More than 600 Conservative rabbis spent the five days of their annual Rabbinical Assembly here studying, debating, praying, arguing, chanting, celebrating - all in an effort to keep both themselves and their faith in tune with today's world.
The rabbis, spiritual leaders of nation's largest branch of Judaism, adopted a wide variety of resolutions reflecting their concern in both religious and secular issues.
They called for the development programs to integrate into congregational life new converts to Judaism. They directed the development of a "uniform curriculum and course of studies" and organized classes for prospective converts.
Despite stiff opposition from some members who feared the action would be "misinterpreted," the body endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment and called for its ratification by those states that have not yet done so. Some delegates protested that such support might prejudice the Assembly's decision, due next year, on whether to ordain women as Conservative rabbis.
Another resolution criticized "public sniping at Israel" in the context of current Middle East peace talks and complained that "Israel has been unfairly painted as being intransignet and unwilling to accept the risks for peace." The resolution added: "An American posture which suggests an erosion of support for Israel is the surest means of ending any hope of Arab accommodation towards Israel."
The Assembly urged rabbis and congregations to "be sensitive to the particular needs" of singles of fall ages, and seek to involve them in synagogue programs.
The assembly was clearly uncomfortable with the resolution on singles. It was adopted only after deletion of a recommendation that rabbis "be sensitive to singlehood as an alternate life style."
Objections expressed during the debate to even this tepid recognition of "singlehood" as an alternate life style were two fold: singles do not produce the children needed by Judiasm, a little more than a generation after the Holocaust, to survive; and the single life style was seen as tending conflict with Jewish law and tradition regarding monogamous family relationships.
The rabbis elected as their president Rabbi Saul I. Teplitz, of Woodmede, N.Y., to succeed Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz of Washington, who has completed a two-year term.
Unlike the scenario for some religious gatherings, legislative sesssions play a monor role at conventions of the Rabbinical Assembly. The annual convention is more an amalgam of intensive professional refresher course, spiritual retreat, political rally and family reunion.
The great majority of the more than 1,000 rabbis who serve Conservative congregations throughout the United States and Canada - plus a few outposts in Latin America and Israel - are graduates of one seminary - the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York. The School, located next to Columbia University Teachers College, has an international reputaion for scholarship.
To an outsider, it is not always clear where the seminary leaves off and the Rabbinical Assembly, with its barest minmum of national staff and bureaucratic appurtenances, begins.
Conservative Judaism represents a sort of middle way between the strict constructionism of the halacha (the body of Jewish law) followed by the Orthodox and the more radical departure from the halacha of Reform Ju-[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
According to the 1978 American Jewish Year Book, 12.3 million American Jews belong to Conservative congregations, the largest of the three branches of the faith in this country.
"The glory of American Judaism has been strongly influenced by Christianity in this respect," he continued. "In European countries, where Roman Catholicism is the dominant state religion there is only one kind of Judaism."
He believes the American pattern has contributed to the overall health of Judaism here which he pointed out is the strongest anywhere in the world. In America, he continued, "it is not necessary to abandon your Judaism to find a congenial religious expression."
Conservative Judaism, Rabbi Rabinowitz explained, embraces "very broad limits . . ."
"We adhere to the Jewish laws of marriage and divorce; we believe in Hebrew education and we are committed to the dietary laws," he continued. "You would have to leave the Rabbinical Assembly if you eat pork, although we wouldn't enforce that on the lay members of our congregations. But a rabbi is supposed to provide an example."
For Conservative Judiasm, however the halacha, or law, is a dynamic thing, which must grow with changing times. Thus the convention here explored a variety of contemporary issues and how - or whether - the law must be interpreted to fit the times.
Thus half a dozen seminars here wrestled with how today's Judaism must deal with the sexual revolution in all its manifestations. Other sessions tackled the ethical - and thereby halachic - implications of such scientific concerns as genetic engineering, organ transplants and cloning.
In Conservative Judaism, the ultimate decision on how the halacha is to be adapted comes not through majority vote by the entire assembly, but from the body's powerful Law Committee, made up of 25 scholars chosen to represent a fair spectrum of theological opinion. That committee is in effect, the supreme court of Conservative Judaism.
If, as not too often happens, the decision of this committee is unanimous, then that is binding on all rabbis.Given the complexity of the issues and the shades of opinion represented on the committee, it is more likely that the committee will produce a majority and minority opinion, as it did, for instance, in its ruling several years ago that women might be counted in making up a minyan, the minimum number necessary for certain liturgical prayers. Because of the minority opinion, those who opted not to include women in the minyan were not obligated to do so.