Women of the wall
Jewish women activists, members of the Women of the Wall group, pray during a monthly prayer session a short distance from Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem's Old City, July 8, 2013. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

The Rabbinical Council of America, the world's largest Orthodox rabbinic group, formally adopted a resolution to prohibit the ordination of women late last week, Ha'aretz reported Tuesday. The issue has been a source of contention since an Orthodox religious school in New York began training women to become religious leaders several years ago.

The Rabbinical Council of America resolution read: “RCA members with positions in Orthodox institutions may not ordain women into the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title used; or hire or ratify the hiring of a woman into a rabbinic position at an Orthodox institution; or allow a title implying rabbinic ordination to be used by a teacher of Limudei Kodesh [religious studies] in an Orthodox institution.”

Women rabbis have been ordained for decades by Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist seminaries -- denominations of Judaism that are generally seen to hold less firmly to tradition.

The RCA, which represents modern U.S. Orthodox Jewish rabbis, is made up of some 1,000 Orthodox rabbis, all of whom are men. The group represents Orthodox synagogues and Jewish organizations across the U.S. About 10 percent of U.S. Jews define themselves as Orthodox.

The prohibition comes six years after a religious school in New York City was founded to train female religious leaders, Religion News Service reported. The women graduated with the honorific title of “maharat” instead of rabbi, denoting their religious authority. Less than a dozen women have graduated from the program, but it has prompted wide debate within the Jewish community.

Orthodox Judaism continues to adhere to many traditional gender practices, including the partition of men and women during prayer. A movement called Women of the Wall has strengthened in recent years among activists wanting the right to wear prayer shawls and read from the Torah out loud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The Western Wall, part of a stone retaining wall of an ancient biblical temple, has a space allotted for women, but female worshipers are restricted in their devotion at the site.

The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, also known as JOFA, issued a statement expressing disappointment with the Rabbinical council’s decision, according to Ha’aretz. The statement criticized the "insistence that only men may assume positions of 'rabbinic status,' which, as far as we can tell, amounts to nothing more than an obsession with titles.”