Live from the Lilith Blog

April 16, 2007 by

Rabbis, Rabbis Everywhere!

Rabbis have been in the news a lot lately–and we’re happy to share with you the thoughts of two preeminent Jewish feminist thinkers on recent issues regarding the rabbinate.

Ordaining Gay Men and Women–And You Can Thank Jewish Feminists
First, we would be severely remiss if we didn’t point out Rabbi Judith Hauptman’s amazing article, Ordaining Gay Men and Women, which featured in The Forward last week. Rabbi Hauptman brilliantly points out the vital connection between the gains and changes made by Jewish feminism and the recent decision by the Conservative movement that its seminaries may ordain gay and lesbian rabbis. (By the way, for a lot more on the nuances of gender, sexuality, ordination and plain old Jewish life, stay tuned for our spring issue!)

The Fantasy Rabbinate, Revised
When Lilith’s e-newletter (for which you can sign up here) sent a link to Newsweek’s recent story on the Top Fifty Rabbis in America, hundreds of you clicked through to read the in-depth analysis provided by three men who are extremely knowledgable about the Jewish community, using a complicated algorithm. Or, um…something. Many of you shared your thoughts with us (including one letter that wanted to know why cantors have been so ignored throughout this discussion), and so we want to share one back with you. The following letter comes from Letty Cottin Pogrebin–author, feminist guru and a Lilith supporter from the get-go:

April 6, 2007

Letter to the Editor of Newsweek

In your April 2nd issue, Michael Lynton and his friends rated “The Top Fifty Rabbis in America” according to fame, media savvy, influence, and size of constituency. Though many of the “chosen” are superb rabbis, your list – not surprisingly, given those hyper-muscular criteria – contains 45 men and five women.

I’ve spent the last week soliciting nominations from Jewish friends around the country in order to compile a list of rabbis who satisfy a different set of criteria: spirituality wedded to activism, deeds of lovingkindness, and ability to communicate the meaning and beauty in Jewish life. Since we’re talking about rabbis, not bestsellers, their names are listed alphabetically not hierarchically. And since your list was in dire need of affirmative action, you’ll understand why my list contains 45 women and five men.

Sincerely,
Letty Cottin Pogrebin

THE “OTHER FIFTY” TOP RABBIS IN AMERICA

Judith Z. Abrams (Reform)
Founder, www.Maqom.com
Rebecca Alpert (Reconstructionist)
Assoc. Prof. Religion and Jewish Studies, Temple University; co-author, Lesbian Rabbis: The First Generation
Camille Shira Angel (Reform)
Congregation Sha’ar Zahav S.F’s gay & lesbian progressive Reform congregation; first lesbian rabbi hired at a mainstream synagogue. (Rodeph Shalom, NYC)
Phyllis Berman (Jewish Renewal)
Director of the Summer Program at Elat Chayyim retreat center; author; creator of ritual and life cycle celebrations
Leila Gal Berner (Reconstructionist)
Founding director, Center for Jewish Ethics; writer of “Song to Miriam” now widely sung in Havdalah ceremonies; historian; author
Sharon Brous (Conservative)
Founder, IKAR spiritual-social justice community in L.A
Angela Warnick Buchdahl (Reform)
Cantor (and rabbi), Central Synagogue, NY. First Asian-American ordained in North America. Board member, Multiracial Jewish Network
Nina Beth Cardin (Conservative)
Editor, Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility. Founding Associate Director, National Center for Jewish Healing; creator first liturgy for stillbirth and abortion.
Ayelet S. Cohen (Conservative)
Associate Rabbi, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, world’s largest synagogue serving the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered communities.
Dianne Cohler-Esses (Conservative)
Scholar-in-Residence, UJA-Federation, NY; co-director, UJA-Federation Task Force on the Jewish Woman
Mark Dratch (Orthodox)
Founder. Jsafe.com, domestic violence prevention education and activism
Amy Eilberg (Conservative)
First woman ordained as a Conservative rabbi. Co-Director, Yedidya Center for Jewish Spiritual Direction, St. Paul, Minnesota. Co-founder, Bay Area Jewish Healing Center.
Jacqueline Koch Ellenson (Reform)
Director, Rabbinic Women’s Network; chair, Haddassah Foundation
Sue Levi Elwell (Reform)
Author/editor, “The Open Door,” the CCAR haggadah; Founding director, American Jewish Congress Feminist Center, LA; Co-editor, Lesbian Rabbis: The First Generation
Helene Ferris (Reform)
Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Israel of Northern Westchester; first mid-life career female rabbi (ordained at 44); first woman to read from a Torah scroll at Jerusalem’s Western Wall
Tirza Firestone (Jewish Renewal Movement)
Congregation Nevei Kodesh, Boulder Colorado.; author; psychotherapist; kabbalist.
Nancy Flam (Reform)
Director, Institute for Jewish Spirituality; co-founder, Jewish Healing Center
Elyse Frishman (Reform)
Editor of Mishkan Tefillah, new Reform prayer book
Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer (Reconstructionist)
Pioneering teacher of interreligious studies to rabbinical students
Laura Geller (Reform)
Temple Emanuel, Beverly Hills; writer; teacher; feminist pioneer; third woman ordained in U.S.; first woman to be senior rabbi of a major metropolitan synagogue.
Shefa Gold (Reconstructionist)
Liturgical composer; teacher; Eitz Or, Seattle
Lynn Gottlieb (Jewish Renewal Movement)
Founder, Interfaith Inventions; founder, Bat Kol national Jewish feminist theater troupe; co-founder, Muslim-Jewish Peace Walk pilgrimages
Steve Greenberg (Orthodox)
Author, “Wrestling With God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition; featured in the 2001 film “Trembling Before God;” senior teaching fellow, CLAL
Jill Hammer (Conservative)
Director of Tel Shemesh website; co-founder of Kohenet: The Hebrew Priestess Institute; author, educator, poet, midrashist, ritualist.
Judith Hauptman (Conservative)
Talmud scholar; Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics, Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS); author “Rereading the Rabbis”
Margaret Holub (Reform)
Innovator of new ways to connect rural Jews to Judaism; one of the “Redwood Rabbis” who protested destruction of ancient trees in Northern California.
Jill Jacobs (Conservative)
Director of Education, Jewish Funds for Justice; one of The Forward newspaper’s 50 Most Influential Jews
Jen Krause (Reform)
Teacher, writer, workshop leader. Creator of “Backstage Pass,” interview series at NYC’s 92nd Street Y, and “Oy Latte” open dialogues; co-founder Lishmah.
Joy Levitt (Reconstructionist)
Executive director, JCC in Manhattan; co-author, Reconstructionist haggadah, A Night of Questions
Ellen Lippman (Reform)
Founder, Congregation Kolot Chayeinu, Brooklyn, NY; chair, first rabbinic conference for Rabbis for Human Rights (2006); officiated at lesbian wedding NYC (2003)
Shira Milgrom (Reform)
Congregation Kol Ami, White Plains, NY; author; speaker; pioneered co-rabbi pulpit partnership; advocates passionate engagement with Jewish texts, rituals, and traditions.
Marcia Prager (Reconstructionist/Jewish Renewal)
P’nai Or Jewish Renewal Community, Mt. Airy, PA; dean, ALEPH:Alliance for Jewish Renewal’s seminary without walls
Sally Priesand (Reform)
First woman rabbi ordained in U.S.
(1972); served Monmouth Reform Temple, NJ

Jennie Rosenn (Reform)
Director, Nathan Cummings Foundation; former Assoc. Chaplain, Hillel, Columbia University; founding board, AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps
Joanna Samuels (Conservative)
Congregation Habonim, NYC
Amy Schwartzman (Reform)
Temple Rodeph Shalom, Falls Church, VA; only woman among 15 rabbis who met in 2003 with George W. Bush 2003; only rabbi there to raise issue of poverty with Bush
David Silber (Orthodox)
Founder and Dean, Drisha Institute for Jewish Education
Felicia Sol (Nondenominational)
Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, New York City; rabbinic partner to Rolando Matalon and Marcelo Bronstein.
Mychal Springer (Conservative)
Assoc. Dean and Director of Field Education of the Rabbinical School, JTS; former Assoc. Director, Jewish Institute for Pastoral Care, HealthCare Chaplaincy, Manhattan.
Devora Steinmetz (Nondenominational, unordained)
Asst. Professor, Talmud and Rabbinics, JTS
Burton L. Visotzky (Conservative)
Professor of Midrash, JTS, ethicist; author; collaborator on Bill Moyers 10-part PBS series, “Genesis: A Living Conversation;” pioneer in Jewish/Christian/Muslim dialogue.
Margaret Moers Wenig (Reform)
Her Siddur Nashim was first to use feminine imagery and God language in prayer book; gay rights pioneer; outreach between Jews and Latinos; pastoral care for people with AIDS.
Sheila Peltz Weinberg (Reconstructionist)
Institute for Jewish Spirituality; melds meditation and social action in Jewish life
Shohama Wiener (pluralist)
First woman to head a rabbinical seminary; President Emerita, The Academy for Jewish Religion, Riverdale, NYC
Melissa Weintraub (Conservative)
Rabbis for Human Rights, author, first report on torture and Jewish law
Simkha Weintraub (Conservative)
Rabbinic director, National Center for Jewish Healing
Zari Weiss
Eitz Or: Seattle’s Jewish Renewal Community; Rabbinic Cabinet, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom
Nancy Wiener (Reform)
Clinical director of the Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Center for Pastoral Counseling, HUC
Elaine Zecher (Reform)
Temple Israel, Boston. First female rabbi in the Temple’s 130 year history; organized coalition supporting cutting-edge health care legislation in Massachusetts.
Devorah Zlochower (Orthodox, nonordained)
Rosh Beit Midrash, Head of Drisha Institute for Jewish Education; teaches Talmud and Halacha in the Scholars Circle.

(By the way, several of these women were recently featured in a Lilith article titled “Ordained! Women Rabbis Speak Their Minds”–check it out and see what these rabbis have to say about what it took for them to get where they are.)


  • Alyssa

    I am so proud that Rabbi Helene Ferris was my rabbi for 12 of my 21 years! We were all saddened by her retirement, but fortunately she still comes around every once in a while.

  • http://none rabbi theo b. faith semel

    i am a Jewish renewalist…meaning my studies of our Jewish heritage leads me to this wonderful place and how one, being Jewish lived, breathed, practiced our often misunderstood rituals, prayers, rules… that really our lives simple connection to this rehem and the other realms probably of the human to the spirit/torah world, but, learning about my Jewish past, all the ‘pieces of my story came to fit the puzzle. i wish to begin a breathing/mediation, discuss group in the lynchburg area in a few weeks, please write to
    zenandnow@mindspring.com. shalom..