Rachel R. Adler - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Rachel R. Adler, Rabbi, Ph.D.

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Rabbi David Ellenson Professor of Jewish Religious Thought, Professor of Modern Jewish Thought

HUC-JIR/Los Angeles

Rabbinical Program, Los Angeles
Academic Field: 
Research Interests: 
Modern Jewish Thought; Constructive Theology

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Rabbi Rachel Adler, Ph.D., is the David Ellenson Professor of Modern Jewish Thought at HUC-JIR's Skirball Campus in Los Angeles. She was one of the first theologian/ethicists to integrate feminist perspectives and concerns into the interpretation of Jewish texts and the renewal of Jewish law and ethics. Her essay "The Jew Who Wasn't There," first published in 1971, is generally considered the first piece of Jewish feminist theology/ethics. She is the author of Engendering Judaism, the first work by a female theologian to win the National Jewish Book Award in the category of Jewish Thought. Engendering Judaism is also available in a Hebrew translation. In Engendering Judaism, Dr. Adler proposed a new Jewish legal model for Jewish marriage rooted in partnership law rather than property law. Some Jews use this ceremony rather than the traditional one.

Rabbi Adler’s academic credentials include a Ph.D. in Religion and Social Ethics from the University of Southern California with a conjoint certificate in Judaica from HUC-JIR, an M.A. in English Literature from Northwestern University, where she completed all but her doctoral dissertation in English Renaissance Drama, and a Masters degree in Social Work from the University of Minnesota.  She was ordained as a rabbi by HUC-JIR in Spring 2012.

Currently Rabbi Adler’s theological writing explores themes of suffering and lament. She is intrigued by the fact that the first funeral professionals were women who were singers and composers of funeral elegies, and has devoted several articles to developing a theology of lament, notably “For These I Weep” CCAR Journal 2014).  Her forthcoming books include “Pour Our Your Heart Like Water: Jewish Perspectives on Suffering,” which is under contract with Oxford University Press and should appear in 2021. With Professor Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi she is co-editing an anthology tentatively titled “Gender and Jewish Thought: Theology and Ethics” for Jewish Publication Society. Banot Press will publish her “Tales of the Holy Mysticat” in 2020. Rabbi Adler has contributed articles to two anthologies that have come out of Hebrew Union College’s Kalsman Institute on Judaism and Health, “Those Who Turn Away Their Faces” a comparison of the biblical metzora to modern health stigmas,” and “Bad Things Happen,” dealing with various Jewish theologies of suffering.

Her interest in issues involving women and religious law persist. She and the Muslim scholar Ayesha Chaudry co-authored a chapter on “Guardianship of Women in Jewish and Islamic Legal Texts” for a volume titled Islamic and Jewish Legal Reasoning: Encountering Our Legal Other, edited by Anver Emon (2017). The book emerged from a study group for Jewish and Islamic legal scholars to which both women had belonged for some years. To the collection Between Jewish Tradition and Modernity: Essays in Honor of David Ellenson” (2014),she contributed “Between A Rock and A Hard Place: Rav J.B. Soloveitchik’s Perspective on Gender.” With Rabbi Robin Podolsky, she coauthored “Sexuality, Autonomy, and Community in the Writings of Eugene Borowitz,”(Journal of Jewish Ethics 2015).

In addition to “The Jew Who Wasn’t There,” Rabbi Adler’s classic articles on Jewish feminist theology include “Innovation and Authority:  The Case of the ‘Women’s Minyan Responsum.’” (2001),“The Battered Wife of God: Violence, Law and the Feminist Critique of the Prophets” (1998), and “In Your Blood, Live:  Re-visions of a Theology of Purity” (1993), in which Rabbi Adler recanted her classic article of twenty years earlier, “Tum’ah and Taharah:  Ends and Beginnings” fromThe Jewish Catalogue, (1973). Other classic articles include “A Question of Boundaries” (1991), “The Virgin in the Brothel and Other Anomalies:  Character and Context in the Legend of Beruriah” (1988) and “I’ve Had Nothing Yet, So I Can’t Take More,”1983. Rabbi Adler also wrote one of the first articles on sexual ethics in the rabbinate, “A Stumbling Block Before the Blind: Sexual Exploitation in Pastoral Counseling,” (CCAR Journal 1993). Professor Adler was a contributor and on the editorial board of The Torah: A Women's Commentary,  which won the 2008 Jewish Book Award for best book of the year in any category. Her commentary on the book of Leviticus for the 2009 weekly commentary “Reform Voices of Torah” is available on the URJ website.

At HUC-JIR's Jack H. Skirball Campus, Dr. Adler teaches Modern Jewish Thought, Liturgy, and electives in Contemporary Jewish Ethics, Judaism and Gender, Judaism and Ritual Theory, and Theologies of Pain and Suffering.

Selected Publications and Edited Works

Engendering Judaism:  An Inclusive Theology and Ethics.  Philadelphia:  Jewish Publication Society, 1998

Feminism Yehudi: Teologia u’Musar. [Hebrew Translation of Engendering Judaism] translated by Ruth Bloom. Jerusalem: Yediot Achronot Press, 2009.

“The Avodah Service and Ritual Change” Sh’ma

“My Mother As a Ruined City: Illuminating Lamentations” Chapters of the Heart edited by Sue Levi Elwell and Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, Wipf and Stock, 2013.

“Bad Things Happen” to be published in Michelle Prince, ed. Judaism and Health: A Handbook of Practical, Professional, and Scholarly Resources, Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights.

“The Hospital Poems of Zelda: A Spirituality for Ailing and Aging” CCAR Journal Fall 2012

“Those Who Turn Away Their Faces: Tzara’at and Stigma.” Healing and the Jewish Imagination. William Cutter,ed.  Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2007.

“To Live Outside the Law You Must Be Honest: A Question of Boundaries,” The Reconstructionist Spring 2005

“Innovation and Authority:  The Case of the ‘Women’s Minyan Responsum.’” Gender Issues in Jewish Law:  Essays and Responses Walter Jacob and Moshe Zemer, eds. Tel Aviv and Pittsburgh: Studies in Progressive Halakha. New York: Berghahn Press, 2001.

“The Battered Wife of God:  Violence, Law and the Feminist Critique of the Prophets.”  Review of Law and Women’s Studies 7: 2 (Spring, 1998).

“A Carnival At the Gates:  Jonah and Laughter on Yom Kippur.”  Beginning Anew:  A Woman’s Companion To the High Holy Days.  Judith A. Kates and Gail Twersky Reimer, eds. New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1997.

“In Your Blood, Live:  Re-visions of a Theology of Purity.” Tikkun 8: 1 (January/February1993). Reprinted iLifecycles 2.  Debra Orenstein and Jane Littman, eds. Woodstock, VT:  Jewish Lights, 1997 and in Signposts on the Way of Torah:  A  Reader for The Way of Torah.  Jacob Neusner, ed. Belmont:  Wadsworth/Thompson International, 1998.

“The Virgin in the Brothel and Other Anomalies:  Character and Context in the Legend  of Beruriah.” Tikkun 3 (November/ December 1988). Reprinted in: Tikkun Anthology.  Michael Lerner, ed. Oakland and Jerusalem:  Tikkun Books, 1992 and in Vox Benedictina 7 (January 1990) [with additions and footnotes]

“I’ve Had Nothing Yet, So I Can’t Take More” Moment 8 (September 1983). Reprinted in: Jewish Possibilities:  The Best of Moment Leonard Fein, ed. Northvale, NJ and London:  Moment, Inc., 1987. 

“Tum’ah and Taharah:  Ends and Beginnings” The Jewish Catalogue. Michael Strassfeld, Sharon Strassfeld, and Richard Siegal, eds. New York:  Jewish Publication Society. Reprinted in: Response 18 (Summer 1973) and in The Jewish Woman. Elizabeth Koltun, ed. New York:  Schocken Press, 1976

“The Jew Who Wasn’t There:  Halakha and the Jewish Woman.” Davka (Winter 1971)Reprinted in: On Being a Jewish Feminist . Susannah Heschel, ed. New York:  Schocken Press,1982 and in Contemporary Jewish Ethics Menachem Mark Kellner,  ed.  New York:  Sanhedrin Press,1978.

Current and Future Courses
Feminist Jewish Theology
Jewish Ethics
Modern Jewish Thought
Constructing Theologies of Pain and Suffering
Philosophy of Jewish Law
Pre-semester 4-day Intensive in the Academic Study of Religion
Seminar in Modern Jewish Thinkers
Seminar in Holocaust Theologies
Public Lecture Topics
Why I Hate Ecclesiates (and Go On Reading Him Anyway)
Love, Loyalty and Loathing: Biblical Marriages through the Lens of Gender
How to Wrestle with a Troubling Text
A Covenant Between Equals: Remaking Jewish Marriage
Why Jews Still Need Feminism
“To Live Outside the Law You Must Be Honest” : Intermarriage for People of Integrity
Not Just Kvetching: Why Jews Need Lament
Tell Me About the God You Don’t Believe In: Choices for Grown-up Believers
A Tradition Is a Conversation: How Do You Talk Your Way In?
Are Some Places More Sacred than Others?
What Was the Sin of Sodom? It Wasn”t What You Think
Reading for Redemptive Meaning in Texts of Horror
Blame, Risk, or Conundrum: Calculating the Divine Role in Illness and Death
Bad Things Happen: Watching the Rabbis of the Talmud Try To Explain Why
Pluralism and the Voice of the Minority in Talmudic Stories
Bible Stories That Are Not For Kids
How did THIS get in the Bible? The Sexy Song of Songs and Its Implications for Theology of Sexuality