Women in the rabbinate

In 1972 Sally Priesand was ordained as the first female rabbi in America (second in the world). 

Today, all Jewish denominations aside from Orthodox Judaism now ordain women as rabbis and cantors. In fact, women comprise about half of the students at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.  

 “As women rabbis, we stand on the shoulders of such giants as Sally Priesand who went and did it first,” said Rabbi Hersh. 

Family has always been the focus of Judaism, and unlike Priesand, who chose not to marry or have children, many of today’s women clergy have embraced their role as a working mom.  

“Things have changed dramatically since Rabbi Priesand made the decision not to be married because she didn’t think it was possible to commit to a family and a congregation at the same time,” said Goldstein.

“Women don’t always have the same need that male rabbis have traditionally had of moving on to larger and larger congregations as a measure of their success.  Today many women rabbis are staying in long-term positions at their congregations,” said Goldstein. “The emphasis that women have placed on balancing their job and their families has inspired many of my male colleagues to do the same,” she said. “The men who were ordained with me spend much more time in the day-to-day lives of their children than male rabbis did decades earlier. I believe this change is a result of women entering and succeeding in all fields of the workforce.”