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Sally Priesand: First American Female Rabbi

Rabbi Sally Priesand: First American Female Rabbi Ordained 50 Years Ago This Month

50 years ago this month, the first American female rabbi was ordained.

She was only the second female rabbi to be ordained ever (the first being Regina Jonas, who later died in the Holocaust)

“There would always come a time where some person would come up to me and tell me why women shouldn’t be rabbis,” says Priesand. “And I would say, ‘Thank you for sharing your opinion.’ And I would walk away.”

Priesand didn’t necessarily intend to become a trailblazer. “I became a rabbi because I wanted to be a rabbi,” she said, and discovered along the way that “when you’re the first of something, there are extra responsibilities that come along with that.”

Unlike some other Abrahamic religions, there is nothing in Jewish law prohibiting women from becoming rabbis–only historical custom. Yet, Priesand was rejected by several temples because of her gender, eventually finding a position at Monmouth Reform Temple in New Jersey, which she held until her retirement in 2006. 

Priesand was deeply involved in justice and peace throughout her career and remains so today. She’s a member of Women of Reform Judaism, Jewish Women International, National Council of Jewish Women, served on the board of Central Conference of American Rabbis and the union for Reform Judiasm, president of Rabbinic Alumni Association, Interfaith Neighbors (a local community organization, which serves to provide rental assistance and other social support services for the local poor), serves on the membership committee of Center for Holocaust, Human Rights, and Genocide Education at a local college, and supports the Jewish Heritage Museum in her area, and works closely with Planned Parenthood.