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Rabbis

Deborah Waxman

In 2014, Rabbi Deborah Waxman became the first woman (and first lesbian) to simultaneously lead both a seminary and a congregational organization as head of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Jewish Reconstructionist Communities.

Jane Evans

Although she never became a rabbi, Jane Evans, Executive Director of the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, became a powerful voice for women’s ordination within the Reform Movement.

Angela Buchdahl

Angela Buchdahl made history as the first Asian-American rabbi and cantor, but it has been her skill with congregants that has fueled her rise to senior rabbi at a prestigious Manhattan synagogue.

Julie Schonfeld

In 2009, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld became the first female leader of an American rabbinical organization, serving as executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly.

Joseph Dov Soloveitchik

As the rosh yeshiva (religious head) of Yeshiva University from 1941–1985 and chief legal decisor for Modern Orthodox Jews in America, Joseph Dov Soloveitchik shaped Jewish practice and public opinion through the era of second-wave feminism.

Excerpts from the writings of Regina Jonas

The words of Regina Jonas continue to resonate with today’s rabbis. This past summer, at the dedication of a memorial plaque to Regina Jonas at Terezin by the United States Commision for the Preservation of American Heritage Abroad, the first four American women rabbis honored their foremother Regina Jonas by reading the passages from her writings excerpted below.    

Commemorating Rabbi Regina Jonas

This October marks the 70th anniversary of the death of Regina Jonas, the first woman ever ordained as a rabbi. Born in Berlin in 1902, Jonas began talking to friends about her desire to become a rabbi when she was still a teen, and later studied under Eduard Banath, who oversaw ordination for the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, a liberal, nondenominational seminary in Berlin. But when Banath died in 1930, Jonas struggled to find another rabbi willing to ordain her. She argued brilliantly for the possibility of women becoming rabbis and eventually won over Rabbi Max Dienemann, executive director of the Conference of Liberal Rabbis, in 1935.

Mordecai Kaplan

The founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, Mordecai Kaplan struck a fundamental blow for women’s participation in Jewish ritual with the bat mitzvah of his eldest daughter, Judith.

Building a Memory

In Terezin, the US Commission for the Preservation of American Heritage Abroad sponsored the dedication of a plaque as a memorial. A day before traveling to Terezin, we saw Regina's papers, a small pile that must have been all that survived of a much larger collection. We stared at a photograph of her, the sole image that remained. In the formal portrait, she wore a rabbinic robe and her young face was dignified and serious. I yearned for photographs of her teaching, laughing, and loving, images of a full life. But there were none.

Honoring the Real First Woman Rabbi

For nearly thirty years I have had the good fortune to carry the title “first woman rabbi ordained in the Conservative Movement.” I have carried the designation with pride, at the same time knowing that I was a relative newcomer to the world of “first women rabbis.” After all, Rabbi Sally Priesand (the first woman Reform rabbi, ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972) and Rabbi Sandy Sasso (the first woman Reconstructionist rabbi, ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1974) had preceded me by many years. Only this week did I come to know my forbear, Rabbi Regina Jonas, the first woman ever ordained a rabbi.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Rabbis." (Viewed on September 3, 2015) <http://jwa.org/topics/rabbis>.

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