Women Rabbis, 1993


In July 1992, Na’ama Kelman became the first woman rabbi ordained in Israel. Rabbi Kelman was ordained by the Reform Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem, twenty years after HUC-JIR in Cincinnati ordained Sally Priesand, the first woman rabbi. U.S.-born Kelman was raised in the American Conservative movement, (where her father, the late Rabbi Wolfe Kelman was Executive Vice President of its Rabbincal Assembly for nearly 40 years), but came to the Reform movement because in Israel the Conservative movement refused to ordain women as rabbis. Says Rabbi Kelman, “Women’s spiritual leadership is a blessing, not a threat. We continue to be blessed by twenty years that have brought forth hundreds of women who have enriched rabbinic leadership and leadership in the Jewish community worldwide.”


France has just one woman rabbi—Pauline Bebe. Rabbi Bebe studied for the rabbinate in England, because in France woman are not yet allowed to be ordained. The Chief Rabbi of France, unwilling to accept Bebe’s status as a rabbi, has refused to meet with her.


“May you be inscribed in the Book of Death,” the voice hollered into the synagogue answering machine, just days before Yom Kippur. Although the daily threatening phone calls to a rabbi at one of New York City’s largest congregations may sound like an anti-Semitic headline, many of these calls are in fact, made by Jews. In September, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum was installed as the first rabbi of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the Gay and Lesbian Synagogue of New York City. Congregation Beit Simchat Torah is the second oldest lesbian and gay synagogue and the largest in the world with over 1200 members.

The congregation, hit hard by AIDS, boasts a diverse membership, where religious affiliations range from Orthodox to secular humanist.

Rabbi Kleinbaum has received a tremendous amount of public attention — both positive and negative. Press headlines include: “Manhattan’s First Lesbian Rabbi,” “The Lavender Pulpit” and “Ha lesbit ha-aleza ha-rishona (the first lesbian rabbi).” She has appeared in publications as diverse as the New York Times, the Israeli Ha-Aretz and the gay/lesbian magazine NYQ.


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