Paula Ackerman (Hebrew: פאולה אקרמן, December 7, 1893 — January 12, 1989) was the first woman to perform rabbinical functions in the United States, leading the Beth Israel congregation in Meridian, Mississippi from 1950-53 and the Beth-El congregation in Pensacola, Florida from 1962-63. She led the National Committee on Religious Schools for the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods.
She led the congregation at the Temple Beth Israel in Meridian, Mississippi, full-time beginning December 12, 1950, when her husband died suddenly on November 30 of that year. She had led services before, when her husband was absent or ill.
She continued to lead the congregation until a replacement was found in September 1953 (she was not formally ordained, and served in the function for three years without having gone through the schooling process for ordination).
Regarding her chances of being selected for the job, Ackerman wrote to a friend, "I also know how revolutionary the idea is—therefore it seems to be a challenge that I pray I can meet. If I can just plant a seed for the Jewish woman's larger participation—if perhaps it will open a way for women students to train for congregational leadership—then my life would have some meaning." A woman would not be ordained in Reform Judaism until 1972, when Sally Priesand was formally made a rabbi. Ackerman later performed services at her home temple, Temple Beth-El in Pensacola, from 1962 until a replacement was found nine months later.
Later life and death
- Regina Jonas, first woman rabbi in modern times
- Sally Priesand, first woman ordained by the Reform Hebrew Union College
- Amy Eilberg, first woman ordained by the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary of America
- Jewish Theological Seminary of America PDF on Women Rabbis, accessed October 5, 2007
- Time article on Ackerman from 1951, accessed on October 5, 2007.
- From Rebbetzin to Rabbi: The Journey of Paula Ackerman, accessed on January 10, 2009.
- 1950 story on Ackerman, from the Jewish Women's Archive, accessed on October 5, 2007.
- Ellen M. Umansky, an entry about Paula Ackerman profile, Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia