Pauline Bebe is the rabbi of Communauté Juive Libérale, a Progressive Jewish congregation in Paris. She was the first female rabbi in France, and the first female rabbi to lead a synagogue there. As of 2011[update] France has only three women rabbis, Bebe, Célia Surget and Delphine Horvilleur.
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. 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". Her desire to become a rabbi dates to her adolescence: "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..."
She attended the lycée Lamartine high school in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, taking classical studies. 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").
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."
She completed her Hebrew cursus in Jerusalem at the Hebrew Union College. She was ordained in 1990, one of about 30 women rabbis ordained by the Leo Baeck College between 1975 and 2006. Though less numerous than in the United States, female rabbis exist in Europe, mostly in England, Germany and Netherlands.
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. 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."
In 1995 with Remy Schwartz, Bebe created her own congregation, Communaute Juive Liberale d'Île-de-France (CJL) in Paris. The congregation adopted the name MAAYAN (Hebrew for "wellspring"), and opened a new synagogue building in May 2006. By 2013, membership exceeded 400 households. The CJL is affiliated with the World Union for Progressive Judaism.
Bebe is married to Rabbi Tom Cohen, 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".
Bebe is the author of seven books and has written numerous articles:
- Le Judaïsme libéral, Éditions Grancher, 1993, ISBN 2-7339-0416-7.
- ISHA, Dictionnaire des femmes et du judaïsme, Calmann-Lévy, 2001, ISBN 2-7021-3153-0
- Peut-on faire le bonheur de ses enfants ?, avec Caroline Eliacheff et Pierre Lassus, Éditions de l'Atelier, 2003, ISBN 2-7082-3696-2
- Qu'est-ce que le judaïsme libéral ?, Calmann-Lévy, 2006, ISBN 2-7021-3724-5
- A l'ombre du tamaris, Presses de la Renaissance, 2010, ISBN 978-2-7509-0610-8
- L'autre, cet infini, avec Catherine Bensaid, Éditions Robert Laffont, 2013, ISBN 978-2-221-10997-7
- (French) Th.Gausserand, Dédicace. "Dédicace. Une femme rabbin, un judaïsme libéral", Le depeche.fr, 21 January 2008.
- (French) Ophélie Neiman, "Célia Surget, femme rabbin", Rue89, 3 August 2007.
- (French) Sonia Sarah Lipsyc, "Célia Surget, deuxième femme rabbin en France", 8 August 2007.
- (French) Sonia Sarah Lipsyc,"Delphine Horvilleur, 3ème femme rabbin en France", 6 December 2008.
- Marlene Adler Marks,"Couscous for the Soul", The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, 11 January 2001.
- (French) "Rabbin et féministe", Journal L'Express, 17 May 2001.
- (French) François Devinat. "Pauline Bebe. La rabbine par qui le scandale arrive", Libération.fr, 4 May 1995.
- (French) "Le rabbin Pauline Bebe. Portrait et publications", Communaute Juive Liberale website. Accessed 26 February 2011.
- (French) Manon Rivif're. "Pauline Bebe femme rabbin", Femmes Plus, 26 October 2006.
- Dror Franck Sullaper. "Bebe, Pauline", Jewish Virtual Library, 2008.
- 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.
- Pamela S. Nadell. "Rabbis in the United States", Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia, Jewish Women's Archive.
- Pamela S. Nadell. Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination 1889-1985, Beacon Press, 1999.
- (French) http://prolib.net/pierre_bailleux/libresens/208.035.kippa.bebe.htm
- (French) "Le Centre Maayan", Communaute Juive Liberale website.
- (French) "Projet d'aménagement", Communaute Juive Liberale website.
- (in French) Appel aux dons mai 2013
- Bernard Edinger. "Europe Report: Flourishing in France", Reform Judaism online, Spring 2008.
- Bernard Edinger, Europe Report: Flourishing in France, Reform Judaism online, spring 2008
- Pauline Bebe, Reinterpreting the Mikveh. Making it relevant today in my Jewish learning, from The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, edited by Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Andrea L. Weiss (New York: URJ Press and Women of Reform Judaism, 2008).
- (French) Pauline Bebe, ISHA. Dictionnaire des femmes et du judaïsme, article in Clio, numéro 16/2002, by Joëlle Allouche-Benayoun
- (French ) Sermons of rabbi Pauline Bebe
- (French) Video, Paracha Hashavoua 5770: Du déluge à la tour de Babel, Noa’h: une lecture éthique des grands récits de l'humanité October 2009
- (French) Interviews with Pauline Bebe