NEW YORK — The Conservative branch of Judaism issued an updated manual for rabbis this week that features gender-neutral language, modernized prayers, guidelines on end-of-life medical decisions and the first "grieving ritual" for a couple after an abortion.
The Rabbi's Manual is being published by the Rabbinical Assembly, whose members serve 750 Conservative synagogues in North America and 200 elsewhere.
Conservatism is Judaism's middle-of-the-road denomination, standing between the strict traditionalism of Orthodoxy and the Reform branch's liberal attitude toward religious law.
The pocket-sized manual is published in two volumes and at 688 pages is three times the size of the previous edition of 1965.
Rabbi Gordon M. Freeman of Walnut Creek, Calif., who edited the manual with Rabbi Perry Raphael Rank of Springfield, N.J., said the numerous new rituals were provided "to help people transform the events of their lives into sacred moments, and to recognize that there are many transitions beyond birth, marriage and death."
For example, the manual has ceremonies for Jews coping with infertility, miscarriage, the death of a newborn and the birth of a handicapped child. Women rabbis, an impossibility in Conservatism at the time of the 1965 manual, helped create these liturgies.
The controversial post-abortion ritual, which takes a nonjudgmental attitude toward the practice, was written by Rabbi Amy Eilberg of San Francisco. The 1965 manual did not take up the issue of abortion. In wording that can be adapted to the reasons for a specific abortion, the rabbi says:
"You made a choice, choosing life for (mother's name), for the two of you as a couple, for your family, for the well-being of children yet to come into your lives. We grieve with you over the loss of this seed of life, and we affirm your essence as people gifted with the ability to nurture other life."
The latest Rabbi's Manual is stricter than the 1965 edition in handling conversions to Judaism. The convert now should sign a detailed paper in the presence of a rabbinical court, pledging to give children "a quality Jewish education," make the Sabbath and Jewish holidays "important moments of holiness," incorporate kosher dietary rules, identify with Israel, join a synagogue and attend regularly. The 1965 pledge was more general.