May 19, 2005
Student Rabbis, Cantors Take Next Step
University of Judaism
It might just be a demographic blip, but it certainly is an interesting one. This year's graduating class of rabbis at the Conservative University of Judaism (UJ) in Los Angeles is made up of four women and two men. And at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York, there are 10 women to the seven men.
Are female rabbis taking over the Conservative movement -- which only began ordaining women in 1985?
Probably not, said Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at UJ, on a hilltop campus where Mulholland Drive and Sepulveda Boulevard meet.
The gender breakdown is about 50-50 among the 75 rabbinic students at the school, Artson said. That ratio, he said, reflects the school's commitment to gender-blind admissions, and to the work the school does to make sure UJ is open to women in all ways.
"Opening a school to women but not talking about the ways in which gender shapes a certain reality is not really admitting women," Artson said. "We have been conscious about making gender something we talk about here."
That means classes and mentorships bring the societal sexual divide to the foreground. And, Artson said, women are occupying an increasingly prominent role in the administration.
Founded in 1947 as a satellite of JTS, UJ began ordaining rabbis six years ago, and the fruit of that shift to independence will be apparent next year, as about 20 rabbis will be up for ordination, compared to the seven or eight of years past.
"For 100 years, the Conservative movement had one rabbinical school," Artson said. "It's taken a while to grow into and embrace this new expanded reality."
Academy for Jewish Religion
Just six years after it was founded, the Academy for Jewish Religion(AJR) has a graduating class that is almost as large as the classes at the more established ordaining institutions in Los Angeles.
AJR, which is unaffiliated with any denomination, is graduating five rabbis, not far behind the UJ's six and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion's eight. In addition, AJR is the only show in town ordaining cantors, with two graduating this year.
The niche audience of mostly second-career students interested in a pluralistic education has proven to be a large and dependable one, with 60 students enrolled for professional training as rabbis, cantors and chaplains.
AJR graduates fill roles that don't fall neatly within the organized Jewish world, such as presiding at life-cycle events for the unaffiliated, leading independent prayer groups and serving in chaplaincy positions, said AJR founding chairman Rabbi Stan Levy.
"We go to wherever Jews are finding themselves, and we try to get them into a more intensive Jewish spiritual life," Levy said.
AJR has outgrown its quarters at Temple Beth Torah on Venice Boulevard, and is negotiating the final details to move into the Yitzchak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA.
Levy looks forward to planning joint programming with both Hillel and the university.
"It's a far more prominent location for us to be in, right in the center of a vibrant university with a vibrant Hillel," Levy said.
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