Margaret Moers Wenig - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Margaret Moers Wenig, Rabbi, D.D.

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Instructor in Liturgy and Homiletics

HUC-JIR/New York

Program/School: 
Rabbinical Program, New York; Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, New York; Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, New York
Academic Field: 
High Holiday Liturgy and Homiletics
Research Interests: 
High Holiday Liturgy; Homiletics; Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Praxis, as "the combination of theory and practice" or "a cycle of action-reflection-action," characterizes the work of Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig who has served as a congregational rabbi and a teacher at HUC-JIR. Seminary teaching informed her rabbinate and her rabbinate informed 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.

Wenig was the first Jew elected to the Presidency of the Academy of Homiletics, where, for 25 years, she was the only Jewish member. She was the subject of profiles in The New YorkTimes "Experience Necessary," by Ralph Blumenthal, August 31, 2009,  and in NY Jewish Week “Long on Vision: In her 10 years there, Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig has transformed congregation Beth Am in Washington Heights,” earlier, 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. (That work was the subject of a recent undergraduate thesis, “Blessed is She Who In the Beginning Gave Birth: An Intellectual History of the Brown University Women’s Minyan and the Student Pioneers of American Jewish Feminism,” by Sienna Lotenberg, for the History Department at Brown University.) 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 z”l) 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, then Rabbinic-Intern Reuben Zellman) a "Transgender Museum" with multiple exhibits participants could view at their own pace. As part of a panel, her sermon that day, "How Do You Say 'Transsexual' in Hebrew?" explored the spiritual lessons she has learned from transsexuals.

Bridge Building

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. Following an 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).

Pastoral Care

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 dozens of 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. First with Dr. Mark Kligman and subsequently with Hazzan Henry Rosenblum, Wenig leads students in close analysis of texts and musical settings of those texts 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-JIR 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-JIR 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.

Outside of the Jewish Community

For four years, Wenig volunteered weekly for Literacy Partners as an adult literacy teacher, on the Lower East Side and in Harlem, and, since 2011, has volunteered in a first-grade class of a Brooklyn public school that primarily serves children from the Farragut Houses across the street. In an entirely different vein, she worked for five summers at the Marlboro Music Festival, in Marlboro, VT, dedicated to chamber music.

 

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.

 

Selected Publications and Edited Works

On liturgy:

A response to “The Changing American Religious Landscape: Implications for Ritual,” by Prof. Wade Clark Roof, Proceedings of The North American Academy of Liturgy, Annual Meeting, Charleston, SC, 2-5, January, 1994

“A Jewish Reaction to Advent," in the National Bulletin on Liturgy, Vol. 29, Number 146, Fall 1996, Edited by J. Frank Henderson, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ontario, Canada;

Reprinted in:

The Living Pulpit (October/December 1997, Vol. 6 No. 4).

"Mizmor L’David” (originally “Psalm 23: Not for Funerals Only”), in Psalms in Community: Jewish and Christian Textual, Liturgical and Artistic Traditions, Edited by Harold W. Attridge and Margot E. Fassler, SBL, 2003

“Feeling Like A Bowling Pin,” in I am the Lord Who Heals You: Reflections on Healing, Wholeness and Restoration, ed. by G. Scott Morris, MD, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2004

“The Poetry and Power of Paradox,” (a commentary on Un’taneh Tokef) in the CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly, Spring, 2009

Reprinted in Machzor Challenge and Change: Resource Pack for Individual and Group Study, ed. by Hara E. Person and Sara Newman, CCAR Press, 2010

“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: Sin, and Confession in Judaism: Ashamnu and Al Chet, ed. by Lawrence A. Hoffman, Jewish Lights, Woodstock, VT, 2012

“Baavur Shani Noder Tzedakah Baado” in the CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly, Summer 2013

Reprinted in a briefer version as “For I Pledge Tz’dakah on Her Behalf,” in May God Remember: Memory and Memorializing in Judaism: Yizkor, ed. Lawrence A. Hoffman, Jewish Lights, Woodstock, VT, 2013

Reprinted in full in Machzor Challenge and Change, Volume 2: Preparing for the New Machzor and for the High Holidays, CCAR, NY, 2014

“Four Yoga Poses for the Mind: Wrapping our Minds Around it All,” (about the four “Little Zichronot”), in All the World: Universalism and Particularism in Judaism, ed. Lawrence A. Hoffman, Jewish Lights, Woodstock, VT, 2014

“We Guess; We Clothe Thee, Unseen King,” in Naming God: Avinu Malkeinu, Our Father, Our King, ed. Lawrence A. Hoffman, Jewish Lights, Woodstock, VT, 2015

“How the Bible Became the Prayer Book: Not Threats of Punishment but Rabbinic Promises of Forgiveness,” in Encountering God: El Rachum V’chanun, God Merciful and Gracious, ed. Lawrence A. Hoffman, Jewish Lights, Woodstock, VT, 2016

“God’s Plea: A Wordless Gesture and a Still Small Voice,” in The Closing of the Gates: N’ilah, ed. Lawrence A. Hoffman, Jewish Lights/Turner Publishing, Nashville, TN, 2018

 

Sermons:

"God is a Woman and She is Growing Older," in Best Sermons 5, Edited by James Cox, Harper Collins, 1992.

Reprinted in:

Pulpit Digest, March/April 1992, Volume LXXIII, Number 514;

Reform Judaism, Fall 1992.

A Heart of Wisdom: Making the Jewish Journey From Midlife Through the Elder Years, Edited by Susan Berrin, Jewish Lights, 1997.

Hearing God in Each Other's Voices: The Book of Women's Sermons Edited by the Rev. E. Lee Hancock, Riverhead Books (Penguin Putnam), 1999.

Introduction To Judaism: A Sourcebook, Revised Edition, Compiled and Edited by Stephen J. Einstein and Lydia Kukoff with Lisa Edwards, Marjorie Slome and Hara Person, UAHC, NY/1999, pp. 190-196.

The Many Faces of God: A Reader of Modern Jewish Theologies Edited by Rifat Sonsino, URJ Press, 2005

 

Translated into German by Evi Krobath, for Evangelische Theologie, 5-92.

Reprinted in:

Evangelische Frauenhilfe in Deutschland e.V., Ausgabe 4/September 1993.

Begegnungen: Zeitschrift fur Kirche und Judentum, NR.4, 2001.

"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

Reprinted in:

The Women's Passover Companion:Women’s Reflections on the Festival of Freedom, Edited by Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, Tara Mohr, Catherine Spector, Jewish Lights, 2003

Translated into German as "Ihr Leben - eine Seite, genommen aus einem heiligen Buch", in Anspruch und Widerspruch:Festschrift fur Evi Krobath zum 70.Geburtstag, Herausgegeben von Maria Halmer, Barbara Heyse-Schaefer, Barbara Rauchwarter, Eine Veroffentlichung der Evangelischen Akademie, Wien, 1999

"My Father Was A Wandering Aramean," in The Abingdon Women's Preaching Annual Vol. 1, Edited by Jana L. Childers and Lucy A. Rose, Abingdon Press, 1997

"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,) in the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, volume 10 Number 2, Fall 1994.

Reprinted in:

Women in The Hebrew Bible, Edited by Alice Bach, Routledge, NY 1999 pp. 453-4

"Not by Might, Nor by Power, But by My Spirit," Best Sermons 6, Edited by James Cox, Harper Collins, 1993

“The Torah’s Personal Responsibility Act,” in Just Preaching: Prophetic Voices for Economic Justice, Edited by Andre Resner, Jr., Chalice Press for Family Promise, 2003

 

Articles about preaching or eulogies:

“Ecumenical and Interfaith Preaching,” with Barbara K. Lundblad, in A Handbook for Catholic Preaching, General Editor, Edward Foley, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 2016

Review of Jewish Preaching in Times of War 1800-2001 edited by Marc Saperstein, in Homiletic: A review of publications in religious communication, Winter 2008, Vol XXXIII, Number 2, pp. 40-43

Review of One Voice: The Selected Sermons of W. Gunther Plaut, in the CCAR Journal, Fall 2008, pp. 98-103

“Bringing Congregants into the Classroom or Learning from the Listeners,” in Papers of the Annual Meeting of the Academy of Homiletics, 36th Meeting, St. Louis, Missouri, Nov. 29 - Dec. 1, 2001

"Chapter 12" (on MMW’s process of sermon preparation) in Birthing the Sermon: Women Preachers on Creative Process, Edited by Jana Childers, Chalice Press, 2001

"Tender Truths," in Reform Judaism Magazine, Vol. 29, No. 3, Spring 2001

Reprinted, in an expanded version, as:

"Truth Telling and Meaning Making in Eulogies: Not for clergy only," in The Reconstructionist, Spring 2001

 

On women in Judaism:

"Redefining Torah, Israel and God in Reform Jewish Worship," in Women at Worship: Interpretations of North American Diversity, Edited by Marjorie Proctor-Smith and Janet Walton, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993

"The Implications of Feminism For Our Judaism," course syllabus in The Jewish Women's Studies Guide, Second Edition 1987, Edited by Sue Levi Elwell, Biblio Press, New York, 1987

"Sabbath Prayers for Women," in Womanspirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion, Edited by Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow, Harper and Row, NY, 1979

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 (unpublished but widely cited)

 

On mental illness:

“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

 

On gender identity and homosexuality (sermons and articles):

“Spiritual Lessons I Have Learned from Transsexuals,” in Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community, edited by Noach Dzmura, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA, 2010

“Male and Female God Created Them,” commentary on Parshat Bereshit for Torah Queeries, edited by Gregg Drinkwater, Joshua Lesser and David Shneer, NYU Press, New York, 2009

            Reprinted in CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly, Fall, 2012

Editor of “A Reader and Web/Bibliography on Gender Identity, The Intersexed and Transsexuals: Religious, Legal and Policy Issues,” April 2002 (unpublished but reproduced for educational purposes only)

“There’s a Place for Us: Gays and Lesbians in the Jewish Community,” with Sharon A. Kleinbaum, in the Life Lights series, Edited by Rabbi Nancy Flam, Jewish Lights, Woodstock, VT., 2002

"The Jewish 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

"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

"Tribute [to Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler]" in Kulanu (All of Us): A Program for Congregations Implementing Gay and Lesbian Inclusion, A Handbook for UAHC Congregations, UAHC , 1996

"Beyond Acceptance - Meeting the Needs of Your Lesbian and Gay Congregants," in Kulanu (All of Us): A Program for Congregations Implementing Gay and Lesbian Inclusion, A Handbook for UAHC Congregations, UAHC Press, 1996

"Truly Welcoming Lesbian and Gay Jews," in The Jewish Condition: Essays on Contemporary Judaism Honoring Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, Edited by Aron Hirt-Manheimer, UAHC/NY, 1995

"Welcoming Lesbian and Gay Jews Into Our Synagogues," in New Menorah, Spring 1991.

Reprinted in:

Kaafikim Banegev: A Manual for Rabbis to Engage their Communities in Embracing Lesbian and Gay Jews, Edited by Sara Paasche, David Rosen and J.B. Sacks (for the 1994 convention of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement).

Adapted as:

"A Guide for Kehillot Mekablot (Welcoming Congregations)" in Homosexuality and Judaism: A Reconstructionst Workshop Series, edited by Rabbi Robert Gluck, Reconstructionist Press, 1992

 

Other writing:

“A Tribute to Jacob Neusner,” National Jewish Post and Opinion, January 13, 2010, p. 10

“On Courage” for Volunteer Voices the newsletter of Literacy Partners, New York, Spring 2008

“Oops! I Shouldn’t Say This...Or Should I?,” (a reconsideration of lashon hara in congregational life) in 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

“And the Lord Came Down to See the City and the Tower,” in The Living Pulpit, April-June 2002, Vol. 11, No. 2

"Bikkurim," in The Mishnah: A New Translation, Edited by Jacob Neusner, YaleUniversity 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

 

Current and Future Courses
Introduction to Homiletics
High Holiday Modes and Liturgy