Pauline Bebe

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Pauline Bebe is the rabbi of Communauté Juive Libérale, a Progressive Jewish congregation in Paris. She was the first female rabbi in France,[1] and the first female rabbi to lead a synagogue there. As of 2011 France has only three women rabbis, Bebe, Célia Surget[2][3] and Delphine Horvilleur.[4]

Early life[edit]

Bebe was born in 1965 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. Her family lived through the German occupation and hid in the south of France throughout World War II.[5] Her father was a pediatrician and her mother a lawyer. They were both Jews who, though nonpracticing, exposed their child to the lessons of the rue Copernic synagogue: "They gave me the education which they could not get because of the war".[6] Her desire to become a rabbi dates to her adolescence:[6] "I wanted to be a rabbi to accompany people for the important periods of their life. The liberal Jewish movement lauded the equality between the man and the woman. I saw no obstacle to my desire..."[7]

She attended the lycée Lamartine high school in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, taking classical studies.[7] After graduation, she attended Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales at Paris, where she learned English and Hebrew. She has a BA in English and American literature and civilization, and an MA and DEA in Hebrew literature. Her Master's thesis was titled L'attitude du judaïsme face au prosélytisme et à la conversion ("The attitude of Judaism in the face of proselytism and conversion").[8]

Rabbinical education[edit]

In 1985, Bebe began her rabbinical studies in England with five years of studies at the Leo Baeck College. She stated "A liberal Rabbinical College in France does not exist, and I am attached to a Judaism based on the Enlightenment, to a religion which evolves according to periods and social circles."[9]

She completed her Hebrew cursus in Jerusalem at the Hebrew Union College.[10] She was ordained in 1990, one of about 30 women rabbis ordained by the Leo Baeck College between 1975 and 2006.[11] Though less numerous than in the United States,[12] female rabbis exist in Europe, mostly in England, Germany and Netherlands.[13]


Bebe first rabbinic position was at Mouvement Juif Liberal de France in Paris between 1990 and 1995. She helped those with drug addiction, HIV-positive people and eccentrics who were rejected by the traditional religious institutions.[7] Reactions to her as a female rabbi were mixed: "Some believers were very enthusiastic and trusted me, while others were violently opposed to the idea of having a woman rabbi."[9]

In 1995 with Remy Schwartz, Bebe created her own congregation, Communaute Juive Liberale d'Île-de-France (CJL) in Paris.[14] The congregation adopted the name MAAYAN (Hebrew for "wellspring"), and opened a new synagogue building in May 2006.[15][16] By 2013, membership exceeded 400 households.[17] The CJL is affiliated with the World Union for Progressive Judaism.

Personal life[edit]

Bebe is married to Rabbi Tom Cohen,[18] an American expatriate who leads Kehilat Gesher, the American Jewish Congregation in Paris. Bebe is also the mother of four children; she says, "It's not always easy to be everywhere at the same time, but for the moment at least, my children aren't complaining".[9]


Bebe is the author of seven books and has written numerous articles:[8]


  1. ^ (French) Th.Gausserand, Dédicace. "Dédicace. Une femme rabbin, un judaïsme libéral", Le, 21 January 2008.
  2. ^ (French) Ophélie Neiman, "Célia Surget, femme rabbin", Rue89, 3 August 2007.
  3. ^ (French) Sonia Sarah Lipsyc, "Célia Surget, deuxième femme rabbin en France", 8 August 2007.
  4. ^ (French) Sonia Sarah Lipsyc,"Delphine Horvilleur, 3ème femme rabbin en France", 6 December 2008.
  5. ^ Marlene Adler Marks,"Couscous for the Soul", The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, 11 January 2001.
  6. ^ a b (French) "Rabbin et féministe", Journal L'Express, 17 May 2001.
  7. ^ a b c (French) François Devinat. "Pauline Bebe. La rabbine par qui le scandale arrive", Libé, 4 May 1995.
  8. ^ a b (French) "Le rabbin Pauline Bebe. Portrait et publications", Communaute Juive Liberale website. Accessed 26 February 2011.
  9. ^ a b c (French) Manon Rivif're. "Pauline Bebe femme rabbin", Femmes Plus, 26 October 2006.
  10. ^ Dror Franck Sullaper. "Bebe, Pauline", Jewish Virtual Library, 2008.
  11. ^ Sybil Sheridan. " History of Women in the Rabbinate: A Case of Communal Amnesia", European Conference of Women Rabbis, Cantors, Scholars and all Spiritually Interested Jewish Women and Men, 13–16 May 1999.
  12. ^ Pamela S. Nadell. "Rabbis in the United States", Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia, Jewish Women's Archive.
  13. ^ Pamela S. Nadell. Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination 1889-1985, Beacon Press, 1999.
  14. ^ (French)
  15. ^ (French) "Le Centre Maayan", Communaute Juive Liberale website.
  16. ^ (French) "Projet d'aménagement", Communaute Juive Liberale website.
  17. ^ (in French) Appel aux dons mai 2013
  18. ^ Bernard Edinger. "Europe Report: Flourishing in France", Reform Judaism online, Spring 2008.


External links[edit]