Women's League for Conservative Judaism

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WOMEN'S LEAGUE FOR CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM

Founded in 1918 as the National Women's League of the United Synagogue of America, this new organization responded to the call of Solomon *Schechter to harness women's energies and talents to promote an American Judaism that was rooted in history and tradition. In 1918, his widow Mathilde Roth *Schechter, Women's League founding president, drafted the blueprint for its future work as the coordinating body of Conservative synagogue sisterhoods. She led Women's League to set an agenda that included service to home, synagogue, and community, with special concern for youth and adult education, the blind, and the welfare of students at the Jewish Theological Seminary. By 1925 Women's League had grown from 26 founding sisterhoods to 230, with a membership of 20,000 women. In 2005, its goals remained much the same as at its founding: to strengthen and unite its 700 synagogue women's groups; to help their 120,000 members perpetuate Conservative Judaism in the home, synagogue, and community; and to strengthen their bonds with Israel and with Jews worldwide.

In its first decades Women's League created student houses, the first in New York in 1918, to serve as homes away from home for Jewish students and also Jewish servicemen on leave. Its education department published books to deepen its members' Jewish knowledge, including Deborah Melamed's The Three Pillars: Thought, Worship and Practice (1927) and the popular Jewish Home Beautiful (1941) by Betty D. Greenberg and Althea O. Silverman. Women's League also began publishing its magazine Outlook in 1930. Educating its members and enhancing their observance of Jewish tradition remained a priority of Women's League over the years. In 1931 it helped establish the Women's Institute of Jewish Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary. In 1993 it formed Kolot Bik'dushah to recognize those of its members who have mastered the skills of leading services and reading from the Torah. Women's League saw as its special task to help raise funds to enhance student life at the Seminary. In addition, Women's League helped the Jewish blind though the Jewish Braille Institute. The organization's commitment to liberal political and social issues emerged in the resolutions its members adopted over the years.

In 1972 the association formally changed its name to the Women's League for Conservative Judaism, signifying that it was no longer a subsidiary of the United Synagogue, but rather an independent body of Jewish women dedicated to Conservative Judaism. At the same time Women's League expressed an increasingly forceful position calling for egalitarianism in the Conservative synagogue.

bibliography:

They Dared to Dream: A History of the National Women's League, 19181968 (1967); S.R. Schwartz, "Women's League for Conservative Judaism," in: P.E. Hyman and D. Dash Moore (eds.), Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, vol. 2 (1997), 1493–97; M. Scult, "The Baale Boste Reconsidered: The Life of Mathilde Roth Schechter (M.R.S.)," in: Modern Judaism 7, 1 (February 1987), 1–27.

[Pamela S. Nadell (2nd ed.)]