"And God created the man in God's image; in the image of
God, God created him; male and female, God created them; and God blessed them. (Genesis
1.27-28)" On October 18 we began, once again, our yearly cycle of Torah
study with the dawn of creation and the appearance of human beings upon the
This past July there was a remarkable gathering in Berlin. A
group of some 35 women rabbis traveled there to celebrate the life of Rabbi
Regina Jonas, on the 70th anniversary of her death, which we marked on Shabbat
Bereshit, this past October 18. Leading the gathering were: Rabbi Sally
Priesand, Rabbi Sandy Sasso, Rabbi Amy Eilberg, and Rabba Sara Hurwitz, the
"firsts" of the Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Orthodox
communities, in order of their ordination. Of course we all know Rabbi Sally
Priesand, and were proud and grateful to welcome her to Union Temple in March
of 2012 as the keynote speaker at my installation as President of the New York
Board of Rabbis. As you remember, I was the first woman to hold this position.
Rabbi Priesand was the first woman acknowledged as an ordained rabbi, and at my
installation, we also celebrated the 40th anniversary of her ordination. Rabbi
Priesand has been a wonderful rabbi and colleague, and has served as an
inspiring role model for just about a thousand women now, who have followed her
into the Rab-binate. But Rabbi Priesand was actually not the first woman in
history to reach this goal.
Regina Jonas was born in Berlin in 1902, and began talking to
her friends about becoming a rabbi when she was only in her teens. She went to
study with Rabbi Eduard Banath, who oversaw ordination for the Hochschule für
die Wissenschaft des Judentums, a liberal, nondenominational seminary in
Berlin. (A number of our most prominent rabbis in the Reform Movement were
rescued from the Hochschule by the Hebrew Union College as the clouds of war
began to gather in the 1930's.) When Rabbi Banath died in 1930, Regina searched
for an-other rabbi who would be willing to ordain her. But she was pounding on
a mighty wall in-deed, and even the great liberal Rabbi Dr. Leo Baeck would not
agree to help her break it down, fearing that it would be just too much at that
time, with all the Jewish community was facing. But Regina persisted, and
finally Rabbi Max Dienemann, Executive Director of the Conference of Liberal
Rabbis, agreed to ordain her. She went on to preach at the Neue Synagogue and
lectured to the Women's International Zionist Organization, and various local
sisterhoods in Berlin. She began functioning more and more in a rab-binic role,
and was gradually accepted as a spiritual leader in many circles within the
Jewish community. She was deported to Teresienstadt, where she continued to
preach and teach. Ultimately she met her death at Auschwitz, but she will not
be forgotten. Though Rabbi Sally Priesand was the first woman duly ordained by
the Hebrew Union College, with the full backing of the Reform Movement, Rabbi
Priesand, and all of us who are her colleagues, acknowledge with gratitude and
respect the courage and passion of Rabbi Regina Jonas.
This December, there will be the first ever-of-its-kind
cross-denominational gathering of women rabbis in the New York area, held at
the New York Board of Rabbis. We will dedicate this gathering to the memory of
Re-gina Jonas. Her love for the Jewish people knew no bounds. Zecher
tzaddikah liv'rachah - May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing.
-Rabbi Linda Henry Goodman
The Mi Shebeirach blessing has become a regular feature of our services. Mi Shebeirach means “The One who blessed.” It begins: Mi Shebeirach avoteinu, Avraham, Yitzhak, v’Ya’akov, v’imoteinu, Sarah, Rivka, Rahel, v’Leah... Hu y’vareich et… “May the One who blessed our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and our mothers, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, bestow Your blessing upon ... and so on.”
Though most often we have recited Mi Shebeirach for those who are ill, our liturgy actually provides different Mi Shebeirach texts for various occasions. There are blessings at an aufruf for a bride and groom; blessings for new parents and blessings for their babies; and indeed, blessings for each person who is given the honor of being called the Torah to recite the Torah blessing - the honor that we call an Aliyah (going up to the Torah). The Torah blessings are completed, and then the Mi Shebeirach is recited by the Rabbi or Cantor.
While earlier generations of Reform Jews preferred to excise all these “Mi Shebeirachs” from the service, often out of a general anxiety about needlessly elongating the liturgy, our own generation has shown a marked preference for putting them back in. There is a general sense that it is important to acknowledge and bless people in their lives: whether as a prayer for a restoration to health, or in the joy of a new baby, an impending marriage, or for the honor of being called to the Torah.
Our new siddur, MISHKAN T’FILAH, has inserted a Mi Shebeirach for an Aliyah, which essentially is the traditional text. Some of the members of our Religious Practices Committee found the traditional wording objectionable from a theological standpoint, so I took the liberty of rewriting the blessing. The translation of the text now reads:
May the One Who blessed our fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and our mothers, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, bless ________ (son)(daughter) of _________ who has ascended to the Torah, with good health, happiness, prosperity and peace; with wisdom and understanding, with the love of Torah and reverence for the Divine. And let us say Amen.
We have used this already at Shabbat Morning services, and it seems to be well received by those in attendance, and appreciated by those who have been called for an aliyah. Thus, the next time you happen to be at a morning service, you’ll hear this Mi Shebeirach in addition to the one for healing. We hope you will enjoy the addition of this blessing. Though it adds little more than a few seconds to the service, it holds considerable significance for those being blessed, and their families.
Blessings to all –
-Rabbi Linda Henry Goodman