The Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women

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Elyse Goldstein

b. 1955

by Michael Brown, updated by JWA Staff

Photo of Rabbi Elyse Goldstein courtesy of Rabbi Goldstein.

In Brief

Rabbi Elyse Goldstein was one of the first women rabbis in Canada. Throughout her career, she has broken down barriers by founding inclusive communities for learning and prayer. As a student, she served at Beth Or, a synagogue for the deaf in the New York City area, and she remains committed to Jewish education for the deaf. After her ordination in 1983, she served as a rabbi for two different congregations. Starting in 1991, Goldstein headed Kolel: The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning in Toronto. Goldstein also has an impressive list of publications and awards, including the Canadian National Jewish Book Award. She serves as the rabbi of the inclusive City Shul in Toronto, which she founded.

Family, Education, and Early Career

Rabbi Elyse Goldstein was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to Abraham (1918–1997) and Terry (Gallant, 1922-2014), both natives of the Bronx. Abraham was a purchasing agent and Terry the director of a youth organization. Goldstein had one sister, Marsha (1950-1995). In 1983, she married Baruch Browns-Sienna (b. 1956), a Jewish educator and computer software producer, and they have three sons: Noam Ezra (b. 1989), Carmi Shalom (b. 1991), and Micah Benjamin (b. 1994).

Goldstein was educated at Brandeis University (B.A. summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1978) and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (M.H.L. followed by ordination in 1983). In 2008, she received an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the Hebrew Union College. As a student, she served at Beth Or, a synagogue for the deaf in the New York City area, and she remains committed to Jewish education for the deaf. Her first rabbinic positions were as assistant rabbi at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto and rabbi of Temple Beth David in Canton, Massachusetts. She is one of many Canadian Jewish professionals born and/or trained in the United States. In the somewhat more conservative Canadian Jewish community, where synagogue egalitarianism has developed much more slowly than in the United States, she has been a path breaker.

Teaching, Writing, and Lecturing

Starting in 1991, Goldstein headed Kolel: The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning in Toronto, an institute in the tradition of the inter-war Lehrhaus in Germany, offering Jewish studies to adults in classes, lectures, retreats, and in-depth seminars. It is the first such institution under liberal Jewish auspices in Canada and one of only a handful in North America. Housed in its own building and serving an increasing number of singles and unaffiliated Jews as well as established members of the community, Kolel has become a significant and singular presence on the Jewish educational scene of Toronto.

In addition to her work at Kolel, Rabbi Goldstein lectures on campuses and to Jewish and Christian groups across North America and in Great Britain and appears frequently on radio and television. Her articles have appeared in Sh’ma, Lilith, Grail, The Journal of Canadian Women’s Studies, The Journal of Reform Judaism, and other periodicals. Her first book, ReVisions: Seeing Torah she-bi-khetav: Lit. "the written Torah." The Bible; the Pentateuch; Tanakh (the Pentateuch, Prophets and Hagiographia)Torah Through a Feminist Lens (Toronto and Woodstock, VT, 1998), won the Canadian National Jewish Book Award in 1998; her 2000 Women’s Torah Commentary, which wove together insights from dozens of women scholars, has left an indelible mark on Jewish thought; and her book New Jewish Feminism: Probing the Past, Forging the Future was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award in 2008.

Service Work

Goldstein served on the Canadian national board of Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger and on the Editorial Advisory Board of the Canadian Jewish News. She was the first woman to be elected president of the interdenominational Toronto Board of Rabbis and the past chair of the Reform Rabbis of Greater Toronto. In 1996, the YWCA of Metropolitan Toronto presented her with the Woman of Distinction Award for excellence in the field of education. As of 2022, Goldstein served as an Advisory Board member for Access Education, an organization working to build schools in Guatemala, as well as a volunteer rabbi for Adat Israel, a Reform Jewish community in Guatemala City.

Goldstein stepped down from her responsibilities with Kolel in 2011 to found and serve as rabbi of the inclusive City Shul in Toronto.

Selected Works by Elyse Goldstein

“Jewish Feminism and the ‘new’ Jewish Rituals.” Canadian Woman Studies 16, no. 4 (1996): 50.
 
New Jewish Feminism: Probing the Past, Forging the Future. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Pub, 2009.

ReVisions: Seeing Torah through a Feminist Lens. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Pub, 1998.
 
Seek Her out: A Textual Approach to the Study of Women and Judaism. New York: UAHC Press, 2003.

The Women’s Torah Commentary: New Insights from Women Rabbis on the 54 Weekly Torah Portions. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2008.

Bibliography

“Adat Israel Guatemala - Rabbi,” accessed 3 March 2022, https://www.adat-israel.com/rabbi.

“Advisory Board – Access Education,” accessed 3 March 2022,
https://www.accesseducation.ca/advisory-board/.

“Rabbi - The City Shul Congregation,” accessed 3 March 2022,
https://www.cityshul.com/rabbi.html.

“Rabbi Elyse Goldstein,” July 15, 2011,
https://web.archive.org/web/20110715123558/http://www.prossermanjcc.com….

Elyse Goldstein, “Lives Lived: Terry Yvette Goldstein, 91,” The Globe and Mail, August 7, 2014,
https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/lives-lived-te….

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How to cite this page

Brown, Michael and JWA Staff. "Elyse Goldstein." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 31 December 1999. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 27, 2022) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/goldstein-elyse>.