Barbara Penzner

by JWA Staff
Our work to expand the Encyclopedia is ongoing. We are providing this brief biography for Barbara Penzner until we are able to commission a full entry.

Rabbi Barbara Penzner

Rabbi Barbara Penzner was a moral force for her congregation, leading it in multiple actions to uphold human rights around the world and in the local community. Penzner attended Bryn Mawr College, where she majored in Russian Studies because of her interest in helping Soviet Jews. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1978 and earned a master’s degree in religion from Temple University in 1984. She was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1987 and became president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association in 1996. In 1995 she became the rabbi of Temple Hillel B’nai Torah in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, where she led the congregation in celebrating Human Rights Day and committing to social action. In 1996 her congregation became the first Jewish congregation to join the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. Penzner was also active in the Boston Jewish community through her work as a board member of the Mayyim Hayyim mikveh, a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, and co-chair of the Jewish Labor Committee. Her interest in the mikveh as feminist ritual forms the basis for her friendship with noted Jewish writer Anita Diamant. In 2005 she founded the Tikkun Olam Family Work Project, which brought families from the Boston area to Northern Maine to perform charity work. In 2009 she led 200 clergy in protesting the Hyatt hotel chain’s mass firing of housekeepers at its Boston-area hotels, and she worked to get supermarkets to sign pledges not to buy produce from farms with abusive working conditions. In 2011 T’ruah: A Rabbinic Call for Human Rights awarded her the Rabbinic Human Rights Hero award for her work supporting farm workers in Immokalee, Florida. In 2023 Penzner retired after serving as the rabbi of Temple Hillel B’nai Torah for 28 years. 


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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Barbara Penzner." (Viewed on April 15, 2024) <>.