Praxis, as "the combination of theory and practice" or "a cycle of action-reflection-action," characterizes the work of Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig who, since ordination in 1984, has served simultaneously as a congregational rabbi and a teacher at HUC-JIR. Seminary teaching informs her rabbinate and her rabbinate informs her seminary teaching. She is both a teacher of liturgy and an innovative liturgist, both a challenging and widely published preacher and a teacher of preaching.
She was the subject of a profile in The New York Times "Experience Necessary," by Ralph Blumenthal, August 31, 2009. New York Jewish Week named Rabbi Wenig one of "45 for Tomorrow: A new generation of young Jewish leaders to take the New York Jewish Community into the 21st Century" for she is often among the pioneers in endeavors which the mainstream Jewish community subsequently undertakes.
Feminism and GLBT Issues
Wenig's 1975 Siddur Nashim (with Naomi Janowitz) was the first to use feminine imagery for God. Her 1990 sermon, "God is a Woman and She is Growing Older," has been published ten times (three times in German) and preached by rabbis from Australia to California.
Her 1985 resolution (written with Rabbi Margaret Holub) was a catalyst for the creation of the CCAR's "Task force on Homosexuality and the Rabbinate" whose report, adopted in 1990, endorsed the ordination of lesbian and gay rabbis. Her "Guidelines for Welcoming Lesbian and Gay Jews into the Synagogue" (developed for a UAHC regional Biennial) has been published and used in the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements. Her sermons "The Gay Community's Stake in Same Sex Marriage" and "The Jewish Community's Stake in Same Sex Marriage" were preached at a time when much of the lesbian and gay community opposed seeking civil marriage rights and the Jewish community had barely begun to discuss it. The resolution she wrote and, with Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and Russell Pearce, submitted to the Commission on Social Action (in 1995) led to the Reform movement's earliest endorsement of civil marriage for same sex couples. Her "Tribute to Alexander Schindler" and her contribution to the festschrift in his honor (see Publications, below) are the first published histories of the initially slow move by the Reform movement to embrace gay-rights and gay- Jews.
The school-wide seminars she organized at HUC-JIR, NY (in 2002 at the invitation of Dean Panken) and at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (in 2003) were the first in any rabbinical school to address psychological, legal and religious issues affecting people who are intersex or transsexual. For a day-long workshop at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in NY, she created (with Reuben Zellman) a "Transgender Museum" with multiple exhibits participants could view at their own pace. Her sermon that day, "How Do You Say 'Transsexual' in Hebrew?" explored the spiritual lessons she has learned from transsexuals.
Rabbi Wenig's coalition building between Jews and Latinos in Washington Heights won her congregation an Irving Fein award (1991). She has co-taught with Christian colleagues in congregations, for the US Navy, at Auburn Seminary and at the North American Academy of Liturgy. She is the only Jewish member of the Academy of Homiletics (since 1990). Following a illustrious line of America's most famous preachers, Rabbi Wenig has preached on "30 Good Minutes" a production of the long-running "Chicago Sunday Evening Club" aired on Chicago Public Television and cable T.V.'s Odyssey" channel. Her sermons have been included in Christian journals and numerous sermon-anthologies. In 2006/5766 (a year Ramadan and Rosh Hashanah coincided) she devoted all of her High Holiday sermons to exploring the historic rift between Islam and Judaism; and on Yom Kippur afternoon she and the members of Beth Am welcomed the responses of two Muslim leaders (the local City Councilman and the former Community Board Chair).
Wenig was among the first rabbis, outside of a gay-outreach congregation, to preach about AIDS (1985) and to provide pastoral care for people with AIDS. She was the first rabbi to teach (with the camp doctor, an epidemiologist) about AIDS and safe-sex in a UAHC camp (1987). Her congregation began raising money for people with AIDS through GMHC's very first AIDS WALK (1987). In 1988 Rabbi Wenig appeared on ABC's daytime soap opera "All My Children" with three Christian colleagues. They played themselves, as members of the Interfaith Pastoral Care Service of the AIDS Resource Center, of which Wenig was then the only Jewish member.
Her liturgy for families of the mentally ill (composed with Miriam Frank Ph.D.) was the first of its kind. Her arguments for truth-telling in eulogies (in Reform Judaism and The Reconstructionist, Spring '01) have changed the way many people think about funerals.
Teaching Liturgy and Homiletics
Rabbi Wenig has been as much a pioneer in her HUC-JIR teaching as in her rabbinate. Through their exposure to over 50 great sermons, Wenig endeavors to expand her students' notions of the possible goals and forms of sermons and to add a wide variety of rhetorical and exegetical techniques to their homiletical repertoires. She teaches them to "listen to the listeners" both in the preparation of their sermons and after they've given their sermons.
As a teacher of liturgy, Wenig opens her students' eyes to the forms and messages of the traditional machzor and to the ways in which Refom liturgy has adapted those forms and transformed the messages. With Dr. Mark Kligman, Wenig leads students in close analysis of texts and musical settings of them revealing wide ranging interpretations. All this so that her students may more deeply appreciate the machzorim and the music available to them, as well as gain the tools they need to experiment with ongoing liturgical change.
In her HUC classrooms she has learned the power of teaching and learning to change both student and teacher. The daily student evaluations of class she solicits from her rabbinical and cantorial students help her understand how and when learning actually happens and what often inhibits genuine learning from taking place.
From her rabbinate she has learned, and at HUC she tries to teach, the power of prayer and preaching to affect people's lives and to change the world for good. In the inter-relationship between her rabbinate and her seminary teaching, Rabbi Wenig has experienced the "experiential learning cycle" again and again. She tries hard to draw her students into that circle.
With Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and Dr. Robert Joel Rubenstein, Wenig raised two daughters, Liba and Molly, of whom she is very proud and for whom she is deeply grateful.
"A Jewish Reaction to Advent," in the National Bulletin on Liturgy, Vol. 29, Number 146, Fall 1996, editor J. Frank Henderson, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ontario, Canada
"Mizmor L'David" (originally "Psalm 23:Not for Funerals Only"), in Psalms in Community: Jewish and Christian Textual, Liturgical and Artistic Traditions, ed. by Harold W. Attridge and Margaret E. Fassler, SBL, 2003
"The Poetry and Power of Paradox (A Commentary on Unetane Tokef)" in CCAR Journal: A Reform Jewish Quarterly, Spring 2009
"Meditations on the Poetry of Un'taneh Tokef," in Who By Fire, Who By Water: Un'taneh Tokef, ed. by Lawrence A. Hoffman, Jewish Lights, Woodstock, VT, 2010
"All Vows? No! Then, Which Vows?" in All These Vows: Kol Nidrei, ed. by Lawrence A. Hoffman, Jewish Lights, Woodstock, VT, 2011
“Sin, Confession and…Forgiveness?” in We Have Sinned: Confession in Judaism – Ashamnu and Al Cheyt, ed. by Lawrence A. Hoffman, Jewish Lights, Woodstock, VT, 2012
“For I Pledge Tzedakah on His Behalf,” in Memory and Memorializing in Judaism: Yizkor, ed. by Lawrence A. Hoffman, Jewish Lights, Woodstock, VT, 2013
"Truth Telling and Meaning Making in Eulogies (sic): Not for clergy only," in The Reconsructionist, Spring 2001
"God is a Woman and She is Growing Older," Best Sermons 5, edited by James Cox, Harper Collins, 1992
"Their Lives A Page Plucked From A Holy Book" in Birthing the Sermon: Women Preachers on Creative Process, edited by Jana Childers, Chalice Press, 2001
Siddur Nashim: A Sabbath Prayer Book for Women, Translated and Supplemented with original and traditional material by Naomi Janowitz and Maggie Wenig, Providence, RI, 1976
"Sabbath Prayers for Women," in Womanspirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion, edited by Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow, Harper and Row, NY, 1979
"Truly Welcoming Lesbian and Gay Jews," (a history of the Reform movement’s slow embrace of gay Jews and a challenge to support marriage equality) in The Jewish Condition: Essays on Contemporary Judaism Honoring Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, edited by Aron Hirt-Manheimer, UAHC/NY, 1995
"The Jewish Community's Stake in the Legalization of Lesbian and Gay Marriage," and "The Gay Community's Stake in the Legalization of Lesbian and Gay Marriage," in Civil Marriage for Lesbians & Gay Men: Organizing in Communities of Faith, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. New York, 1996
"Oops! I Shouldn't Say This...Or Should I?," (a feminist reconsideration of leshon hara) Reform Judaism Magazine, Summer 2002, Vol. 3, No. 4. Reprinted in: Best Jewish Writing 2003, edited by Arthur Kurzweil, Jossey-Bass And, in a longer version, as: "Sacred Speech, Sacred Communities," in The Reconstructionist: A Journal of Contemporary Jewish Thought and Practice, Vol. 67, Number 1, Fall, 2002
"There's a Place for Us: Gays and Lesbians in the Jewish Community," with Sharon A. Kleinbaum, in the Life Lights series, ed. Rabbi Nancy Flam, Jewish Lights, Woodstock, VT., 2002
"Male and Female God Created Them" (a Jewish view of people who are transsexual, transgender and intersex) in Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible, ed. by Drinkwater, Lesser, and Shneer, NYU Press, 2009.
"Spiritual Lessons I Have Learned from Transsexuals" in Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community, ed. Noach Dzmura, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, 2010. (Note particular mention of Wenig's chapter in S. Bear Bergman's review of Balancing on the Mechitza, a Lambda Literary Award Finalist, posted on Lambda Literary's web site, on Feb., 15, 2011.)
"A Covenant Made With All of Us," (printed, without its title, as part of a Roundtable on "Women with Disabilities: A Challenge to Feminist Theology,) Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, volume 10 Number 2, Fall 1994 Reprinted in: Women In The Hebrew Bible, ed. by Alice Bach, Routledge, NY 1999, pp. 453-458
"When Madness Comes Home: a spiritual resource for families of the mentally ill," with Miriam Frank, in the Life Lights series, edited by Rabbi Nancy Flam, Jewish Lights, Woodstock, VT, 2002
"Bikkurim," in The Mishnah: A New Translation, by Jacob Neusner, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1988
"Bikkurim, Chapter One," in The Tosefta Translated from the Hebrew: First Division, Zeraim, The Order of Agriculture, edited by Richard Sarason and Jacob Neusner, KTAV, 1986
"A Commentary on Mishnah - Tosefta Bikkurim Chapters One and Two," in Approaches to Ancient Judaism Vol. III, edited by William Scott Green, Scholars Press, Chico, CA 1981