First female cantor leads Rosh Hashanah services

September 15, 1955

Betty Robbins, the world's first female cantor, led Rosh Hashanah evening services at Temple Avodah of Oceanside, New York, on September 15, 1955. Her appointment as cantor marked the first time that a woman performed the traditional role of cantor in a synagogue anywhere in the world. It generated a tremendous amount of publicity, even making the front page of the New York Times. Robbins had been unanimously approved as the Reform congregation's cantor by its board of trustees the previous July, after the congregation found itself without a cantor for the High Holy Days.

Although Robbins did not have formal training as a cantor, she had spent her childhood in Poland singing with her synagogue's boys' choir, eventually becoming its soloist (once she adopted a boy's haircut to please the choir's director, who was reluctant to allow a girl to join). Robbins spent much of the rest of her career teaching religious school, and formed and directed several adult and children's choirs. In her retirement, she conducted religious services on many worldwide Jewish holiday cruises. Betty Robbins passed away in 2004.

To learn more about Betty Robbins, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

Cantors: American Jewish Women.

Source: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia pp. 1158-1159

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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

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "First female cantor leads Rosh Hashanah services." (Viewed on October 15, 2019) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/sep/15/1955/betty-robbins>.

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