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June 3: Rabbi Sally

Lawrence Bush
June 3, 2010

Sally PresisandThe first woman rabbi in America, Sally Priesand, 25, was ordained by the Reform movement on this date in 1972. She wrote her rabbinical thesis on women’s roles within Judaism and pushed the Reform movement to hire faculty at its seminary and bring women onto the boards of its various organizational arms. Some thousand women have followed Priesand into the rabbinate (the Conservative movement postponed the ordination of women until 1985; the Reconstructionists accepted women from the opening of their seminary in 1968; Orthodoxy still excludes women; the movement for Humanistic Judaism has ordained seven women). In 2009, Alysa Stanton became the first African-American woman rabbi in the U.S. (where there are an estimated 132,000 African-American Jews, possibly more). They were all preceded, however, by Regina Jonas (1902-1944), who was ordained in Germany and had her life ended in Auschwitz.
“I never thought much about being a pioneer, nor was it my intention to champion the rights of women. I just wanted to be a rabbi.” —Sally Priesand

​​​​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.

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