Sharon Cohen Anisfeld
As dean of Hebrew College's Rabbinical School, Sharon Cohen Anisfeld has struck a rare balance between overseeing the seminary as a whole and connecting with each of her students on a personal level. Anisfeld was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1990 and served for many years as a Hillel rabbi at Tufts, Yale, and Harvard. While at Yale, she organized their first women’s Seder in 1993, an annual event which eventually led to her editing the two-volume Women’s Seder Sourcebook and Women’s Passover Companion in 2002. In 1993 she began teaching on the summer faculty for the Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel, eventually becoming director of alumni initiatives for the program. She organized a groundbreaking national conference for Jewish women in 1997, held at Yale. After serving briefly as adjunct faculty at Hebrew College, she became dean of students in 2005 and dean of the rabbinical school in 2006. Honored as one of Newsweek’s 50 most influential rabbis from 2011–2013, Anisfeld has been praised for encouraging her diverse students to pursue their own visions of the rabbinate and bring Torah to bear on contemporary issues of personal meaning and social justice.
This interview with Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld provides a comprehensive insight into her experiences and perspectives as a religious leader. The discussion begins with Rabbi Anisfeld reflecting on the establishment of an ethics policy and alumni association at the religious school where she serves. She emphasizes the collaborative nature of the school's development, highlighting the active engagement between students and faculty. Rabbi Anisfeld then discusses her favorite piece of text from the Book of Esther, explaining its significance and the personal impact it has had on her. She emphasizes the importance of the phrase "mi yodea" or "who knows," interpreting it as a call to action and a reminder of the necessity of hope in uncertain situations. The interview then shifts to a discussion about the evolving role of rabbis in contemporary society. Rabbi Anisfeld acknowledges that while the fundamental needs for spiritual guidance and support remain constant, the diversity and complexity within the Jewish community have increased. She illustrates this point with an anecdote about a family she counseled, each member of which had different spiritual needs and perspectives. Rabbi Anisfeld's reflections provide valuable insights into the challenges and rewards of religious leadership in a diverse and evolving community. Her experiences underscore the importance of adaptability, empathy, and a deep understanding of religious texts and traditions in her role as a rabbi.
How to cite this page
Oral History of Sharon Cohen Anisfeld. Interviewed by Ronda Spinak. 24 March 2014. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 28, 2023) <https://jwa.org/oralhistories/anisfeld-sharon>.
Oral History of Sharon Cohen Anisfeld by the Jewish Women's Archive is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://jwa.org/contact/OralHistory.