40 Years of Female Rabbis



by Rabbi Elizabeth Wood

When I was applying to Rabbinical school, right out of college, I remember having the following fears: maybe I’m too young, maybe I don’t have enough experience, maybe I’m not what they’re looking for. But never once did I say to myself: Maybe I won’t get in because I am a female.

As a young female rabbi, I am fortunate. I never grew up in a time or place where the option of being a female rabbi felt like it might present significant challenges for me. Those who came before me fought those battles and have been successful. Today, there are 611 ordained female rabbis who have benefited from this – who work, contribute, and thrive in the Jewish professional world.

Sometimes, when people say to me, “I didn’t know women could be rabbis.” I remind them that not only have women been rabbis for quite a while, but that it’s been so long that female rabbis have already begun to retire. It has been 40 years since Sally Priesand was ordained. As a friend and a mentor to me, I am honored to know Sally and to get to hear her story so that I never forget what moments were paved before my path began.

At last week’s CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis) convention in Boston, I was invited to write a reflection on being a younger female rabbinic colleague and my thoughts on 40 years of women in the rabbinate. Here is what I wrote:

History is such an important foundation when looking to the future. It’s roots anchor our current sensibilities, help mold and shape our identity and gives us direction and guidance for the future.

But we never know what the future will truly ever hold for us – will I be successful, brave and sure-footed like those strong women who came before me? Will I doubt, question, or waiver? What challenges will my generation be faced with and will I rise to the occassion in a worthwhile and meaningful way?

I am young. I am newly ordained. I am a rabbi. I am a woman. I am the future but the past is my responsibility, as well. So I make this promise to the pioneers who came before me: I promise to be confident, to persevere, to lead on into the future with strength and integrity.

This is your legacy… and mine

Rabbi Elizabeth Wood is the Associate Rabbi Educator at The Reform Temple of Forest Hills in Forest Hills, NY.

Originally published on Sects and the City.

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One Response to “40 Years of Female Rabbis”

  1. Larry Kaufman

    I think our Movement is totally comfortable now with women rabbis — but women cantors, not so much. Not really a matter of sexism, just an expectation that cantorial music is meant to be sung by tenors or baritones.

    I suspect that women rabbis do a better job than their male counterparts in carving out time for their families, and (maybe this is a sexist statement on my part but is not meant as one) and I have never known a woman rabbi who lacked pastoral skills, while I have known some male rabbis for whom pastoral work was a struggle.

    Hopefully the day will come, bim’hera u’v'yameinu (speedily and in our time), when we won’t even pay attention to counting our clergy by gender.

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