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The Sisterhood, the Forward’s women’s issues blog, has twice called atten­tion to the chronic under­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women on Newsweek’s annual “50 Most Influential Rabbis” list. Compiled by Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton and his friend Gary Ginsberg, this year’s Newsweek list had only six women on it — and most of them were on the bottom half of the rankings.

The results got us thinking about all the female rabbis whose influ­ence cannot neces­sarily be measured by their national/international profile, their media pres­ence or the size of their constituen­cies — some of the criteria on which Newsweek bases its rank­ings — but who, nonethe­less, are playing impor­tant roles in shaping the Jewish story.

So we decided to select 50 of the most influ­en­tial women rabbis in America, plus five in Israel, for this inau­gural Sisterhood 50 list. These women span gener­a­tions and the denom­i­na­tional spec­trum; they are pulpit rabbis, teachers, acad­e­mics, pastoral care­givers and orga­ni­za­tional leaders. All of them have made it their life’s work to put Jewish values into action — and, as a result, are changing lives in and beyond their commu­ni­ties. This alpha­bet­ical list contains a lot of “firsts,” which is evidence of just how much ground there’s been to break in recent years.

While The Sisterhood 50 has on it only three Orthodox women, many more hold key reli­gious lead­er­ship roles in their commu­ni­ties — even if they lack a path to the Orthodox rabbinate because of their gender.

Nominations came in from Forward and Lilith editors, Sisterhood contrib­u­tors, promi­nent rabbis and others. When we sought recom­men­da­tions from Letty Cottin Pogrebin, an author and a founding editor of Ms. maga­zine, she shared with me the female-centric list of “top rabbis” that she created back in 2007, after the first Newsweek list was published. Forward readers also submitted nomi­na­tions in response to this Sisterhood blog entry and a related post on the Forward’s Facebook page. A special thanks goes to Forward web producer Nadja Spiegelman, who contributed research and reporting to this feature.

In addi­tion, the Forward invites you to tell us, on this commenting page, about other influ­en­tial female rabbis, and the impact they are having.

Melissa Weintraub (Conservative)

Weintraub is the co-founder and co-executive director of Encounter, which aims to foster conver­sa­tion and healing between Jews and Palestinians, and among Jews from across the polit­ical spec­trum. She is a noted speaker and teacher, and has published arti­cles on torture, human rights and self-defense in Jewish law. 

Visit the Forward for the full list (including 5 Encounter alumnae).

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