My initial passion for healing the world was kindled by the Holocaust and further enflamed when the civil rights movement of the 1960s taught me about America's hidden history of genocide and racism. Not until I entered the rabbinic path in 1972 did I realize that women bore an equally oppressive history, even within the Jewish community. I was surprised to learn that Jewish women did not enjoy the same privileges as Jewish men, and that our written words and public persona were barely present. I also soon discovered that, like members of other groups who experience prejudice, I was vulnerable to verbal and physical attack when I stepped outside conventional norms and expectations with a new vision and an active program for women's human rights.
Because history cast me into the role of one of the first ten women rabbis, I was invited to stand before hundreds of Jewish and Christian communities in order to explain why women should seek a change in their status. I came to realize that it is not enough to gain equal access to rabbinic seminaries, to be counted in a minyan (prayer quorum), or to read from the Torah. Rather, in order to fully redeem women from the limitations, violence, and despair associated with sexism, I dedicated myself to the transformation of ideas, practices, and narratives rooted in sexist notions of what it means to be a woman.
During the last 32 years of my rabbinic practice, I have come to understand more deeply the profound interconnectedness of all human rights struggles and the primary place of women within these struggles. We who seek liberation from the oppressive structures that deny us the same economic, educational, and spiritual opportunities as the privileged among us need each other. We need coalitions of broad diversity. We need the entire range of creativity and wisdom gained through the struggle for human rights throughout the world. We are not separate one from another.
By 1975, I was committed to the belief that active non-violence is the only viable spiritual foundation for meaningful social change. From the time I began working on Jewish-Palestinian reconciliation in 1966, I came to see that Jews are also tempted to ensure their security and safety by military strength. As a woman and a rabbi, I reject this solution. I believe that the highest rendering of our tradition teaches us that non-violent activism is the only way to achieve long-lasting security and peaceful coexistence with our neighbors. As a woman and a rabbi, I embrace the courage and wisdom of the nonviolence I learned as a young adult and continue to apply its lessons to the task of repairing the world and making a safe place for Jews, women, and all people to flourish in peace.
Lynn Gottlieb entered pulpit life at the age of 23 in 1973, as rabbi to Temple Beth Or of the Deaf in New York City. In 1981, she became the first woman ordained in the Jewish Renewal Movement. Gottlieb's creativity, peace and justice activism, feminism, and focus on spiritual meaning helped shape the Jewish Renewal Movement. In 1974, she founded a Jewish feminist theatre troupe called Bat Kol, which brought feminist midrash, ceremony, and storytelling to hundreds of communities throughout the United States, Europe, and Canada. In 1983, she moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she lived for 22 years, co-founding Congregation Nahalat Shalom. Gottlieb recently moved to Southern California to head a new organization called Interfaith Inventions. It is an extension of her work as co-founder of the Muslim-Jewish Peace Walk that created pilgrimages between synagogues and mosques and other supporting faith communities throughout the U.S. and Canada in the past few years. As part of her interfaith community efforts, she is currently working on issues that relate to the way globalization is impacting the lives of young women around the world.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Lynn Gottlieb." (Viewed on December 8, 2023) <https://jwa.org/feminism/gottlieb-lynn>.
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