Women Rabbis in America
August 16, 2012 by Ann Harmon
The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.
The first female rabbi in America, Sally Priesand, was ordained forty years ago. She was also the first female rabbi in Reform Judaism, the first to be ordained by a theological seminary, and only the second known female rabbi in the world. The first, Regina Jonas, was ordained by another rabbi privately in Germany in 1935, and was murdered in the Holocaust shortly thereafter. But Priesand, who had dreamed of being a rabbi since the age of sixteen, not only achieved her goal but went on to also become a photographer and author. In honor of her and the hundreds of other women who have become rabbis since, I have made this timeline to illustrate the accomplishments of women rabbis in America.
* 1972: Sally Priesand became the first female rabbi in Reform Judaism.
* 1974: Sandy Eisenberg Sasso became the first female rabbi in Reconstructionist Judaism.
* 1976: Sandy Eisenberg Sasso became the first rabbi to be a mother when her son David was born in 1976.
* 1978: Bonnie Koppell became the first female rabbi to serve in the U.S. military.
* 1981: Helene Ferris became the first second-career female rabbi.
* 1981: Lynn Gottlieb became the first female rabbi in Jewish Renewal.
* 1985: Amy Eilberg became the first female rabbi in Conservative Judaism.
* 1985: Deborah Brin became the first openly lesbian rabbi.
* 1986: Rabbi Julie Schwartz became the first female Naval chaplain in the U.S.
* 1987: Joy Levitt became the first female president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.
* 1988: Stacy Offner became the first openly lesbian rabbi hired by a mainstream Jewish congregation (Shir Tikvah in Minneapolis).
* 1989: Einat Ramon, ordained in New York, became the first female native-Israeli rabbi.
* 1992: Rabbi Karen Soria became the first female rabbi to serve in the U.S. Marines, which she did from 1992 until 1996.
* 1993: Rebecca Dubowe became the first Deaf woman to be ordained as a rabbi in the United States.
* 1993: Chana Timoner became the first female rabbi to hold an active duty assignment as a chaplain in the U.S. Army.
* 1994: Rabbi Laura Geller became the first woman to lead a major metropolitan congregation, specifically Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills.
* 1997: Chava Koster, born in the Netherlands and ordained in the United States, became the first female rabbi from the Netherlands.
* 1999: Tamara Kolton became the very first rabbi of either sex in Humanistic Judaism.
* 2000: Helga Newmark, born in Germany, became the first female Holocaust survivor ordained as a rabbi. She was ordained in America.
* 2001: Angela Warnick Buchdahl, born in South Korea, became the first Korean-American rabbi.
* 2002: Rabbi Pamela Frydman became the first female president of OHALAH ( [American] Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal.)
* 2003: Rabbi Janet Marder was named the first female president of the Reform Movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) on March 26, 2003, making her the first woman to lead a major rabbinical organization and the first woman to lead any major Jewish co-ed religious organization in the United States.
* 2003: Sarah Schechter became the first female rabbi in the U.S. Air Force.
* 2006: Chaya Gusfield and Rabbi Lori Klein, both ordained in America, became the first openly lesbian rabbis ordained by the Jewish Renewal movement.
* 2008: Rabbi Julie Schonfeld was named the new executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, becoming the first female rabbi to serve in the chief executive position of an American rabbinical association.
* 2009: Alysa Stanton, born in Cleveland and ordained by a Reform Jewish seminary in Cincinnati, became the world’s first black female rabbi.
* 2011: Rachel Isaacs became the first openly lesbian rabbi ordained by the Conservative Jewish movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary.
* 2012: Ilana Mills was ordained, thus making her, Jordana Chernow-Reader, and Mari Chernow the first three female siblings in America to become rabbis.