The Rabbinical Assembly of America, the major group of Conservative rabbis in the United States, has narrowly rejected the first woman applicant for membership.
The vote on Rabbi Beverly Magidson, a hospital chaplain in St. Louis, fell only four votes short of the 214 needed for the required two-thirds majority. The action was taken at the 83rd annual convention of the assembly, which includes 1,200 rabbis representing 1.5 million congregants.
The assembly passed a resolution in 1980 approving ordination of women, but Magidson's application was the first to come before the body for a vote.
One of the arguments against her admission was that the assembly should wait until the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary ordains women. Admission to the assembly of rabbis from that seminary is automatic, but the seminary has not yet ordained any women. The seminary in December 1979 tabled a motion to approve women's ordination and hasn't officially reconsidered the issue since.
Magidson, a former chaplain with the Jewish campus organization Hillel at Washington University in St. Louis for two years, is a graduate of the Reform movement's seminary, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
The Conservative assembly has routinely accepted into its membership male rabbis who have been educated and ordained in non-Conservative seminaries.
The Reform and Reconstructionist movements have been ordaining women for the last decade and there are now more than 70 women ordained in those movements across the country, including some from Conservative backgrounds. The Orthodox movement opposes women's ordination.