The Maiden in the Temple
Ray Frank, 1861 - 1948
In the fall of 1890, Frank's newspaper work took her to the Northwest to visit a number of the region's booming new towns. During this tour, an event occurred that transformed Frank into the Jewish community's first "lady preacher."
Arriving in Spokane, Washington (then known as Spokane Falls), on the eve of the High Holy Days, Frank was shocked to find that, despite the presence of many affluent Jews, the town had no synagogue. Apparently the community's Orthodox and Reform elements were so divided that they were unwilling to join together for services. When Frank expressed her dismay, a prominent member of the community—knowing her by reputation—offered to arrange for Rosh Hashanah services if she would give a sermon. Frank readily agreed.
At five o'clock that afternoon, a special edition of the Spokane Falls Gazette announced that "a young lady" would preach to Spokane's Jews that evening at the Opera House. Intrigued, the townspeople—Christians as well as Jews—flocked to the theater. Frank did not herself conduct the service; a woman preaching from the pulpit on the High Holidays was extraordinary enough in the late nineteenth century. But the impassioned sermon she delivered after the service made a deep impression on the audience. Speaking on "The Obligations of a Jew as Jew and Citizen," she entreated her listeners—for their own sake and that of their children—to overcome the differences between Reform and Orthodox ritual and to form a permanent congregation. A Christian man in the audience was so deeply inspired by Frank's words that, at the conclusion of the service, he offered to donate land for the construction of a synagogue.
Frank so impressed Spokane's Jews that they invited her to remain throughout the High Holidays. In the sermon she delivered on the eve of Yom Kippur, she elaborated on her earlier theme. "Drop all dissension about whether you should take off your hats during the service and other unimportant ceremonials," she implored her listeners, "and join hands in one glorious cause."
- Heading is from "The Maiden in the Temple," San Francisco Examiner, November 13, 1892.
- The phrase "lady preacher" is from "Jewesses of To-Day: Ray Fran, the Jewish Lady Preacher," Israel: The Jewish Magazine, April 1899: 23.
- Quote beginning "Drop all dissension..." is from "A Lay Sermon by a Young Lady," The American Hebrew, October 1890, 183.
- The story of Frank's first sermon can be found in several places. See especially Simon Litman, Ray Frank Litman: A Memoir (New York: American Jewish Historical Society, 1957); Reva Clar and William M. Kramer, "The Girl Rabbi of the Golden West: The Adventurous Life of Ray Frank in Nevada, California and the Northwest," Part I, Western States Jewish History, 28, no. 2 (1986): 99-111; and "Jewesses of To-Day: Ray Fran, the Jewish Lady Preacher," Israel: The Jewish Magazine, April 1899: 23.