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The Trailblazing Legacy of Rabbi Sally Priesand

Jan 7, 2007 (All Things Considered)

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In the 1960s, a debate gripped the American Jewish community. The question: whether whether women could become rabbis. It wasn't until 1973 that the Reform movement ordained the first woman rabbi in the United States — Sally Priesand.

Rabbi Priesand retired this year after 25 years in the pulpit of Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls, N.J.

Reflecting back on her career as America's first woman rabbi, Priesand recalled that she was just 17 when she requested an application form from the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnatti, the Reform Movement's flagship seminary. This was the school's response:

Dear Miss Priesand,

We are pleased to learn of your interest in our college. Since you state in your letter that your interests lean specifically to the rabbinate, we would have to inform you candidly that we do not know what opportunities exist for women in the active rabbinate, since we have, as yet, not ordained any women.

Sincerely yours, Joseph Karasick, rabbi, assistant to the provost, Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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