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Betty Robbins

Betty Robbins spent her life breaking gender boundaries in the Jewish community even before she made history as the first woman cantor in 1955. Raised in Poland and inspired by cantorial recordings, Robbins finally persuaded the cantor of her synagogue to let her become a soloist in the boys’ choir if she cut her hair. She also successfully lobbied to join the boys’ heder. During the Nazi occupation, her family first went into hiding and then fled to Sydney, Australia, where Robbins married a US Army Air Corps corporal and immigrated to the US. When her synagogue in Oceanside, New York, Temple Avodah, found itself without a cantor for High Holidays in 1955, the board unanimously chose Robbins for the role. While there was worldwide controversy over the choice, a spokesperson for the School of Sacred Music of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (the cantorial school of the Reform movement) declared that there was no law against women serving as cantors, merely a long-held tradition. Robbins went on to teach religious school at another synagogue in Long Island and then served as both cantor and teacher at a third in Florida.

Cantor Betty Robbins
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Betty Robbins was born in Greece, immigrated with her family, first to Poland and then to Australia, and ultimately made her home in the United States. In 1955, she was appointed the cantor of New York's Temple Avodah— perhaps "the first woman cantor in five thousand years of Jewish history."

Institution: Sandra Robbins

Date of Birth
April 9, 1924
Place of Birth
Date of Death
February 19, 2004

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Betty Robbins." (Viewed on November 20, 2018) <>.


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