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July 2: Rachel Adler and the Feminist Transformation of Judaism

Lawrence Bush
July 1, 2016

Rachel Adler, professor of Modern Jewish Thought and Judaism and Gender at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles and a pioneering feminist theologian who stormed the bastion of male privilege within Judaism in the 1970s and ’80s, was born in Chicago on this date in 1943. Her 1971 Davka magazine article, “The Jew Who Wasn’t There: Halakha and the Jewish Woman,” was groundbreaking in challenging the exclusion of women from so many vital aspects of Jewish observance, and a steady stream of other articles proposed alternative egalitarian practices for marriage, mikveh, Talmudic study, prayer, and more. Her 1999 National Jewish Book Award for Jewish Thought for Engendering Judaism: An Inclusive Theology and Ethics, was the first given by the Jewish Book Council to a female theologian. Adler began developing her influential without major academic credentials or rabbinical ordination, but received her doctorate in 1997 (her dissertation was titled, “Justice and Peace Have Kissed: A Feminist Theology of Judaism”) and was ordained by the Reform movement in 2012.

“I am part of that community, and consequently I shape and am reshaped.” --Rachel Adler

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.