Judith Kates

b. 1941

Judith Kates is a Professor of Jewish Women’s Studies at Hebrew College, Newton, Massachusetts. She attended the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and received a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature. Judith is one of the core faculty members of the trans-denominational rabbinical school at Hebrew College and teaches in programs of adult learning in the Jewish community. She is co-editor (with Gail Twersky Reimer) of Reading Ruth: Contemporary Women Reclaim a Sacred Story (1994) and Beginning Anew: A Woman’s Companion to the High Holy Days (1997). In 1998, Dr. Kates received the Keter Torah Award for outstanding educators from the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Boston.

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Judith describes her childhood and being treated differently due to her gender. As part of an Orthodox family, she could not have a bat mitzvah, even though she was more interested than her brothers. Eventually, her enthusiasm resulted in her being allowed to have a consecration ceremony. She also talks about her mother’s education and how it set a precedent for Judith to get a good education as well. Judith  attended Radcliffe College and then Harvard University for her PhD. She focused on women’s studies, which led her to become more involved in the women’s movement. Judith participated in a chapter of NOW (the National Organization of Women) and taught the first-ever course about Women Writers at Harvard. At the same time, she finished up her graduate work, despite many challenges. After Judith was married and had children, she was offered the gabbai position at her egalitarian synagogue, leading services for hundreds of people. Judith describes how women would stop her on the street to remark how inspiring she was to them, and this position helped Judith become more confident in her womanhood and Jewishness. Coming from an Orthodox background, a leadership role in a synagogue was impactful for her. She concludes the interview by discussing the importance of feminism in her life and how she can see the changes that feminism is invoking in American Judaism.  

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How to cite this page

Oral History of Judith Kates. Interviewed by Judith Rosenbaum. 20 October 2005. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 21, 2024) <http://jwa.org/oralhistories/kates-judith>.

Oral History of Judith Kates 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.