Rabbi Rachel Adler, Ph.D., is the David Ellenson Professor Emerita 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 Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Minnesota. She was ordained as a rabbi by HUC-JIR in 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” in CCAR Journal (2014). She published Pour Our Your Heart Like Water: Jewish Perspectives on Suffering in 2021 and Tales of the Holy Mysticat in 2020. 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. Rabbi Adler has contributed articles to two anthologies that have come out of HUC-JIR’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,” in the 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” from The 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,” in 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.