RABBINICAL ASSEMBLY (ra), the international association of Conservative rabbis. The Rabbinical Assembly was founded in Philadelphia in June 1901, as the Alumni Association of the Jewish Theological Seminary, with Rabbi Henry M. Speaker as its first president. The name was changed to the Rabbinical Assembly in 1918, when graduates of other institutions were admitted as members. The ra, as it is known, functions on two levels–as a professional organization serving the needs of its members, and as an organization which seeks to promote the observance of Conservative Judaism, working closely with the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and other arms of the Conservative Movement.
In 2005, the organization had 1,564 members, 1,290 of them serving in the United States. Members served in 25 countries, with 151 in Israel, and 52 in Latin America. First admitting female rabbis in 1985, the group had 204 women members in 2005.
As a professional organization, the ra has always sought to improve the status of the Conservative rabbi; and its achievements have benefited the rabbis of other movements as well. Thanks to the efforts of its long-time executive director, Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, who served from 1951 to 1989, and his successor, Rabbi Joel Meyers, many rabbis now receive benefits such as pensions, medical insurance, and convention allowances. Working with other arms of the movement on the Joint Placement Commission, the ra has sought to create fair and standardized procedures for rabbinic placement. ra members serve not only as pulpit rabbis, but also as educators, academics, Hillel directors, and chaplains, and hold other positions in the Jewish community.
In seeking to promote the practice of Conservative Judaism and the study of the Torah, the ra has had an active publications program, headed from 1961 to 1994 by Rabbi Jules Harlow. It has published weekday, Sabbath, and holiday prayerbooks, a Passover haggadah, a commentary on the Torah, a Holocaust Megillah, rabbis' manuals, and other learned works that reflect the Conservative ideology. Through its Law Committee, the ra has sought to grapple with halakhic issues such as the plight of the *agunah (deserted wife), the observance of the Sabbath and the dietary laws under modern conditions, and the role of women in the synagogue. At the start of the 21st century, the ra was also dealing with the issues of outreach to intermarried families and the role of homosexuals in Jewish life.
R.E. Fierstein (ed.), A Century of Commitment: One Hundred Years of the Rabbinical Assembly (2000); P.S. Nadell, Conservative Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (1988); Rabbinical Assembly, Proceedings (1927–).
[Robert E. Fierstien (2nd ed.)]