Women’s Ordination and Institutional Decision Making: A Qualitative Content Analysis of the Ordination of Women as Rabbis at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America
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The entry of women into the rabbinate is one of the most significant changes in contemporary Conservative Judaism and was debated throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS), the premier intellectual and rabbinic institution of the Conservative movement, ordained its first female rabbi in 1985; this decision had transformative ramifications for communal identity, socio-religious boundaries, and commitment to the halakhic (Jewish legal) process. My research utilizes grounded theory and a directed content analysis (Hsieh and Shannon 2005) to evaluate qualitative data directly related to the institutional concerns of JTS and its chancellor, Gerson D. Cohen. Theoretically, my study draws upon new institutionalist theory (Powell and DiMaggio 1983; 1991), and specifically Mark Chaves’ (1996; 1997) utilization of new institutionalist theory to the ordination of women as rabbis. My data emphasize four religious pressures, three external and one internal, that greatly impacted the decision to ordain women at JTS. By focusing on the institutional level, my study addresses a heretofore neglected area of sociological concern regarding the ordination of women at JTS.
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