Ray Frank preaches on Rosh Hashanah!
On September 14, 1890, Ray Frank became the first Jewish woman to preach formally from a synagogue pulpit in the United States.
Frank worked as a correspondent for several Californian newspapers, and this work brought her to Spokane, Washington, on the eve of the High Holy Days. Frank was shocked to find that no synagogue services were scheduled, since many affluent Jews lived in the area.
A prominent member of the community who knew of Frank's reputation for Jewish learning offered to arrange Rosh Hashanah services if Frank would give a sermon. Frank agreed, and word of the event spread; Jews and Christians alike came to hear her speak, filling the city's opera house.
Frank's sermon entreated her audience to overcome the differences between Reform and Orthodox ritual that had divided Spokane's Jewish community and to form a permanent congregation. Frank so impressed her audience that they invited her to remain through the High Holidays, and she delivered a sermon on the eve of Yom Kippur as well.
After these sermons, Frank was much in demand as a speaker throughout the 1890s across the country. The press speculated about Frank's rabbinic aspirations, and many headlines referred to her, incorrectly, as the first woman rabbi (America's first female rabbi was not ordained until 1972). Although Frank expressed no interest in becoming a rabbi, her actions forced American Jewry for the first time to consider seriously the possibility of women rabbis.
To learn more about Ray Frank, visit Women of Valor and Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
Go & Learn: Primary Documents and Lesson Plans, Ray Frank's Yom Kippur Sermon, 1890; "Ray Frank: Lady Preacher of the West" and "Lessons from 'A Lay Sermon by a Young Lady,'" Jewesses with Attitude; Discover High Holy Days: New Words for a New Year; Ray Frank poster; Ray Frank's papers in the Virtual Archive.