CJLS Decision Making Process

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards is made up of twenty-five members. Before the December meetings, each member will have received and had a chance to reflect on and react to a group of papers arguing different sides of the question. In December, the committee will meet and discuss the papers, at which time it will vote either to establish some legislation on the matter, or else will request further discussion on the issue.

The main function of the Law Committee then is to offer halakhic guidance to rabbis of the movement who are called upon to determine halakhah for their communities. Conservative rabbis study Law Committee decisions and follow them precisely because they lend weight and consistency to the halakhic stances of the movement itself.

It is possible, however, for a rabbi who studies a particular issue to conclude differently; therefore he or she would render a halakhic decision different from that of the Law Committee. This is permissible because each rabbi has authority as mara d'atra, religious decisor, for his or her community by virtue of ordination. In those instances, the Rabbinical Assembly will clearly articulate that the rabbi is deciding these matters on his or her own and does not have the halakhic approval of the Law Committee.

In addition, there is a procedure whereby a halakhic decision of the Law Committee will become a standard of rabbinic practice, which means it becomes binding upon every member of the Rabbinical Assembly. Because of the commitment to the principle of mara d'atra and to the understanding of the spectrum of halakhic views which may exist on any subject, there have been very few such standards of practice adopted, but among such accepted practices are: (1) a member of the Rabbinical Assembly may not officiate at or attend an intermarriage; (2) a marriage cannot occur if either the bride or groom has been divorced, unless a get has been issued; and (3) Jewishness is defined matrilineally, and (4) when conversion occurs, there must be milah or hatafat dam brit as well as mikveh. To become a standard of rabbinic practice, a halakhic decision must not only receive an 80 percent vote of the Law Committee, but must be approved at the annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly.

Material provided by the Rabbinical Assembly.