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From the JOFA blog: Dr. Tamar Frankiel, First Orthodox Woman to head rabbinical School

Dr. Tamar Frankiel, an accomplished and impressive Jewish scholar, was recently appointed President of the Academy for Jewish Religion in California (AJRCA), making her the first Orthodox woman to head a rabbinical college. The author of seven books on Jewish mysticism and religion, including one on women in Judaism titled, The Voice of Sarah: Feminine Spirituality and Traditional Judaism, Dr. Frankiel has an illustrious record of teaching and scholarship and is considered a leading expert on Jewish mysticism. In honor of her new appointment, Dr. Frankiel shared some of her experiences and insights with JOFA Executive Director Elana Sztokman:  How long have you been involved with AJRCA? Eleven years, first as faculty, then as Dean of Students in 2003, and Dean of Academic Affairs in 2008. Tell me a little bit about your background (professionally and religiously). I have been in academia for over thirty years, mostly in part-time positions because I was also raising a family of five and wanted to be doing research and writing as well. We also needed to be in a place with good Jewish education, which limited our choices. Until I came to AJRCA, I worked in public universities teaching world religions, American religions, and some Jewish studies, and also had been teaching in the Jewish community in adult education venues. I have been observant for almost the same length of time, after coming to Judaism as an adult and growing into it with my husband.  First, in northern California, we were with affiliated with a Renewal group, then with Chabad.  In Los Angeles, we have had many Jewish choices and have been regularly affiliated with two small congregations.   How does it feel to be in your new position? I am very excited and eager to do this work. I worked very closely with Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, the previous president of AJRCA (also orthodox), and led the school through the process of academic accreditation, so I have been involved with all levels of the school. In that sense, it is a natural step for me.  But at the same time, representing AJRCA to the community is another dimension. What does it mean to be the "first orthodox woman heading a rabbinical school"? Let's be clear that this is a trans-denominational school, independent, not affiliated with any movement. It is not just a rabbinical school though; we educate rabbis, cantors, and chaplains to serve a wide spectrum of Jewish communities, but we do not expect our clergy graduates to be accepted by Orthodox congregations because of different norms and standards -- including that AJRCA ordains women. Still, even among liberal rabbinical schools, it is a rare position for a woman. According to our research, there has been only one other female president, in the 1990s at the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York (we are not affiliated schools, though we were briefly affiliated in the past, hence the similar names). Surely, with more women on rabbinical and cantorial faculties, there will be a female president...

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