October 12, 1954 |
Amy Eilberg (born October 12, 1954) is the first female rabbi ordained in Conservative Judaism.  She was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, one of the academic centers and spiritual centers of Conservative Judaism.
Youth and early life
Eilberg was born October 12, 1954, in Philadelphia, USA. Her father, Joshua Eilberg, represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. House of Representatives, and her mother, Gladys, was a social worker. Her parents were not particularly observant Jews, but when Eilberg was fourteen, she convinced them to follow the dietary laws of kashrut. In high school, she was involved in the United Synagogue Youth and later she was at Camp Ramah.
Eilberg attended Brandeis University in 1972 and continued to pursue her interest in Judaism. She majored in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, and also she became an active member of Hillel International in the campus. While at Brandeis she learned how to read the Torah and she explored her relationship to Jewish ritual. In 1976 she graduated from Brandeis and enrolled in Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) to do graduate work in Talmud. After receiving her masters degree, she taught at Midreshet Yerushalayim, an intensive egalitarian yeshiva program run by the JTS in Israel. When she found out that JTS had tabled the question of women's ordination in 1979, she was disappointed but decided that she would continue to study. She enrolled in a social work program at Smith College and in 1984 received her masters of social work.
Eilberg was among the first group of women who immediately signed up for classes in the rabbinical school in the fall of 1984. Since the early 1970s, leaders of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) had engaged in serious discussions and many debates about women's ordination in Conservative Judaism. Hastened by the Reform movement's decision to ordain Sally Priesand in 1972 and the Reconstructionist movement to ordain Sandy Eisenberg Sasso in 1974, members of the Rabbinical Assembly, the central organization of Conservative rabbis, initiated exploratory studies about Jewish legal attitudes toward women's ordination.[notes 1] As of 2004, the JTS has ordained more than 150 women rabbis and the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies has ordained approximately 30.
Ordained on May 12, 1985, at the age of 30, Eilberg was the first woman ordained by the JTS. In 1986 she became the first woman appointed to serve on the Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. She started her career at a Hospital in Indianapolis and then became the assistant rabbi at Har Zion Temple near Philadelphia. In 1989, she stepped down from that position at this synagogue, and in her resignation letter explained that her desire to spend more time with her daughter was one of the primary motivations for her decision. She also realized that her true passion was for social work in Hospital. She co-founded the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center in San Francisco and devoted her energy to understanding Jewish ways of healing and helping the sick. At the height of the AIDS crisis, the Jewish Healing Center offered spiritual care to Jews people living with illness, death, and loss.
On Dec. 6th, 2010, at Temple Reyim in Newton, MA, Amy Eilberg met for the first time with Sally Priesand, the first Reform female rabbi, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, the first Reconstructionist female rabbi, and Sara Hurwitz, considered by some to be the first Orthodox female rabbi.    They and approximately 30 other women rabbis lit Chanukah candles and then spoke about their experiences in an open forum.  
On June 3rd, 2012, Priesand, Sasso, Eilberg, and Hurwitz met again, this time at Monmouth Reform Temple at a celebration honoring the four first women rabbis to be ordained in their respective denominations, and the 40th anniversary of Priesand's ordination. 
Eilberg has been married twice, first to Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, and then, in 1996, to Louis E. Newman, a professor of Judaic Studies at Carleton College. She has one daughter, Penina, from her first marriage, and two stepsons, Etan and Jonah, from her second. She currently lives in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, where she works for the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning and is involved in peace work. She also regularly teaches about Jewish healing, spirituality, and peace. Eilberg is a regular member of Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights.
- Eilberg, Amy (1987). "Kol Isha: A New Voice in Conservative Judaism.". In Cardin, Nina Beth; Silverman, David Wolf. The Seminary at 100.
- Eilberg, Amy (1994). "I Must Keep Singing: Psalm 137". In Weintraub, Simkha. Healing of Spirit, Healing of Body.
- Eilberg, Amy (2001). "Walking in the Valley of the Shadow: Caring for the Dying and Their Loved Ones". In Friedman, Dayle. Jewish Pastoral Care.
- Eilberg, Amy (2004). "A Grieving Ritual Following Miscarriage". In Orenstein, Debra. Lifecycles: Jewish Women on Life Passages and Personal Milestones.
- Gerson Cohen, chancellor of JTS from 1972 to 1986, became an active proponent of the admission of women into rabbinical programs after reviewing the conclusions of one study conducted in the late 1970s. In October 1983, shortly after the death of Rabbi Saul Lieberman, who had been an indomitable force against women's ordination, the faculty of JTS voted to allow women to enter their rabbinical school. (See Nadell, Pamela S., "Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination, 1889-1985" in Jewish Women's Life.)
- Goldman, Ari L. (19 August 1991). "Gerson D. Cohen Is Dead at 66; Ex-Chancellor of Jewish Seminary". The New York Times.
- Goldman, Ari (13 May 1985). "Conservative Jews Ordain Woman". New York Times.
- "Amy Eilberg". Jewish Women's Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on 25 November 2010. Retrieved 23 December 2010.
- "Eilberg, Amy". Jewish Virtual Library. Archived from the original on 26 December 2010. Retrieved 23 December 2010.
- "Woman Rabbi Is One In A Million". Chicago Tribune. 1 April 1985.
- JTS Faculty Senate Votes to Admit Women October 24, 1983
- Amy Eilberg ordained as first female Conservative rabbi
- Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution from the Jewish Women's Archive
- Minnesota Voices Rabbi Amy Eilberg March 18, 2009
- Amy Eilberg, An Ordination First, and What Followed in Jewish Daily Forward, May 14, 2010
- Rabbi Amy Eilberg leads the Motzi at the 2010 Guardian of Democracy Dinner, October 16, 2010.