Traditionally, Jewish women have had limited roles in many congregations, but increasingly they are moving to the forefront.
That will be the case this weekend when, for the first time in Beth Shalom Conservative Congregation's 23-year history, two women will read from the Torah during Shabbat services.
Prior to this, the only time females had read from the Torah at Beth Shalom was during bat mitzvahs, rituals that mark the religious coming of age of a girl, said the congregation's Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen.
"To women like me, in my generation, it's really exciting," said Claudia Andorsky, president of Beth Shalom's Sisterhood, a 93-member women's group affiliated with the international Women's League for Conservative Judaism.
But with an evolution in the roles of women in Judaism, Jewish women have the opportunity to become more involved in the services, she said.
"I have a daughter I want to be able to look at me as a role model," Mrs. Andorsky said. "I didn't really have a role model."
Such changes in Judaism reflect similar changes in society, Rabbi Cohen said.
"The trend toward egalitarianism has certainly picked up speed as a result of the general women's movement," he said.
Traditionally, Jewish women have been prohibited from becoming rabbis and from becoming cantors, the synagogue officials who sing liturgical music and lead the congregation in prayer, he said.
Although Orthodox Jewish congregations do not ordain women rabbis, some Conservative and Reform congregations do, he said.
In 1972, Sally J. Preisand became the first woman rabbi in the United States, and there are now 300 women rabbis nationwide.
Beth Shalom, which serves 210 families, had its first women cantor four years ago.
"That would've been inconceivable 25 years ago," Rabbi Cohen said.
"The role of women in synagogues and synagogue politics is changing . . . Women are no longer relegated to putting out refreshments," he said.
This weekend's services will feature congregants Irene Griff and Rachel Humphrey reading from the Torah, at Beth Shalom Sisterhood's annual Shabbat services.
The Shabbat services take place at 8 p.m. tonight and 9:30 a.m. tomorrow at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center.
During tonight's service, guest speaker Nancy Silver Britcher, a social worker with the Jewish Family Services in Baltimore, also will discuss caring for aging parents.
In addition, Mrs. Andorsky tomorrow morning will discuss Deborah, a prophetess in the Book of Judges, who led Israel for a time and inspired a Biblical song, "Song of Deborah."