Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Charmed by the First Black Woman Rabbi

Though I find Reform Judaism to be massively deluded about Torah and Jewish faith, it also has its good points. For example, I’m charmed and cheered by the news that the first female African-American rabbi will receive ordination from the Reform Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. As the Jerusalem Post reports, Alysa Stanton is a psychotherapist, adoptive mother of a 14-year-old daughter, and a convert to Reform Judaism. Her big day is June 6. After that, she’ll be taking a job at the pulpit of a Conservative temple in Greenville, NC. 

Why am I charmed and cheered, despite doubts about the ordination of women rabbis in general? 
An Orthodox rabbi I know makes the profound point that Judaism is in a shattered condition. No Jewish movement or thought stream has it all together, reflecting the full truth and grandeur of Torah. But each has something unique of value to contribute that the others don’t. That goes for the liberal Reform and Conservative movements, too. Of course, different streams may have far more, or quite a bit less, to contribute. This is not about spiritual equivalence or interchangeability.


As I described somewhat controversially in my first book, I grew up in a Reform temple. I remember the admirable sense of decorum that prevailed — a quality you don’t always find in Orthodox synagogues. I would add that arguably this new milestone, the ordination of Alysa Stanton, gives evidence of another virtue of Reform Judaism. She reminds us that Judaism isn’t a race, it’s not an ethnicity, it’s not a tribe. Judaism is an idea, intended to be shared with the world. Some Orthodox Jews loose sight of that elementary fact.
The Jewish idea was initially given to a particular extended family linked by blood. But no sooner did the Israelites leave Egypt on their way to receive the Torah than they began to attract converts — first, in the person of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law.
Admittedly, Reform Judaism gets the idea wrong much of the time. But let’s give partial credit at least.
Click through the JPost link above to the picture of Alysa Stanton. There’s something very warm and nurturing, yet also strong, about the look of this woman. Mazal tov to her.
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posted May 18, 2009 at 10:37 pm

Is your mazal tov sincere? 😉

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David Klinghoffer

posted May 18, 2009 at 10:53 pm

Leora — of course!

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posted May 19, 2009 at 12:14 am

A (black) Swaziland prince, Natan Gamedze, converted to Judaism and is now an Orthodox rabbi in Israel.
Hundreds of Ugandans recently converted to Judaism under Conservative auspices. I think they would’ve converted Orthodox, but had trouble meeting Orthodox standards.
I also remember reading that a Japanese American converted to Orthodox Judaism and is now a rabbi.
In any event, Y-Love is a African-American who converted to Orthodox Judaism, joined a Chassidic group, and is now a well-known rapper, the first to rap in Aramaic (in addition to other languages)!

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posted May 19, 2009 at 9:08 pm

The Lubavitchers did it first:)
The orthodox are color is not an issue..race is an artificial construct… and the Shluchim Office would like to join with all other shluchim in wishing a hearty Mazal Tov to Rabbi Enan, Gitty Francis and their two children, who have BH newly joined the ranks of the Rebbe’s Shluchim. Brought down by Rabbi Shea Hecht, they will be taking on the position of Principal at the Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy of Orange CT

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