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Rachel R. Adler, Rabbi, Ph.D.

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Contact Information

(213) 749-3424
cell: 213-925-4580
Rabbi David Ellenson Professor of Jewish Religious Thought, Professor of Modern Jewish Thought and Feminist Studies

HUC-JIR/Los Angeles

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

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Rachel Adler is the Rabbi David Ellenson Professor of Jewish Religious Thought and Professor of Modern Jewish Thought and Feminist Studies at HUC-JIR/Los Angeles.  She was one of the first theologians 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. She is the author of Engendering Judaism which won the National Jewish Book Award for Jewish Thought. She is the first female theologian to win this award.  Engendering Judaism is also available in a Hebrew translation as Feminism Yehudi: Teologia u’Musar.

Adler’s academic credentials include a PhD in Religion and Social Ethics from the University of Southern California with a conjoint certificate in Judaica from Hebrew Union College, an M.A. in English Literature from Northwestern University, and a Masters degree in Social Work from the University of Minnesota. She was ordained as a rabbi by Hebrew Union College in Spring 2012.

Adler is also interested in liturgy.  She was one of the contributors to Rabbi Richard Levy”s Wings of Awe machzor, a commentator for the  Reconstructionist prayerbook Kol HaNeshama, and has written several articles on liturgical topics.   She is also interested in Bible as a source for contemporary theology.  Adler was a contributor and on the editorial board of The Torah: A Women's  Commentary (URJ Press 2007) and wrote on the book of Leviticus for the 2009 weekly commentary “Reform Voices of Torah.” 

Currently Adler’s theological writing explores the themes of suffering and lament in Jewish tradition.  She is intrigued by the fact that the first funeral professionals were women, singers and composers of funeral elegies, and she addresses the perennial question of why bad things happen. 

She is currently co-authoring with Professor Ayesha Chaudhry of University of British Columbia a feminist chapter in a book on reading Jewish and Islamic legal texts, a project that grew out of an academic reading group on Jewish and Islamic texts in which both co-authors have participated for several years.

Aside from “The Jew Who Wasn”t There,” articles of Adler’s which are considered classics of Jewish feminist theology are “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), “In Your Blood, Live:  Re-visions of a Theology of Purity” (1993), “The Virgin in the Brothel and Other Anomalies:  Character and Context in the Legend  of Beruriah” 1988), “I’ve Had Nothing Yet, So I Can’t Take More,”1983, “Tum’ah and Taharah:  Ends and Beginnings” The Jewish Catalogue, (1973). 

Professor Adler serves on the editorial boards of two periodicals: Tikkun and Nashim.  She is proud of her son and daughter-in-law, Rabbis Amitai and Julie Pelc Adler, both bloggers for the periodical Sh’ma and of her infant grandson, Michael.

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