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Women Rabbis

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on August 2, 2007 at 1:48:20 am




Ray Frank - The first woman rabbi?

Courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society



Historically, women did not fill leadership roles in the Jewish community.  Indeed, in Europe prior to the Enlightenment, women's role in Judaism was completely home-based and private.  Beginning in the early 19th century, during the period of the Enlightenment, this began to change both in America and in Europe.  Slowly but steadily, women began to attend synagogue, became educated Jews, and finally became Jewish educators.   At the same time, the discussion of the possibility of women rabbis began to take place on a communal level in the American Jewish community. 


The first woman rabbi, Sally Priesand, was ordained by the Reform Movement in 1973.  The Conservative movement began ordaining women in 1985.  Orthodox Judaism has yet to ordain women rabbis, but innovative leadership roles for women in Orthodox synagogues have been developing over the past decade. 


By examining the history of the ordination of women in the Reform and Conservative movements, and the expansion of leadership roles for women in Orthodox Judaism, we can learn a great deal about the philosophical underpinnings of each movement.  We can extrapolate from the example of female rabbinic leadership and gain enormous insight into these movements as a whole. 


As we begin this investigation, think about the following questions:


  • What role has the rabbi historically played in American Judaism?  What role does the rabbi play now?  Does this role differ from movement to movement?
  • What unique factors in the American Jewish community influenced the view of the rabbi and thus the view of having women rabbis?
  • What does it mean philosophically, halachically and practically for each movement to make a decision to ordain women?



I. Precursors


    A.  Influence of American Protestantism

    B.  Women's education

    C.  Beginning of concept of women's equality


II.  Early women religious leaders


    A.  Ray Frank

          On-line exhibit


           The American Jewess


II.  The Reform Movement


III.  The Conservative Movement


IV.  Modern Orthodoxy



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