Dr. Judith Plaskow Serving as Rabbi Sally J. Priesand Visiting Professor of Jewish Women’s Studies at HUC-JIR/New York

Friday, September 7, 2012

Dr. Judith Plaskow is serving as the Rabbi Sally J. Priesand Visiting Professor of Jewish Women’s Studies at the New York campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) during the 2012-13 academic year. She is teaching Sexual Ethics in the Fall and Creating a Personal Theology in the Spring.  Additionally, in the Spring, she will deliver a public lecture at the New York campus and will convene a roundtable discussion for alumni and faculty that will meet approximately every other week. Dr. Plaskow is Professor Emerita of Religious Studies at Manhattan College and a Jewish feminist theologian who has been teaching, writing, and speaking about feminist theology for forty years. 

Rabbi Shirley Idelson, Dean, HUC-JIR/New York, stated, "Our New York faculty and students are honored to have the opportunity to study this year with Judith Plaskow, one of the preeminent feminist theologians of our time.  We began the year at Kallah focusing together on difficult questions related to gender and Judaism--questions relevant for all of us, regardless of gender--and we will continue to wrestle with these and other twenty-first century challenges we as liberal Jews face today.  Judith Plaskow is already helping us do this in ways both theoretical and practical, grounded in Jewish thought while pushing us to consider new visions for contemporary Jewish life."

Dr. Plaskow was introduced to the students and faculty at the HUC-JIR/New York Kallah during an interview with Dr. Wendy Zierler during the session "Why Feminism Now." The goal of Dr. Zierler's session was to introduce some of the enduring and central themes of feminism: Our Feminist Forbears, From Silence to Voice, The Personal is Political, Confronting Power, and Setting the Feminist Agenda. Watch the interview with Drs. Plaskow and Zierler.

In Dr. Plaskow's Sexual Ethics course, she will work with her students to develop a series of statements on sexuality for the New York campus of HUC-JIR. In pursuit of this goal, students will reflect on various frameworks for thinking about sexuality, explore a range of different views in the Jewish tradition, and examine a number of specific contested issues (transgender issues, rabbinic sexual misconduct, etc.).

"I have been interested in theological questions since childhood," explains Dr. Plaskow, who was born in Brooklyn, New York.  "As an adolescent, I wanted to be a rabbi, but since that seemed impossible, I decided to get a doctorate in religious studies. I was a graduate student in theology at Yale when Yale admitted women to the undergraduate college (1969). In the midst of all the headlines, three graduate women called a meeting to discuss how it was we had been at Yale for 80 years, and no had noticed. We began meeting weekly for consciousness-raising, and, in the course of the fall semester, I became a feminist.  The only other woman in theology (Carol P. Christ) also attended the consciousness-raising group, and we began connecting what we were learning/talking about with our studies. So I started doing feminist work in religion quite organically."
Dr. Plaskow received her B.A. from Clark University and her M.Phil. and Ph.D. from Yale University.  Her writing and research have centered on feminist theology since she was in graduate school. Her Yale thesis, Sex, Sin, and Grace: Women's Experience and the Theologies of Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich was one of the first feminist dissertations in religious studies. She was a research associate in women's studies and theology at Harvard Divinity School in the first year of the program (1973-74), and was for many years a member of its advisory board. She was co-chair of the Women and Religion Group of the American Academy of Religion during its second and third years (1972-73), and served on its steering committee for over a decade.
Dr. Plaskow has taught at a number of colleges and universities, including New York University (1974-75), Wichita State University (1976-79), and Manhattan College (1979-2011).  Dr. Plaskow retired from Manhattan College after 32 years this past Spring. "I was ready to stop teaching undergraduates but not to stop teaching," she notes. "I'm excited by the idea of teaching HUC-JIR students who are invested in the material and who will have opportunities to bring the issues we discuss into the larger Jewish community. After teaching at a Catholic college most of my career, I think it will be an interesting change to teach at a Jewish institution. I hope that I will be able to bring more of myself into the classroom."

In addition to her Visiting Scholar position at HUC-JIR, Dr. Plaskow is working on a book with Carol P. Christ, tentatively entitled God and Feminism.  She and Carol P. Christ co-edited Womanspirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion and Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality, two widely-read anthologies of feminist theology used in many women's studies and religious studies courses. With Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza, she co-founded the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. She co-edited it for its first decade (1985-94) and is currently co-editor with Melanie Johnson-Debaufre.  Her book Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective (1990) brought twenty years of feminist theological reflection to bear on the transformation of Judaism. A collection of her essays, The Coming of Lilith: Essays on Feminism, Judaism, and Sexual Ethics 1972-2003, was published by Beacon Press in 2005.

"I grew up in a classical Reform congregation where women were on the bima only to light candles on Friday night and on Sisterhood Shabbat," concludes Dr. Plaskow. "When I think about how much has changed in the last forty years, it's hard for me to believe in the accuracy of my own memories." 

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's first institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu