Roth, Joel

views updated


ROTH, JOEL (1940– ), Conservative rabbi. After completing undergraduate studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, in 1961, Roth received a master's degree in Hebrew literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and in 1968, rabbinic ordination. After completing a Ph.D. in Talmud in 1973, he was appointed to the jts faculty as associate professor of Talmud. Roth held both academic and administrative positions at jts. In 1978 he was appointed to the Committee of Jewish Law and Standards, where he served as chairman from 1984 to 1992. Roth served as the dean of the Rabbinical School of jts, from 1981 to 1984 and in 1992–93. In 1998 he was appointed the Louis Finkelstein Professor of Talmud and Jewish Law, and in 2000 he became the head of the Conservative yeshivah in Jerusalem, an institution founded by the Conservative movement in 1995 to enable men and women to learn traditional Jewish texts in an open, co-educational environment.

Throughout his rabbinic career, Roth has advocated for a Conservative movement ideology and practice rooted in the halakhic (legal) system, whose workings he elaborated upon in his 1986 book, The Halakhic Process: A Systemic Analysis. In writings on homosexuality and the ordination of women, among other topics, he has urged the movement to embrace the Conservative movement's doctrine of "tradition and change," but not by circumventing a strict process of legal precedent in service of social trends such as feminism. One of Roth's more prominent responsa has supported the rabbinic ordination of women, among the most important policy decisions of the Conservative movement, and has stated that a woman may exempt the community from its ritual obligations if she accepts upon herself ritual obligations commanded to men. He has also written an extensive series of responsa on the permissibility of organ donation, and on conversion and Sabbath observance, among other topics. Roth drew the ire of many members of the movement when, in 1992, he led the Committee on Law and Standards in its decision against ordaining homosexual rabbis or performing same-sex marriages, citing insurmountable halakhic objections to homosexuality. Roth has come to represent and to anchor the "right-wing" of the Conservative movement, a position that has at times placed him at odds both with the generally less traditionally observant laity of Conservative synagogues in the United States, on the one hand, and with many Orthodox leaders, on the other, who consider his rulings on egalitarianism and the ordination of women to be outside the bounds of halakhah.

[Liora R. Halperin (2nd ed.)]