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CBTBI Rabbi Schoenfeld Celebrates as Her Sister Also Becomes a Rabbi

This past June, Rabbi Rachel Dvash Schoenfeld of Cong. B’nai Tikvah-Beth Israel (CBTBI) celebrated a significant milestone: The rabbinical ordination of her sister, Rabbi Dr. Devorah Schoenfeld. With the latter Schoenfeld’s new title, the women have the rare distinction of both being ordained as rabbis, as well as rabbis in different denominations.

For both Rabbis Rachel and Devorah, joining the rabbinate was a dream from their youth. “I wanted to be a rabbi from when I was little,” said Rabbi Rachel. “We were brought up in an observant feminist household. I grew up knowing that Judaism was important, and that being a rabbi was an option.” She graduated from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2005, served as a rabbi in Boston for 14 years. In January of this year, she moved with her family to South Jersey to serve as the rabbi for B’nai Tikvah-Beth Israel (CBTBI) in Sewell. “One of the things that drew me to CBTBI was its diversity. Jewish pluralism has always been very important to me, and this synagogue makes me feel at home,” she said.

In Rabbi Devorah’s words, her road to ordination was more “circuitous” than her sister’s. “I’ve wanted to be a rabbi for a long, long time,” she said. “I was one of the Orthodox women trying to be ordained more than 20 years ago,” but almost no Orthodox organizations at that time were willing to ordain women. After learning and teaching in Israel for over 10 years, she put her rabbinic aspirations on hold and earned a PhD. in Comparative Religion. She is now a tenured theology professor at Chicago’s Loyola University, teaching Judaism to primarily non-Jews.

When Yeshivat Maharat, which offered ordination to Orthodox women, opened in 2009, said Rabbi Devorah, “I was tempted to quit my job and go.” Instead, she opted to wait until she was invited to join the inaugural class of Maharat’s Executive Ordination track. On June 13, after a two-year journey, Devorah finally received the title of “Rabbi.” “It feels like the fulfillment of a lifelong dream,” she said. “Although I plan on still teaching at Loyola, it’s still going to make an important difference in how I see my work. A lot of men who do the kind of work I do, are known as ‘Rabbi Dr.’ It’s an appropriate title for what I do. Now I feel I can represent and speak from the community, instead of speaking about the community.”

Both women’s rabbinical paths are reflective of the family’s inherent love of and inclusive approach to Judaism. “I was at Devorah’s ordination and was very proud,” said Rabbi Rachel. “I’ve given a d’var Torah about it and spoken to my congregation about it. Hopefully in the future I’d love to bring her to my shul. Who knows? The time for dialogue around the Jewish spectrum is now. My family has always done it, but now my sister can do it with titles in front of her name.”

Rabbi Devorah shares her sentiment. “I feel like I have more of a voice in the Jewish community than I ever had before, and am able to find a place for myself in the community that supports the work I do.”

August 08, 2019By REA BOCHNER
Voice Staff

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