Skip to content

First African-American Female Rabbi Ordained

June 9, 2009

rabbi_190Another glass ceiling has been broken — this time, by a woman named Alysa Stanton. On Saturday, Stanton was ordained as a rabbi, becoming the first African-American female rabbi in the world.

Raised Pentacostal, Stanton converted to Judaism over twenty years ago. She was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, and in August, she will assume leadership of Congregation Bayt Shalom in Greenville, North Carolina. Of her conversion, Stanton says:

Most people convert because they’re marrying or dating someone who is Jewish or for another reason other than just picking that spiritual path….I did so because it was the path for me. Not only from a religious standpoint, but from an ethical and social and communal standpoint, it was important to me.

Judaism is not perceived to be a racially diverse faith. In reality, the Institute for Jewish and Community Research estimates that at least 20% of the American Jewish community is comprised of people of color. Stanton’s ordination is representative of this positive trend in the Jewish community, as women and ethnic minorities are gaining more prominence in organized Judaism. As Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, explained:

What’s important here is not that this is the first black woman rabbi but rather that it’s a symbol of great change in the American Jewish community, which is becoming much more diverse because of things like conversions, intermarriage and adoption.

Stanton is not the only rabbi of color to make news recently — in April, the New York Times ran an article about Rabbi Capers C. Funnye Jr. In additon to being the chief rabbi of Chicago’s Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation, Funnye also happens to be Michelle Obama’s first cousin, once removed. But the news about Stanton makes me particularly excited, from a feminist perspective. Her statement that she chose Judaism “because it was the path for me” is greatly feminist in and of itself — Stanton has chosen her faith, for her own reasons, and not because of her partner or other societal pressures. And not only that, but she has risen to the highest position of leadership that anyone can achieve in that faith. Her journey is truly an inspiration.

On a more personal note: growing up in a somewhat insular Conservative Jewish community, I was not exposed to much cultural diversity during my formative years. The bulk of diversity to which I was exposed was found outside of that community. The fact that, even over the last decade, the Jewish community has really started to create space for people of all backgrounds makes me extremely happy. I am glad that future generations will grow up in a world where women of color are in positions of leadership in all different religions. Faith should never have a gender or a race, and no one is more representative of that than Rabbi Alysa Stanton.

Comments are closed.

  • Previous Series at GAB

  • TWITTER: What’s going on @GABblog

  • Top Posts

  • Recommended Reading

  • We participated in Blog for International Women’s Day 2010.

  • NetworkedBlogs

  • %d bloggers like this: