WOMAN of ACTION – Sally Jan Preisand

A Celebration of Women

is pleased to share this Tribute with the Women of our World for another pioneer in WOMANHOOD. This WOMAN of ACTION devotes her Life to the Faith in God, and to helping others….SALLY is famous for the fact of becoming the FIRST AMERICAN RABBI.


Sally Jan Priesand

June 3, 1972

Sally Jan Priesand was ordained the first woman rabbi in the US. She became assistant rabbi at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, New York City, Aug 1, 1972.

The daughter of Irving Theodore and Rose Elizabeth (Welch) Priesand, she was born on June 27, 1946, in Cleveland, Ohio. As a teenager at Beth Israel-West Temple, a Reform congregation on Cleveland’s West Side, she began to display an intense commitment to Judaism and Jewish life. Deeply spiritual and affected by the vision of Reform Judaism epitomized in its camps and youth groups in the early 1960s, she set her sights on becoming a rabbi long before an emerging women’s liberation movement raised anew the call for women’s access to traditionally male professions.


Priesand was ordained in June, 1972, by the Reform Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio.

In perpetuating and expanding the modernizing tradition of the Reform movement, Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk performed her ordination, making her the first woman to be ordained in the United States and believed to be only the second woman ever to be formally ordained in the millennia-long history of Judaism.

Rabbi Gottschalk called the ordination of Priesand “historic“, one that breaks stereotypes and allows “Jewish women to consider seeking the rabbinate” and a testament to Reform Judaism’s efforts at achieving “equality of women in the congregation of the Lord”.

Priesand wept when Gottschalk spoke with her

as she was handed her ordination certificate.


Rabbinical career

Upon ordination, Preisand accepted a position at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City where she served for seven years, first as Assistant Rabbi and then as Associate Rabbi.

From 1979-1981, she was Rabbi of Temple Beth El in Elizabeth, New Jersey and also served as Chaplain at Manhattan’s Lenox Hill Hospital.

In 1981, she became spiritual leader of Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls, New Jersey where she served until her retirement in June, 2006. She is now the rabbi emerita of the same synagogue.

During her rabbinate, Monmouth Reform Temple was a leader in the fight against drunk driving, launched a nationally recognized gun safety campaign (Please ASK), created a permanent Fund for the Homeless to support the work of Interfaith Neighbors, sponsored an annual food drive for The Center in Asbury Park,

continued to host an annual Monmouth County arts festival, and instituted an annual “Mitzvah Day” of charitable volunteerism.

Priesand has leadership roles in the Jewish Federation of Greater Monmouth County, Planned Parenthood of Central New Jersey, the Center for Holocaust Studies at Brookdale Community College, the Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County,

and she is president of the board of directors for Interfaith Neighbors Inc.

Priesand served on the Executive Board of both the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Union for Reform Judaism.

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She also served on the Board of Governors of HUC-JIR and as President of the Rabbinic Alumni Association.

Currently, she is editor of the CCAR Newsletter.

In 2007, she invited her female rabbinic colleagues of all denominations to join her in donating their professional and personal papers to the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, Ohio, in order to document the history of women in the rabbinate.

Photo by Jill Huber

On April 23, 2009 she received the prestigious Elizabeth Blackwell Award.

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell (1821–1910) was the first woman in America to receive the Doctor of Medicine degree, and the Elizabeth Blackwell Award is given by Hobart and William Smith Colleges (Geneva, New York) to a woman whose life exemplifies outstanding service to humanity.

Rabbi Sally is also a Lover of Animals…..


Other Women Rabbis

The First Female Rabbi Worldwide in modern times was Regina Jonas, who was ordained privately in 1935 in Berlin.

Regina Jonas

Several women, including Paula Ackerman, served Jewish communities in the United States in a rabbinical capacity before Priesand, but were never formally ordained. Amy Eilberg was the first woman ordained by the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary of America, in 1985.


A Celebration of Women

honors SALLY in making yet another

breakthrough for Women exemplifying

Charity, Faith and Strength.

Brava, Rabbi Sally!

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