I decided I wanted to be a rabbi in 1962 at the age of 16. Fortunately, my parents gave me one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child: the courage to dare and to dream. With their encouragement, I was able to remain focused on my goal, relatively unconcerned that no woman had ever been ordained rabbi by a theological seminary and determined to succeed despite the doubts I heard expressed in the organized Jewish community.
While in high school, I requested admission information from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio. The letters I received in response reflect some uncertainty on the part of college officials as to whether or not there was a place for women in the rabbinate. Nonetheless, I was accepted into the undergraduate program, a joint program between HUC-JIR and the University of Cincinnati, and four years later officially welcomed into the rabbinic program.
The ordination of women was made possible by the commitment and foresight of Dr. Nelson Glueck, president of HUC-JIR at the time I arrived on campus. Unfortunately, he died the year before I was ordained, but I know his support played a major role in my being allowed to study for the rabbinate. His successor, Dr. Alfred Gottschalk, fulfilled the promise of equality by ordaining me on June 3, 1972, and since that time the College-Institute has welcomed into its rabbinic program both women and men who seek to serve God and the Jewish people.
When I decided to study for the rabbinate, I never thought much about being a pioneer, nor was it my intention to champion the rights of women. I just wanted to be a rabbi. Thus, I have spent my entire career in congregational life: first, at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City, then at Temple Beth El in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and since 1981, at Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls, New Jersey. My congregants and I have developed a creative partnership that reflects the traditional values of synagogue life – worship, study, assembly, and tikkun olam (repairing the world) – and my experiences as a rabbi have enriched my life in ways I never dreamed possible.
Sally J. Priesand, America’s first female rabbi, was ordained in Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 3, 1972, by Dr. Alfred Gottschalk, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). After serving as rabbi at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City and Temple Beth El in Elizabeth, New Jersey, she became spiritual leader of Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, a position she has held since 1981. Rabbi Priesand has served on the board of each of the major institutions of Reform Judaism: the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Union for Reform Judaism, and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. In 1997, the Women’s Rabbinic Network was instrumental in establishing at HUC-JIR the Rabbi Sally J. Priesand Visiting Professorship in Jewish Women’s Studies.
More on Sally Priesand
- Encyclopedia Article: Laura Geller
- Encyclopedia Article: Sally Jane Priesand
- This Week in History: Congregation appoints first woman to serve as senior rabbi
- This Week in History: Sally Priesand ordained as first American woman rabbi
- This Week in History: Reform rabbis debate women's ordination
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Sally Priesand." (Viewed on September 23, 2021) <https://jwa.org/feminism/priesand-sally>.