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Amy Eilberg ordained as first female Conservative rabbi

May 12, 1985

Amy Eilberg's ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS)'s commencement ceremony on May 12, 1985, made her the first woman rabbi in the Conservative movement.

Although the Reform movement began ordaining women in 1972, Eilberg's ordination followed a long struggle within the Conservative movement. Eilberg had been enrolled at JTS as a student of Talmud when the school's faculty voted, on October 24, 1983, to admit women to the rabbinical program. Eilberg enrolled as a rabbinical student in the fall of 1984.

Eilberg's first rabbinic position was as a chaplain at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana. In the 21 years since her ordination, she has remained involved in issues of health care, becoming a national leader in the Jewish healing movement. She was a co-founder of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center, and directed the Center's Jewish Hospice Care program. Eilberg now teaches spiritual direction and conflict resolution and creates Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue programs in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.

Although she is not a pulpit rabbi, Eilberg has remained involved in some of the central concerns of the Conservative movement. In 1988, she contributed new rituals for women and couples grieving after miscarriage or abortion to an updated edition of the Conservative movement's rabbinic manual, Moreh Derekh. She has also written a ritual for women healing from sexual violence.

At a program held at the Jewish Theological Seminary in April, 2005, Eilberg noted that although JTS has ordained more than 150 women since 1985, female rabbis still face special challenges, including the competing demands of family and work.

Sources: New York Times, February 17, 1985; May 13, 1985; The Jewish Week, April 8, 2005; Beth S. Wenger, "The Politics of Women's Ordination: Jewish Law, Institutional Power and the Debate over Women in the Rabbinate," in Jack Wertheimer, ed., Tradition Renewed: A History of the Jewish Theological Seminary (New York, 1997), pp. 485-523; The Jewish Week, November 20, 1988; J.: The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California, January 17, 2003.

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Valerie Weiss I don't find this hopeful or progressive. A woman in a man's role and spouting a man's speech about men as creators and the ridiculous and childish and destrurctive notion of a male creator and of Eve being pulled out of Adam's ______. In the face of everything we know about our natural selves and world including the damage to women throughout history with such ideas.

The inability of women and men to protect themselves each other and their communities with this infintile premise starts from this destructive and false frame of reference in creation. It may be even more destructive that a woman preaches the message..

Though I feel a strong connection to the original families and heritage of my Jewish lineage, and while many of the tenants and holidays celebrtate and honor women and nature, the basic premise and hommage paid to a "God," does anything but.

We are broken from the start unless we go back and rewrite for an adult congregation and people the story of creation of and by all or many, in real and natural and adult terms.

Nor do I find quitting that unresolved battle between men and women and men and nature evidence of strength or resolve. The answer is not to walk the walk or talk the talk of men. It is to become fully evolved and empowered women and to express ourselves and the world in that distinct voice.

As long as religions work from a frame of reference of this childish and detrimental beleif of the male "God," and his son---- the rest is at best a bandaid and lip service. Not progressive.

Rabbi and co-founder of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center, Amy Eilberg. Eilberg was the first woman rabbi ordained by the Conservative Movement.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Amy Eilberg ordained as first female Conservative rabbi." (Viewed on March 24, 2023) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/may/12/1985/amy-eilberg>.


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