers so they can therefore be counted in the minyan and serve as a hazzan.  Rabbi Roth does not approve of this approach as it flies in the face of 1,500 years of Jewish practice;

2. An individual woman can declare herself obligated to say the statutory prayers for life and thereby become halakhically obligated.  There are two views of the result: