This Week in History


Rabbi Sally J. Priesand blesses U.S. Congress

October 23, 1973
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Sally Priesand.

On October 23, 1973, Rabbi Sally J. Priesand offered the opening prayer in the United States House of Representatives, at the invitation of Congresswoman Bella Abzug. According to Abzug, Priesand was not only the first Jewish woman, but the first woman to be accorded this honor. October 23, 1973 also turned out to be the day on which the first resolution to impeach President Richard Nixon was offered.

Priesand became the first woman to be ordained by a rabbinical seminary in June 1972. Although she was the first American woman rabbi, Priesand was not the first woman to study toward that goal. She was preceded as a student at Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Institute of Religion by other women including Martha Neumark, Helen Levinthal Lyons, Toby Fink, and Norma Kirschner.

In 1973, Priesand was serving as assistant rabbi at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City. Priesand became rabbi of the Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls, New Jersey in 1981, serving that congregation for twenty-five years until her retirement in 2006.

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

See also: This Week in History for June 3, 1972 "First American woman rabbi"; Rabbis in the United States; A Reluctant Pioneer, Celebrating the first lights of woman rabbis, and Top 10 moments for Jewish women in 2010 on Jewesses with Attitude.

Sources: Sally Priesand, letter to JWA (2004). Bella Abzug, "Bella on Bella," Moment Magazine, February 1976; Pamela S. Nadell, Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination 1889-1985 (Boston, 1998), pp. 118-169; Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution,; "Preserve the Shards of the Shattered Glass Ceiling," Forward, July 7, 2006,

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Rabbi Sally J. Priesand blesses U.S. Congress." (Viewed on April 24, 2014) <>.