This Week in History


Amy Eilberg ordained as first female Conservative rabbi

May 12, 1985
Eilberg, Amy - still image [media]
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The first woman ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Amy Eilberg has continued to highlight the value of "gender difference," encouraging the Conservative movement to recognize and promote the unique needs and contributions of women rabbis.

Institution: Lila Corwin Berman

Amy Eilberg's ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS)'s commencement ceremony on May 12, 1985, made her the first woman rabbi in the Conservative movement.

Although the Reform movement began ordaining women in 1972, Eilberg's ordination followed a long struggle within the Conservative movement. Eilberg had been enrolled at JTS as a student of Talmud when the school's faculty voted, on October 24, 1983, to admit women to the rabbinical program. Eilberg enrolled as a rabbinical student in the fall of 1984.

Eilberg's first rabbinic position was as a chaplain at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana. In the 21 years since her ordination, she has remained involved in issues of health care, becoming a national leader in the Jewish healing movement. She was a co-founder of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center, and directed the Center's Jewish Hospice Care program. Eilberg now teaches spiritual direction and conflict resolution and creates Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue programs in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.

Although she is not a pulpit rabbi, Eilberg has remained involved in some of the central concerns of the Conservative movement. In 1988, she contributed new rituals for women and couples grieving after miscarriage or abortion to an updated edition of the Conservative movement's rabbinic manual, Moreh Derekh. She has also written a ritual for women healing from sexual violence.

At a program held at the Jewish Theological Seminary in April, 2005, Eilberg noted that although JTS has ordained more than 150 women since 1985, female rabbis still face special challenges, including the competing demands of family and work.

To learn more about Amy Eilberg, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia and Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution.

See also: This Week in History for October 24, 1983, "JTS Faculty Senate Votes to Admit Women"; Conservative Judaism in the United States.

Sources: New York Times, February 17, 1985; May 13, 1985; The Jewish Week, April 8, 2005; Beth S. Wenger, "The Politics of Women's Ordination: Jewish Law, Institutional Power and the Debate over Women in the Rabbinate," in Jack Wertheimer, ed., Tradition Renewed: A History of the Jewish Theological Seminary (New York, 1997), pp. 485-523; The Jewish Week, November 20, 1988; J.: The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California, January 17, 2003; Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution,

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