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Rabbis

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.

Amy Eilberg and Sally Priesand

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(From left to right): Amy Eilberg and Sally Priesand.

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(From left to right): Amy Eilberg and Sally Priesand.

Regina Jonas Plaque

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Memorial plaque for Regina Jonas.
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Memorial plaque for Regina Jonas.

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German Leaders Speak Out Against Anti-Semitism

Just days before leading German newspapers called for an end to hatred against Jews, our group heard from two German dignitaries who were deeply concerned about the new wave of anti-Semitism infusing protests against Israel’s operations in Gaza. Both MP Volker Beck and Sybilla Bendig of the Foreign Office were clearly shocked by slogans and chants they didn’t think possible in postwar Germany.

Volker Beck

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Volker Beck, MP and human rights activist.
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Volker Beck, MP and human rights activist.

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Regina Jonas Group with Sybilla Bendig

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The Regina Jonas group with Sybilla Bendig of the Foreign Office in Berlin, Germany.
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The Regina Jonas group with Sybilla Bendig of the Foreign Office in Berlin, Germany.

Rabbah Sara Hurwitz, Cropped

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Rabbah Sara Hurwitz.
Courtesy of The Forward
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Rabbah Sara Hurwitz.

Courtesy of The Forward

Connecting Across the Divide

The first of the historic events that marked our trip took place on the second evening at Berlin’s Centrum Judaicum. For the first time, the pioneering American women rabbis who were the first to be ordained by their denominations joined with their counterparts in Europe in a public forum to talk about their journeys to the rabbinate and experiences as rabbis. Or that was the plan.

Laura Geller

As one of the first women rabbis, Laura Geller pushed for women’s greater inclusion in both Jewish liturgy and Jewish leadership.

Visiting the Regina Jonas Archive at the Centrum Judaicum

Our trip officially began Tuesday morning with participants sharing key words or phrases that captured the ideas, feelings, or intentions with which they were embarking on the first day. Some focused on Regina Jonas—honoring her, standing on her shoulders. Others spoke more generally about women, noting their interest in the "place of women in different worlds," or "a passion for women." And they came to the day with varied emotions—anticipation, anxiety, optimism, seeking “internal reconciliation” and hoping to “find themselves” here.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Rabbis." (Viewed on May 5, 2016) <http://jwa.org/topics/rabbis>.

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