02 October 2022

A long tradition
in Judaism of
women rabbis
reaches a landmark

‘Holy Sparks’ … an in New York and Cincinnati celebrating 50 years of women a rabbis in the US

Patrick Comerford

Tradition has been less a barrier to ordaining women as rabbis than as priests or bishops. An innovative art exhibition in New York and Cincinnati earlier this year celebrated 50 years of women in the rabbinate in US. ‘Holy Sparks’ was organised by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and ‘The Braid.’

Rabbi Sally Priesand was ordained 50 years ago, on 3 June 1972, becoming the first woman rabbi in the US. She opened the way for generations and she set in motion the first steps toward inclusion, diversity, equity, and empowerment of new cohorts of leaders for the Jewish people over the half century that followed.

‘Holy Sparks’ told the story of almost 1,500 women rabbis who have transformed Jewish tradition, worship, spirituality, scholarship, education and pastoral care, from the pulpit to the college campus, from philanthropic foundations to communal organisations and agencies, from military to healthcare chaplaincy.

Regina Jonas (1902-1944), a portrait by Jared Wright of the first woman rabbi … she was murdered in Auschwitz on 12 October 1944

Regina Jonas,
first woman rabbi

Regina Jonas (1902-1944) was the first woman rabbi who was ordained in Germany in 1935. She served the Jewish community of Berlin and continued to help guide the Jewish community until her death in Auschwitz in 1944.

She was born in Berlin 120 years ago and was orphaned at a young age. She trained as a teacher and later enrolled at the Higher Institute for Jewish Studies.

She graduated as an ‘Academic Teacher of Religion’ and her thesis asked, ‘Can a Woman Be a Rabbi According to Halachic Sources?’ Her conclusion, based on Biblical, Talmudic, and rabbinical sources, was that she should be ordained.

At first, she was refused ordination because she was a woman. Rabbi Leo Baeck, the spiritual leader of German Jewry who had taught her, also refused because the ordination of a woman as a rabbi would have caused serious divisions within the Jewish community in Germany. But, on 27 December 1935, she was ordained by Rabbi Max Dienemann, head of the Liberal Rabbis’ Association, in Offenbach am Main.


Regina Jonas worked as a chaplain in Jewish social institutions while she tried to find a pulpit. Despite Nazi persecution, she continued her rabbinical work as well as teaching and holding services.

She was arrested by the Gestapo 80 years ago on 5 November 1942, and was deported to Theresienstadt in what is now the Czech Republic. There she continued her work as a rabbi, and Viktor Frankl, the psychotherapist, invited her to help build a crisis intervention service to help prevent suicide attempts. She met the trains at the station and helped people cope with shock and disorientation.

Regina Jonas was deported with other prisoners to Auschwitz in mid-October 1944, and she was murdered soon after at the age of 42. She was largely forgotten until her work was rediscovered in 1991 by Dr Katharina von Kellenbach, a German-born researcher and lecturer at Saint Mary’s College of Maryland.

‘Mem,’ a painting by Yona Verwer of the dome of the Neue Synagogue in Berlin in the ‘Holy Sparks’ exhibition and Rabbi Gesa Ederberg

Berlin’s first
pulpit rabbi

The New Synagogue on Oranienburger Strasse is one of the most eye-catching buildings in Berlin. And it is Berlin’s only Masorti synagogue. Gesa Ederberg became the first female pulpit rabbi in Berlin when she became the rabbi of the New Synagogue in 2007.

Gesa Ederberg’s appointment attracted attention not only because she is a woman and because her appointment was opposed by Berlin’s senior Orthodox rabbi, Yitzchak Ehrenberg, but because of her interesting background and life story.

She was born in Tübingen in 1968, and is married with three children. Born a Lutheran, she first visited Israel when she was 13 and slowly fell in love with Judaism. She studied physics, theology and Jewish studies in Tübingen, Bochum and Berlin and she converted to Judaism at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York in 1995.


After returning to Berlin, she taught Hebrew school and organised an alternative minyan at the Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue, slowly taking on leadership roles in the community that has been at the centre of Berlin’s liberal Jewish community for 150 years.

Gesa Ederberg then entered a rabbinical school in Jerusalem, and she was ordained a rabbi in Jerusalem in 2003. Her first appointment was as the rabbi at the Jewish Community in Weiden, Bavaria, and in February 2007 she became the rabbi at the Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue in Berlin.

She established a Conservative Jewish beit midrash in Berlin, and is also the executive vice president of Masorti Europe. Her status as the first woman rabbi to serve in Berlin since the Holocaust has helped her reinvigorate the Jewish community in Germany.

Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl is increasingly being heard as a Jewish voice of intellect and compassion in the US

A voice for compassion
and social justice

Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl is one of the most influential women rabbis in America, and is increasingly being heard as a Jewish voice of intellect and compassion in the US. She speaks out for diversity and social justice and against racism, she was the first Asian-American to be ordained as a rabbi, and the first Asian-American to be ordained as a hazzan or cantor.

Both Newsweek and the Daily Beast named her as one of the 50 ‘Most Influential Rabbis’ in America, she was recognised as one of the top five in The Forward’s list of American Jews who have had the most impact on the national scene, and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency listed her among the Jews who defined the previous decade.

She was born Angela Lee Warnick 50 years ago on 8 July 1972 in Seoul, South Korea, to a Jewish father and a Korean Buddhist mother, Sulja Yi Warnick, who is descended from King Taejo of Joseon.

Her father, Frederick David Warnick, was descended from Jews who moved to Canada and the US from Moinești in Bacău, Romania, and Zvenyhorodka or Zvenigorodka in central Ukraine. The Jewish community in Zvenyhorodka lasted for 200 years until it was decimated by the Nazis and finally destroyed by the Soviet Union.


Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl with women rabbis during a recent visit to Jerusalem

Angela Warnick moved at the age of five to the US with her family. They attended Temple Beth El in Tacoma, Washington, a synagogue her great-grandparents had helped to found a century earlier. But from a young age she experienced demeaning comments from fellow Jews, doubting her Judaism.

At Yale, she was one of the first female members of Skull and Bones, a secret society whose members have included former President George W Bush and former Secretary of State John Kerry.

She met her husband Jacob Buchdahl, a lawyer, at Yale, and then studied at Hebrew Union College. She was invested as a cantor in 1999 and was ordained as a rabbi in New York in 2001.

She moved to Central Synagogue in Manhattan in 2006 as the senior cantor, and she succeeded Peter Rubinstein as the Senior Rabbi in 2014. She is the first woman and the first Asian-American to hold the post in the long history of Central Synagogue, and one of only a few women serving as leaders of a major US synagogue.

President Barack Obama invited her to lead the prayers in the White House at a Hanukkah celebration. She opened the doors of Central Synagogue to hundreds of worshipers from the nearby Islamic Society of Mid-Manhattan when their mosque was destroyed in a fire in 2019, a gesture that became national news throughout the US.

She has been recognised for her innovations in liturgical transformation, her role in social justice work and her work for a more inclusive Jewish community. ‘Judaism has a message for the world that should be attractive to anyone, and we should be less closed, or tribal, in feeling like it is only ours,’ she said in an interview with Haaretz.

Rabbi Jackie Tabick, the first Irish-born female rabbi, was born in Dublin in 1948 and ordained in 1975

The first Irish-born
female rabbi

The Dublin Jewish Progressive Synagogue in Rathgar has been supported by Rabbi Julia Neuberger and other visiting women rabbis and rabbinical students. But the first Irish-born female rabbi is Jackie Tabick, who became Britain’s first female rabbi in 1975.

She was born Jacqueline Hazel Acker in Dublin in 1948. She studied at University College London, and completed her rabbinical training at the Leo Baeck College.

She became the assistant rabbi at West London Synagogue under Rabbi Hugo Gryn, and later became the rabbi of North West Surrey Synagogue and then of London’s West Central Liberal Synagogue in Bloomsbury. She had also played a leading role in interfaith initiatives.

She is married to Rabbi Larry Tabick since 1975, and their son, Rabbi Roni Tabick, is also a rabbi in London.


In the past half century, woman have been ordained rabbis in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Britain, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Syria and Ukraine.

‘In just 50 years, what was once unthinkable has become foundational’ says Dr Judith Rosenbaum of the Jewish Women’s Archive.

‘And the pioneering continues: more firsts will be achieved as the next generation of rabbis break new ground, building and changing communities around the world, and extending the inclusion that their presence as women in the rabbinate represents to other categories, such as race, sexuality, and disability.’

The Dublin Jewish Progressive Synagogue in Rathgar, dating from 1946, has been served by a number of women rabbis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This two-page feature was intended for the October 2022 edition of the ‘Church Review’ (Dublin and Glendalough)

Praying in Ordinary Time with USPG:
Sunday 2 October 2022

The Abbey of Saint Mary is a ruined Benedictine abbey in York and was once one of the most prosperous abbeys in Northern England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Sixteenth Sunday Trinity (Trinity XVI). Later this morning, I hope to attend the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford.

Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This morning, and throughout this week, I am continuing last week’s theme of reflecting each morning on a church, chapel, or place of worship in York, where I stayed in mid-September.

In my prayer diary this week I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a church, chapel or place of worship in York;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

York Abbey stood on an extensive site immediately outside the city walls, between Bootham and the River Ouse (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Luke 17: 5-10 (NRSVA):

5 The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ 6 The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you.

7 ‘Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”? 8 Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink”? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!”’

The abbey church was 110 metres (350 ft) long and consisted of a nave with aisles, north and south transepts with chapels, and a presbytery with aisles (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Saint Mary’s Abbey, York:

The Abbey of Saint Mary is a ruined Benedictine abbey in York and a scheduled monument. It was once one of the most prosperous abbeys in Northern England. Today, its remains lie in York Museum Gardens, on a steeply-sloping site to the west of York Minster.

The original church on the site was founded in 1055 and dedicated to Saint Olaf. After the Norman Conquest the church came into the possession of the magnate Alan Rufus who granted the lands to Abbot Stephen and a group of monks from Whitby.

The abbey church was refounded in 1088 when King William Rufus visited York and gave the monks additional lands. The following year he laid the foundation stone of the new Norman church and the site was rededicated to the Virgin Mary.

The monks moved to York from a site at Lastingham in the 1080s and are recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086. Following a dispute and riot in 1132, a party of reform-minded monks left to establish the Cistercian monastery at Fountains Abbey. The abbey was badly damaged by a great fire in 1137. The surviving ruins date from a rebuilding programme in 1271-1294.

The abbey stood on an extensive site immediately outside the city walls, between Bootham and the River Ouse. The walls were nearly three-quarters of a mile long, and a stretch of this wall still runs along Bootham and Marygate to the River Ouse.

The abbey church is aligned northeast-southwest, due to restrictions of the site. The original Norman church had an apsidal liturgical east end, and its side aisles ended in apses, although they were square on the exterior.

Rebuilding began in 1270, under the direction of Abbot Simon de Warwick, and was swiftly completed during a single 24-year building campaign, such was the financial strength of the abbey.

When it was completed, the abbey church was 110 metres (350 ft) long, consisted of a nave with aisles, north and south transepts with chapels in an east aisle, and a presbytery with aisles. To the east of the cloister and on the line of the transepts were a vestibule leading to the chapter house, the scriptorium and library. Beyond the church lay the kitchen, novices’ building and infirmary.

A 15th-century account records that the Abbey's library originally contained over 750 books. The abbot’s house, built of brick in 1483, survives as the King’s Manor because it became the seat of the Council of the North in 1539.

Saint Mary’s was the largest and richest Benedictine house in the north of England and one of the largest landholders in Yorkshire. It was worth over £2,000 a year (£1.5 million today) in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries at the Tudor Reformation. The Abbey surrendered £2,085 and 50 monks to the Crown on 26 November 1539. It was closed and subsequently substantially destroyed.

All that remains of the abbey today are the north and west walls, and a few other remnants, including the half-timbered Pilgrims’ Hospitium, the West Gate and the 14th-century timber-framed Abbot’s House, now called the King’s Manor.

A 13th-century gilt, Limoges enamel figurine depicting Christ, the Saint Mary’s Abbey Figurine, was discovered in the abbey in 1826. It is now on display in Yorkshire Museum.

The Yorkshire Museum stands in part of the abbey cloister. Parts of the east, south and west cloister walls were temporarily excavated in 1827-1829. Part of the richly carved chapter house vestibule (1298-1307) is incorporated into Tempest Anderson Hall lecture theatre (1911-1912).

The chapter house was excavated in 1912 by the curator of mediaeval archaeology, Walter Harvey-Brook and the York architect Edwin Ridsdale Tate. Further excavations in the abbey were carried out in 1952-1956.

Excavations in 2014 and 2015 discovered an apse in the south transept, large parts of the wall foundations, and numerous residual small finds dating from the Roman to Modern periods.

The Yorkshire Museum stands in part of the abbey cloister (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer (Sunday 2 October 2022, Trinity XVI):

The Collect:

O Lord, we beseech you mercifully to hear the prayers
of your people who call upon you;
and grant that they may both perceive and know
what things they ought to do,
and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Almighty God,
you have taught us through your Son
that love is the fulfilling of the law:
grant that we may love you with our whole heart
and our neighbours as ourselves;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Mission in a Crisis.’ This theme is introduced this morning by Father Rasika Abeysinghe, Priest in the Diocese of Kurunagala, Church of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), who writes:

‘The Diocese of Kurunagala is unique in its mission and context. Its founding mission was to work among farmers/plantation sector workers/labourers and to work with people of other religions.

‘We strive steadfastly to acknowledge this in all our work, both day-today work and reacting to major events. The current economic crisis we are living through has had a huge impact on us – nobody here has experienced an event like this before. The diocese is considering this impact as we plan our mission activities. Right now, our work is split between advocacy towards transformation on a national level and being grounded on a community level. We have extended our outreach work to reach the most vulnerable in the worst affected regions.

‘Emergency rations are being deployed from time to time. Good mental health and the protection of children are also key areas which we are working on, through seminars and small group visits. To do this, we partner with local Buddhist temples as this enables us to reach more people.’

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today (Trinity XVI) in these words:

Loving God,
Grant us patience in testing times.
May we trust in you,
that justice and peace will come to reign.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The half-timbered Pilgrims’ Hospitium in the grounds of York Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The 14th-century Abbot’s House at York Abbey is now the King’s Manor (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)