Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig, D.D.
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. 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.
To this day, there remains pioneering work to be done: Wenig served as the very first female Scholar-In-Residence for the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami’s Annual Sermon Seminar (June, 2012.)
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 (the 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 HUC 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.
- MAHL and Rabbinic Ordination, HUC-JIR, New York (1984)
- DD, HUC-JIR, New York (2009)
- BA with Honors in Religious Studies, Brown University (1978)
"God is a Woman and She is Growing Older," Best Sermons 5, edited by James Cox, Harper Collins, 1992.
(available online from amazon.com)
Translated into German by Evi Krobath, for Evangelische Theologie, 5-92
- 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, ed. Susan Berrin, Jewish
Lights, 1997. (available online from amazon.com)
- 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 Einstein, Kukoff,Edwards, Slome,
Person, UAHC, NY/1999, pp. 190-196
- The Many Faces of God: A Reader of Modern Jewish Theologies edited by Rifat Sonsino, URJ Press, 2004 (order
online from amazon.com)
- Evangelische Frauenhilfe in Deutschland e.V., Ausgabe 4/September 1993
- Begegnungen: Zeitschrift fur Kirche und Judentum, NR.4, 2001
- "Not By Might, Nor By Power, But By My Spirit," Best Sermons 6, edited by James Cox, Harper Collins, 1993
(available online from amazon.com)
- "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
- Women In The Hebrew Bible, ed. by Alice Bach, Routledge, NY 1999 pp. 453-458
- "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
- "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 (available online from amazon.com)
- The Women's Passover Companion:Women's Reflections on the Festival of Freedom, ed.by Rabbi Sharon
Cohen Anisfeld, Tara Mohr, Catherine Spector, Jewish Lights, 2003 (available online
- 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
- "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 (available online from
- "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 (available online
- 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,
editor J. Frank Henderson, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ontario, Canada
- 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, ed. by Harold W. Attridge and Margaret E. Fassler, SBL, 2003
(available online from amazon.com)
"The Poetry and Power of Paradox (A Commentary on Unetane Tokef)" in CCAR Journal: A Reform Jewish Quarterly, Spring 2009.
Machzor Challenge and Change: Resource Pack for Individual and Group Study, Edited 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: Confession in Judaism – Ashamnu and Al Cheyt, ed. by Lawrence A. Hoffman, Jewish Lights, Woodstock, VT, forthcoming in 2012
- Articles about Preaching or Eulogies:
- "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 sermon preparation) in Birthing the Sermon: Women Preachers on Creative Process, edited by
Jana Childers, Chalice Press, 2001 (available online from amazon.com)
- "Tender Truths", Reform Judaism Magazine, Vol. 29, No. 3, Spring 2001
- Reprinted, in an expanded version as "Truth Telling and Meaning Making in Eulogies (sic): Not for clergy only,"
in The Reconsructionist, Spring 2001
- Review of One Voice: The Selected Sermons of W. Gunther Plaut, Jonathan V. Plaut, ed., in CCAR Journal: A Reform Jewish Quarterly, Fall 2008.
- Review of Jewish Preaching in Times of War 1800-2001 by Marc Saperstein in Homiletic: A Review of Publications in Religious Communication, Winter 2008
- On Women in Judaism:
- 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
- "The Implications of Feminism For Our Judaism," course syllabus in The Jewish Women's Studies Guide, Second Edition
1987, compiled by Sue Levi Elwell, Biblio Press, New York, 1987
- "Redefining Torah, Israel and God in Reform Jewish Worship," in Women at Worship: Interpretations of North American
Diversity, ed. Marjorie Proctor-Smith and Janet Walton, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993 (available online
- 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 (available online from
- On Gender Identity and Homosexuality (Sermons and Articles):
- "Welcoming Lesbian and Gay Jews Into Our Synagogues," New Menorah, Spring 1991.
- 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).
- "A Guide for Kehillot Mekablot (Welcoming Congregations)" in Homosexuality and Judaism: A
Reconstructionst Workshop Series, edited by Rabbi Robert Gluck, Reconstructionist Press, 1992
- "Truly Welcoming Lesbian and Gay Jews," (a history and a challenge) in The Jewish Condition: Essays on Contemporary
Judaism Honoring Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, edited by Aron Hirt-Manheimer, UAHC/NY, 1995 (available online from
- "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
- "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 (available online from Jewish Lights)
- Editor of A Reader and Web/Bibliography on Gender Identity, The Intersexed and Transsexuals:Religious, Legal and
Policy Issues, April 2002 (available in the HUC-JIR, NY, Library)
- "Male and Female God Created Them" in Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible, ed. by Drinkwater, Lesser, and Shneer, NYU Press, 2009.
Slightly Revised and Reprinted in:
- CCAR Journal: A Reform Jewish Quarterly, forthcoming in Fall, 2012
- "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.
“'I Did, I Do, I Will... Alas, I Simply Can't Anymore': Marking the End of a Same-sex Couple's Spiritual Bond,” The Huffington Post: Gay Voices, The Blog, March 7, 2013
In addition, Wenig is quoted briefly in:
Trouble with Gay Divorce," The Huffington Post Live,
and extensively in:
“From ‘I Do’ to ‘I’m Done’ : With newfound rights, newfound fears. The peculiar mechanics—and heartbreak—of gay divorce,” By Jesse Green, New York Magazine, Feb 24, 2013
- Other Writing:
- A Tribute to Jacob Neusner," National Jewish Post and Opinion, January 13, 2010, p. 10
- "And the Lord Came Down To See the City and the Tower," in The Living Pulpit, April-June 2002, Vol. 11, No. 2
- "Oops! I Shouldn't Say This...Or Should I?," (a reconsideration of leshon hara in congregational life) Reform Judaism Magazine, Summer 2002, Vol. 3, No. 4.
- Best Jewish Writing 2003, edited by Arthur Kurzweil, Jossey-Bass (available online from amazon.com)
- 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
- "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
- In the News
- "Long on Vision: In her 10 years there, Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig has transformed congregation Beth Am in Washington
Heights," NY Jewish Week, June 17-23, 1994
- "45 for Tomorrow: A new generation of young leaders to take the NY Jewish Community into the 21st century," NY Jewish
Week, January 20, 1995
- "5 Sermons No One Slept Through: Excerpts from Memorable 20th Century High Holiday Sermons," by Marc Saperstein,
Reform Judaism, Fall, 2000
- "Experience Necessary: A Rabbi Whose God is a Loving and Long-Suffering Mother," by Ralph Blumenthal, The New York Times, August 31, 2009.