Center presents conference
with women rabbis,
scholars and theologians.
Artwork from the conference brochure, courtesy
the American Jewish Historical Society.
I n 1972, Sally Priesand of Cleveland was
ordained the first woman rabbi in
"Few imagined the impact that event
would have on Judaism," says Pamela Nadell,
professor of history and director of Jewish
Studies Program at American University in
While women have interjected their voices
into Judaism in the past, Nadell says, "This is
the first time in history they have the authority
to do so. And their voices have succeeded in
transforming American Judaism."
Nadell is one of 10 presenters at the
"Conference on the Changing Role of Women
in American Jewish Religious Life" at Wayne
State University. Sponsored by WSU's Cohn-
Haddow Center for Judaic Studies, the confer-
ence takes place 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday,
May 5, at McGregor Memorial Conference
Center on campus.
The conference topic is not new, says David
Weinberg, Cohn-Haddow Center director, but
"this is the first national conference that brings
together these various issues."
The issues include the role of women as reli-
gious leaders and interpreters; a critical analysis
of the place of women in the three major
Jewish denominations (Reform, Conservative
and Orthodox); and the development of dis-
tinctive rituals and ceremonies — such as adult
b'not mitzvah and Rosh Chodesh celebrations
— that are important to a certain community
"Our emphasis is on scholarship, not advoca-
cy," Weinberg adds. The conference is a discus-
sion and does not present a particular agenda
of what women should or should not do —
"Which is "whywe chose scholars," he says.
Sisterhood Draws Women
While women gather for many reasons that
include studying Torah, healing after a
divorce and celebrating the new moon, "the
focus of most of these ceremonies is about
sisterhood, about women coming together,"
says conference participant Jody Myers, pro-
fessor of Jewish Studies at California State
"Rituals are about supporting each other
and connecting to each other through
Judaism," she says.
Though women have had a voice in
Judaism since ancient times, Myers says, it's
only since the 1970s that American Jewish
women have taken full responsibility for
"These initiatives should be appreciated for
how grassroots they are; these are totally
women's initiatives," she says.
Myers explains that with the growth of
feminism in the 1970s, Jewish women, at
first, felt left out of their religion. They
wanted their achievements celebrated
Jewishly. But in the 1980s, with the rise of
anti-Semitism in left-wing circles, many
Jewish feminists turned to Judaism.
"There's a home for women in Judaism
and a very rich heritage," Myers says.
"Women don't have to go to another tradi-
tion for a role. In the past, women studied
Talmud and were leaders in the synagogue."
As an example, she points to archeologists
who discovered women's names etched on
synagogue walls because they were the leader
of the synagogue.