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New York’s New Firebrand Rabbi

For Sharon Kleinbaum—friend of Christine Quinn, partner to Randi Weingarten—the personal is political

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Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum at Albany for Marriage Equality, June 20, 2011. (Congregation Beit Simchat Torah/Facebook)
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Last winter, Sharon Kleinbaum, the firebrand rabbi of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah—the country’s largest and best-known gay synagogue—marked her 20th anniversary in the pulpit with a Hanukkah celebration headlined by the actress Cynthia Nixon, who has been active in gay-rights and a regular guest at the synagogue. The evening featured a panel with the political writer Frank Rich, a longtime congregant, and an appearance by Christine Quinn, New York’s City Council Speaker, who came to present Kleinbaum with an official city proclamation. “She is one of the favorite religious leaders in my household,” Quinn told the crowd. “I’ve never seen her at an event or at a function or on the street or wherever where she hasn’t gone out of her way to give me—you’d think she was a bear, that’s what you get from this little woman, I always get that hug.”

On cue, Kleinbaum dashed onstage and wrapped her arms around Quinn, New York’s first female and first openly gay political leader and currently the front-running candidate to succeed Michael Bloomberg as mayor. Then the rabbi turned and made her way back to her seat in the audience next to the other political powerhouse in the room: the labor leader Randi Weingarten, who is head of the American Federation of Teachers, a close friend of the Clintons, and Kleinbaum’s romantic partner. As she sat down, Kleinbaum gave Weingarten an exuberant kiss that was audible from the balcony of the crowded auditorium, at John Jay College near Lincoln Center.

Kleinbaum is hardly the only religious leader in New York who balances a public record of spirited demonstrations and arrests with serious insider pull; the Rev. Al Sharpton practically defines the form, and other Jewish leaders, including Rabbi Avi Weiss, have adopted the model as well. But this, in many ways, is Kleinbaum’s moment: a year in which many of the issues moving the city and the country—same-sex marriage, income inequality, civil liberties—are ones Kleinbaum has long made her own, and in which those closest to the rabbi are politically ascendant.

“They’re a power couple,” Ellen Lippmann, a fellow progressive political activist and rabbi of Brooklyn’s Kolot Chaiyenu synagogue, said of Kleinbaum and Weingarten. “I certainly think of Sharon as an activist in that public protest, getting arrested kind of way, but I tend to think of her much more as a player within the system.”


From the time she arrived in New York, in 1992, Kleinbaum has been wired into the city’s power structure. In 1993, during her first year at CBST, the congregation was infamously barred from marching in the annual Salute to Israel parade along Fifth Avenue; Kleinbaum responded by organizing a parallel celebration at Central Synagogue that drew then-Gov. Mario Cuomo along with both David Dinkins and Rudolph Giuliani, who were then in the midst of their own hotly contested mayoral race. Ed Koch, by then out of office, boycotted the parade altogether in solidarity with CBST. “Her arrival made a splash,” Arthur Leonard, a former CBST board member who co-chaired the search committee that chose Kleinbaum, told me.

The youngest of four children, Kleinbaum grew up in a politically progressive Conservative household in Rutherford, N.J., where her father—the son of Polish-born, Yiddish-speaking Socialists—worked for the local Jewish welfare council. In 1968, with her two older brothers approaching draft age, she canvassed for Eugene McCarthy. Around the same time, she led a successful petition drive at her public school demanding that girls be allowed to wear pants instead of skirts. As a teenager, she rebelled not by doing drugs but by enrolling at the Frisch School, a Modern Orthodox high school; she also joined protests against the 1975 United Nations vote equating Zionism and racism.

City Councilwoman Christine Quinn and Rabbi SharonKleinbaum
City Councilwoman Christine Quinn and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum at a celebration for Rabbi Kleinbaum’s 20 years of spiritual leadership on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, at John Jay College’s Gerald W. Lynch Theater. (Martha Gorfein)

But she also fell in love with New York, traveling into the city on weekends to sneak into the second half of Broadway shows, when ticket-takers relaxed their vigilance. “I hated, hated, hated growing up in New Jersey,” Kleinbaum told me when we met recently at the storefront space near Penn Station where CBST, long housed in the Westbeth arts complex at the far edge of the Village, is planning to build a new sanctuary. “The city was life, the city spoke to my soul.” Kleinbaum went to Barnard, where she joined the War Resisters League and began protesting alongside Grace Paley. Kleinbaum was arrested protesting outside the Pentagon and wound up spending a month at the Alderson women’s prison in West Virginia. “Getting arrested felt like I was putting my body on the line for change,” Kleinbaum said. “And that month I learned a lot about America, and I’ve never forgotten it.”

After completing her term, Kleinbaum moved to western Massachusetts to work for Aaron Lansky, founder of the Yiddish Book Center, with whom she embarked on various adventures, including rescuing the Yiddish collection from the Newark Public Library. But Kleinbaum eventually decided to pursue a career in the rabbinate. “I always had an appetite for religion and politics,” Kleinbaum explained. “Becoming a rabbi enabled me to be a lifelong student and a lifelong activist.” She enrolled at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1985, the year the first openly lesbian rabbi was ordained, but assumed she would never find a pulpit position when she graduated. “It was impossible then for an openly gay person to get a job at a congregation,” she told me. “And I couldn’t really imagine a congregation that would fit.” Instead, she went to work at the Religious Action Center, the political arm of the Reform movement, handling congregational relations. “She had great instincts politically for what was doable and what was not,” said David Saperstein, the longtime director of the RAC.

In 1991, CBST began searching for a full-time rabbi. The synagogue, New York’s first gay congregation, had a robust tradition of lay-led services, but with the AIDS crisis at its nadir, members needed someone to provide pastoral care—and to lead funerals. “There was a big debate about whether what we really needed was a rabbinic social worker, and not a rabbi,” Leonard told me. An article in the New York Times about the search drew a flood of résumés, including some from Orthodox rabbis—“They said every congregation deserves a rabbi,” Leonard said, “but we felt they were contacting us out of sympathy and not because they really wanted to provide us what we needed”—but it wasn’t until Leonard and other committee members saw Kleinbaum give a keynote at a conference of gay and lesbian Jewish organizations in San Francisco that they felt they had a candidate they loved. The talk was about the idea of exile in Jewish tradition and the imperative to use the core idea of wandering—“that trek through the wilderness of ambivalence and anxiety”—as an impetus for spiritual growth. “We’d never heard of her, but we were just blown away,” Leonard said.

Kleinbaum has credited her then-partner, the Reform Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig, with pushing her to take the job. One of Kleinbaum’s first tasks was to preside over the funeral of Mel Rosen, the founding executive director of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and president of CBST’s board. “1993 was a war zone in New York City for the LGBT community,” Bill Hibsher, now president of CBST’s board, told me. “People were dying left and right—it was just shock and awe.” At 33, Kleinbaum was responsible for negotiating between dying congregants and their families, some of whom had rejected their children, others of whom had no idea their children or siblings were gay, let alone sick, until they were hospitalized. To her congregants, Kleinbaum’s capacity for navigating the deeply private, deeply personal terrain of pastoral work far outweighs the importance of her political activism. “She’s just so human, and in my experience, that’s not very common,” said the writer Alex Witchel, whose sister Phoebe died last year of breast cancer, at 44. “Sharon brought so much grace and warmth to that situation. She elevated that entire thing.”


In 1973, when CBST began holding services in a church on 14th Street, it counted 95 men and four women among its members. Today, it counts 1,100 members, many of them women and many of them straight. Jewishly educating the children of same-sex couples has become a congregational priority: The synagogue’s memory wall still stands as a testament to the ravages AIDS inflicted on the congregation, but the real action these days is in the rooms used for tot classes, where boxes overflow with stuffed Torahs and kiddush cups. CBST routinely holds High Holiday services in the cavernous Javits Center to accommodate the thousands who attend. “I feel acknowledged, spoken to as a human being, as a Jew,” said Witchel, who is married to Frank Rich. “I’m just as important as the gay person next to me, or the man next to me, and I appreciate that.”

Kleinbaum’s capacity for navigating the deeply private, deeply personal terrain of pastoral work far outweighs the importance of her political activism.

Kleinbaum’s office in the Westbeth space is filled with books and memorabilia, much of it political, including a painting a congregant made from a photograph of Kleinbaum being arrested in 2007 after a sit-in outside the Army recruiting station in Times Square, in protest of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gay service members, which was finally repealed in 2010. She also has a framed score for John Cage’s iconic silent composition 4’33”, which a congregant gave her after she gave a Rosh Hashanah sermon about the power of silence that ended with a performance of the work. The proclamation Quinn gave her in December is propped up on top of a filing cabinet just outside the door. “It also includes in it a warning that this proclamation is not any indication that she is to let up, stop, or slow down,” Quinn said at the event. “We have miles to go before we get this city to the place where Rabbi Kleinbaum and all of us know it needs to be.”

Kleinbaum has a short agenda, which at the moment is topped by issues of economic justice. Over the winter, she was more than happy to criticize Quinn for blocking a City Council vote on whether to mandate paid sick leave for workers—a position Quinn recently reversed, allowing a deal to go through. “She did the right thing,” Kleinbaum told me. “She should have done it on her own, but she got there in the end.” On other issues, like the New York Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, Kleinbaum and Quinn have joined together in protest. “If we don’t care about these issues, then I really think as a synagogue we might as well just close up our doors and become a laundromat,” Kleinbaum told me. “Because it’s just bullshit to talk about God on the one hand and prayer and a beautiful sanctuary, and then not care whether working people get paid sick leave.”

This is the public Sharon Kleinbaum. “She has not just a moral bully pulpit in New York, but on a national level,” David Saperstein told me. “When members of Congress look for someone to speak on issues, on gay rights, Sharon’s the first person who comes to mind. She has real national presence.” It was because of Kleinbaum, for example, that CBST was the only individual congregation to join in an amicus brief filed on behalf of Edie Windsor, the widow whose push to get her marriage recognized by the Internal Revenue Service is now being considered by the Supreme Court. In New York, Kleinbaum counts as a celebrity of sorts: When she was arrested protesting in Times Square, in 2007, the police went out of their way to be solicitous. “She was in the cell next to mine, and they were like, ‘Rabbi, would you like some water?’ ” said Matt Foreman, the former executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, who was the only other person arrested at the protest. “Her notoriety rubbed off on me, and I got a bottle of water, too.”

Sometimes, Kleinbaum’s politics make their way back to the synagogue. In March, she asked her board to host a panel on Israel’s future as a democracy after another synagogue, Congregation Ansche Chesed, decided to cancel the event over fears that it would provide a forum for legitimizing the movement to impose boycotts, divestment and sanctions on Israel. “We decided this totally fit into our mission as a synagogue where these issues are discussed,” Kleinbaum said. She is to the left of many of her congregants on issues relating to Israel policy, but regularly argues that it is in the Jewish tradition to air controversial or complicated issues rather than to censor them. “This is an example of something I bring to Bill, and he says, ‘Gulp,’ and then says okay,” Kleinbaum said. “I said support for Israel is one of our core values, and we won’t allow hate speech within our four walls, but it’s something we should do,” Bill Hibsher, the board president, told me. “She’s always charting a course that’s well ahead of people in the congregation, so people roll their eyes and then march behind her.” And even those who are critical of Kleinbaum’s politics, both inside and outside CBST, are reluctant to attack her publicly because of genuine personal affection for her. “I like Sharon,” said one person involved in both gay and Jewish causes, and who is friendly with Kleinbaum and Weingarten. “She just did something I thought was wrong.”

But over her two decades leading CBST, Kleinbaum has naturally attracted her own constituency into her congregation. That includes Weingarten, who first attended services more than a decade ago, when she found herself unable to get home to her parents’ in Rockland County in time for Kol Nidre. “She is a rabbi who focuses on social justice, whether it’s about what role Jews should play in the world or what role a synagogue should play in terms of homeless gay youth, worker dignity and respect, education, issues of just treating people as one would want to be treated,” Weingarten told me.

Weingarten quietly came out as a lesbian during a Pride Month service at CBST in 2007, a few months before her public coming out in October of that year. When she and Kleinbaum began dating, she briefly dropped her membership, she told me. “We’re both public figures and we’re very careful about what we do, and very private about our relationship,” Weingarten said. And Kleinbaum was involved in a bitter divorce from Wenig, whom she married in California in 2008; Wenig told New York earlier this year that the whole episode drove her to consider suicide. (Wenig declined to be interviewed for this story.)

Recently, Kleinbaum made a low-key announcement to the congregation about her relationship with Weingarten, who now sits in what’s known in the synagogue as “the rebbetzin’s seat” when she can make it to Friday night services. For a congregation that is expecting visits in the next month from New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, it’s all of a piece. “I think the congregation feels pretty good about Rabbi Kleinbaum showing up at the White House from time to time as Randi’s date,” Hibsher said. “It gives us an exposure we wouldn’t otherwise have.”


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you can walk around with a collection of agendas, or you can be a spiritual leader; but at some point, you can’t do both.

When we lived in New York my husband and I regularly took the kids to CBST for the high holy days. Sharon is a real beacon — incredibly astute, sincere, courageous, and empowering. I can’t think of any other time when I have looked forward to going to services or enjoying them as much as we did once we were there – reluctant teens included. She leads a truly diverse, invested community, unafraid to touch on the uncomfortable aspects of Judaism, and life itself.

beniyyar says:

Maybe the “gay rabbi” should spend a little more time caring for the Jews in her congregation and a lot less time celebrating being “gay!” Now that might at least make her seem like a “rabbi.”

    snessnyc says:

    Would you say the same thing of Rabbi Avi Weiss, who though the head of a congregation spends much of his time on political action?

      I would be curious to know if Rabbi Weiss brings politics into his congregation, or keeps it outside. That’s the problem: being force fed a liberal/leftist agenda of gay rights, global warming, gun control, and who knows what else in synagogue.

        I’m sure people said the same thing about Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Elijah.

          Milhouse says:

          Um, God spoke to them. They merely relayed His words to others. They didn’t make up their own messages or agendas to preach.

          oaklandj says:

          The era of prophesy is over. Now we have the tools to understand creation a lot better. If you think homosexuality isn’t part of divine creation, it’s you that’s making things up.

          Milhouse says:

          Yes, the era of prophesy is over, so why are you citing the prophets as precedents? They knew exactly what God wanted because He told them. Nobody today can claim that, so nobody today can claim to be just doing what they did.

          Of course homosexuality is part of divine creation. How is that relevant? Since when does “created” equal “good”? Pigs and shellfish are also part of His creation, but He doesn’t want us to eat them.

          oaklandj says:

          Um, I’m not Bryan Bridges. However, if I were to guess, his point was that people disregarded prophets during their times but they were proven to be right. People saying that gays are humans and deserving of love will be proven to be right, too, as the evidence emerges.

          Please tell me where in Torah homosexuality is supposed to be forbidden.

          You can quibble about what precisely is forbidden as an act, but homosexuality is not so much as mentioned in Torah (maybe Isaiah was talking about gays in 56.4). But we were all created in the image of G-d, and G-d did not intend for us to be alone.

          Irit says:

          Yes G-d did not want man to be alone but he created a man and a woman and gave them instructions like be freuitful and multiply. It was Adam and Chava not Adan and Michael or Chava and Rebecca. The christian, catholic, and many other religions bibles condemm homosexuality. You must research and find these truths. That does not mean however that gay people shouls not be treated like other human beings.

          My partner and I are procreating, Irit. Does that get us into your good Jew club, or does the gay sex keep us out?

          Irit says:

          sir I am not trying to be judgemental I just stated a fact that is in the Torah and bibles of different religions. I might not aprove of homosexuality but whatever is your preference thats your business. I dont hate gay people or wish them harm, I would help a gay person in time of need because they are human beings like you and me. Im sorry if you missunderstood my comment. I stand for the Torah and for HSM. G-d bless you

          oaklandj says:

          Just curious: which branch of Judaism do you identify with, Irit?

          Milhouse says:

          Brian Bridges’s comment was not about homosexuality at all, but about a rabbi pursuing an agenda that is alien to Judaism, which he compared to the prophets. My response was that the prophets were not pursuing any sort of agenda. They were not community organizers or social activists, they were simply and literally God’s messengers. They had no more input into the message than does the letter carrier who delivers your mail. It is impossible to cite them as a precedent for someone who chooses her own political agenda and pursues it from the pulpit as if it were Judaism.

          oaklandj says:

          Justice for the persecuted is not alien to Judaism. It is central.

          Milhouse says:

          “Social justice” has no connection to justice. It is socialism pure and simple, and that is alien to Judaism.

          Also, universalism is alien to Judaism. Christianity is the religion that teaches that all men are brothers and the distinction between different nations doesn’t matter. The Torah is clear that all people are not equal, and that we are to prefer our own people over all others. The Torah says that we Jews are a nation and we owe each other a duty of loyalty. Other people have no duty to us except not to harm us, and we have no duty to them except not to harm them. We do not need to concern ourselves with fighting for them even if they have real grievances, let alone when they don’t. And we certainly must never champion their interests over those of our own nation; that is outright treason.

          oaklandj says:

          Wow, I’d say that your posts are resembling an anti-Semite’s caricature of Jews more than anything else. Nice trolling there, Milhouse.

          Irit says:

          HSM did not create homosexuals. Everything He created is good not bad.

          First, I think homosexuals, or at least the ones I know, and homosexuality are awesome.

          But, just to follow your premise, who created:
          Athlete’s foot
          Body lice
          Food-borne diseases
          Kidney failure
          Rheumatoid arthritis

          RKNJ says:

          this is one of the most pathetic nonsensical replies i’ve ever read to a post almost anywhere.

          I was playfully responding to Irit’s comment about G-D only creating good things. Relax, this is just a message board.

          Irit says:

          G-d created all things good, man has destroyed what he created. He created a man and a woman thats why women give birth to other people and are pregnated by men. I do not hate homosexuals I would help any of them with the same love I would help anyone regardless race. color, religion but I dont condone their sin.

          Milhouse says:

          Of course Hashem created homosexuals. Who else do you think created them? Some other god, chas veshalom?! Hashem created all kinds of people, with all kinds of natures, and He gave us laws that often conflict with our natural desires. Each person finds some of His laws easy to keep, and some very difficult. Homosexuals have great difficulty with one of His laws, but they find it very easy to keep more than a dozen other laws that heterosexuals often have difficulty with. For instance, Niddah.

          Irit says:

          Everything G-d created He created good, that people out of their free will (because he gave us that choice between good and bad) have destroyed what he made good its not his fault but our own. He did not create homosexuals regardles of what you might think to excuse that kind of behaviour. His laws and if you are a jew you know this were not created for everyone they are 613 and they are for different things like the laws of Nida for women, the temple laws, sin, etc etc Please do research on your own and you will find out the truth. and please no more discussions I believe what I beleive and thats it you believe whatever makes u happy. No more on subject ok thank you Have a nice day.

          Natan79 says:

          So surely he didn’t create you either.

          Irit says:

          The Torah is very clear on gay subject it is a sin. Even the christian bible says the same so how can it be a divine creation? G-ds word does not change and it cannot be added or taken away.

    Thefuzzylogician says:

    I speak as someone who has been actively involved in the congregation for much longer than Rabbi Kleinbaum. While this article discusses Rabbi Kleinbaum’s political activity, it does not at all reflect the level of pastoral and religious involvement that Rabbi Kleinbaum has with her congregants. Rabbi Kleinbaum’s level of involvement in pastoral and religious matters is deep and thorough. Of this, there can be no doubt. ANY congregant who has any level of involvement in synagogue life can tell you that.

cipher says:

It’s wonderful to read about a rabbi who manifests liberal ideals and is committed to active participation in social justice issues. This is the Judaism with which I grew up, as opposed to the neoconservative agenda that passes increasingly for Judaism today.

And now, anticipating the frummies and neocons: “Oy, nebech! She can call herself whatever she likes, but she’ll never be a rabbi!” Of course, in their eyes her greatest crime will be not that she’s a female rabbi or a lesbian, but that she’s a liberal.

    Neoconservative agenda? Just where is that? Talk about strawmen.

    Habbgun says:

    Pretty revealing that the Judaism you grew up with is the “real” Judaism when Jews as diverse as Sephardim from the Middle East and Ashkenazic Jews in Russia and America and beyond all share the same moral beliefs, rituals, etc.

    Your kind of Judaism is a European innovation meant to make Jews more like their European “betters” and less like Jews. Who’s actually the racist here especially since Europeans tried that with whomever had the misfortune to be conquered by them and not just the Jews?

      Habbgun, it’s leftism. You needn’t complicate it beyond that. A gay female “rabbi.” She may be a wonderful person, and a fantastic activist, but she isn’t s Jewish rabbi.

        Habbgun says:

        You actually do have to complicate it because they want to look like the more accepting when they are really the most narrow-minded in outlook. When I saw how Jews who might look very different shared the same religious practices I understood where the real Judaism was. They see that and wish we’d all be class self-conscious and European oriented. They won’t even allow us to be good Americans. They want us to be little Europeans.

    Milhouse says:

    If that is the “Judaism” with which you grew up then unfortunately you did not grow up with Judaism at all, or anything like it. You grew up with a sort of paganism that 3300 years of Jews would see as completely alien.

      cipher says:

      As I predicted, it didn’t take even 24 hours for the trolls to show up.

      You people are idiots and not worth bothering with.

        Yes, everyone who isn’t in the leftist liberal emotion bubble is an idiot and troll. You’re SO deep!

          Natan79 says:

          You’re just a poor ignoramus who tries to mask his ignorance under strong political beliefs.

      poxijubijabi says:

      my neighbor’s step-mother makes $72/hour on the internet. She has been out of work for 10 months but last month her pay was $14723 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more on  Zap22.c­om

      It’s called The Church of Leftism–that’s not Judaism.

      Natan79 says:

      You and Steven Rosenberg can start a stone-a-female group, in which you’ll exert your righteousness and love of tradition while wearing color-coordinated shtreimels – just like Moshe Rabbeinu did, didn’t he?

      It’s always fun to see your ideological fellows decked in Polish merchant finery and, from under shtreimels, sweating under the Jerusalem sun. What do they know about tradition? It shows in how they dress. It shows in their complete ignorance of Jewish history.

      For them, and for you, tradition is what you know from 2-3 generations ago. That’s it. How this relates with 3,300 years of Jewish history, you don’t have the slightest clue. No wonder, when your historical knowledge comes, at best, from religious books.

I suspect that deep down, no, actually not even that deep down, women rabbis, and not even gay rabbis, just grate and alienate men. It’s just how it is, and it’s possibly the single biggest reason why Reform and Conservative Judaism aren’t doing well (as defined by memberships, synagogue attendance, etc. Yipee. “Equality” and apathy and Judaism reduced to the Cult of the Bar and Bat Mitzvah.

    snessnyc says:

    So, because men don’t like it we should not work towards what is right and just? Most Americans didn’t believe that Civil Rights for African Americans was right. We fought a Civil War because many people felt that slavery was justified. At what point do you stop doing what only what is known and comfortable and take a stand to do the right thing?

      Really? Skin color is superficial and meaningless. Gender is deep, profound, huge. Men and women are fundamentally different. Your level of analysis is pathetic.

        snessnyc says:

        Huh. I guess that there’s no arguing with bigots.

        I liked your comment until the part about religion and women not needing it as much.

        Natan79 says:

        You really are prejudiced. You’re one of those who thinks the Y chromosome makes your brain more effective. It doesn’t.

        ednastvincent says:

        I go to a shul full of wonderful Jewish men, most of them in their 70s or older. They have no problem with female rabbis, in fact, they chose to hire one. They are thrilled to see women on the bima because they want their daughters and granddaughters to love Judaism and to carry on its traditions. These are men, in short, who genuinely love and respect women. They are men who like women. Men like that have no problem with female equality.

        I frankly feel badly for men who feel the need to use religion or anything else to make themselves feel superior. What are they worried about? Are they afraid that they won’t be able to compete? Why even think of it as a competition?

        In the end, we are all souls. Our physical reality is far less important than our spiritual reality.

          ParisParamus says:

          You entirely miss the fact that men are not women, and men need different things than women do. Men need role models, and leaders much more than women. That said Rabbi is gay adds yet another layer of, for lack of a more precise word, “condlict,” but the primary issue is a Rabbi not being a man.

          By the way, this has nothing to do with “respect.” It’s a question of compatibility with a certain type of job/vocation.

          Most of the men who approve are “70 or older”? You don’t see a problem with that?

          No one is disputing that women rabbis may have something to offer women and girls. But I think women rabbis represent a net loss for Judaism because they alienate far more men than they attract women. The statistics show that rather clearly.

Dean says:

What does the fact that Ms. Weingarten has had a succession of partners say about “committed relationships” in the gay community? As a national leader, shouldn’t she be a better role model in the era of increasing acceptance of gay marriage?

    “National leader,” really? Is the Upper West Side now a separate nation? I mean, I would certainly vote for kicking them out, but I don’t think that’s possible.

      Larry says:

      i used to be a cbst member but quit. Sharon is a good political leader but does not believe in g-d and in my opinion is therefore not a real rabbi.

      Natan79 says:

      Then I would vote for kicking you out as well. I’m a great believer in reciprocity.

        Jack Meoff says:

        MORON ALERT!!! Hey “Natan”: You were just awarded the Tablet Magazine “Idiot of the Week” award! Congratulations!

    Jack Meoff says:

    It’s says that the good “Rabbi” is horny!!!

    ednastvincent says:

    Maybe. But people can be great leaders and have messy personal lives. There are plenty of other gay people who are still with their original partners from high school, but outside the Chareidi community which is hardly normative, that’s not common even among heterosexuals.

PhillipNagle says:

I wonder what section of the Torah she reads on Yom Kippur.

    I’m a member of CBST. We read and struggle with Acherei Mot. Why? Do you not read the sections you disagree with morally, such as the beautiful captive or stoning the rebellious child?

      PhillipNagle says:

      That doesn’t really answer my question.

        Actually, it very specifically answers your question…but you failed to answer the questions Bryan asked you in turn.

          RKNJ says:

          well- they ‘read’ achrei mot, but disdain it, as they do virtually any section of the torah that demands a semblance of sexual morality.

          I don’t disdain Acherei Mot or any other part of the Torah, but I understand it to be historically located (and much of it to be progressive in spirit for its time). I wrestle with the texts, which I believe is consistent with Jewish tradition.

      Milhouse says:

      Only if your supreme arbiter of what is right and wrong is yourself, the conscience that runs in your own brain and is no less fallible than any other part of yourself, is it possible for you to “disagree morally” with the Torah. But then you are not religious in any real sense; you are not worshiping God but yourself. God is merely some sort of adviser, the Torah merely a source of ideas which you may accept or reject as you please. To be religious (any religion) means to accept that you are fallible and God is not; that His law is perfect and your conscience is not; and therefore to subordinate your own will to His.

        Natan79 says:

        The Torah was written by multiple people. So easy with God here. How about if one of the writers screwed up?

        By the way, if your wife or mother commits adultery, will you stone her to death?

        ednastvincent says:

        Your will must be very weak if you accept those kinds of statements without the least doubt or hesitation. Our ancestors cried out to G-d when they felt G-d was unjust and they were far greater than we are. To be religious (any religion) is to struggle with your conscience and the demands of your faith and to find a way to be true to both. If your conscience makes no protest at the idea of stoning people for adultery then I don’t think your conscience is particularly useful to anyone, including G-d. I think G-d would find the submission of your will a pretty boring offering — if you had been born into Catholicism, you would submit to that, if you had been born a slave, you would submit to your master. You’re just someone who wants to be guided by authority. In contrast, if G-d or Torah or Jewish tradition wins a concession from Mr. Bridges, then that’s really saying something.

        There is no one interpretation of any law in the Torah, there are multiple opinions. When you choose to submit your will to one particular movement or one particular posek or one particular minhag or one particular code, you are submitting to human minds who have done their best to grapple with the law and come up with an interpretation that made sense to them. G-ds law may be perfect but its interpretation rests in human hands and is therefore necessarily imperfect. When the Rabbis of the Talmud chose one opinion over another and argued for it, which supreme arbiter of right and wrong did they use? That’s right, themselves.

I like everything I read about Rabbi Kleinbaum except her position on Israel. I am in the unusual position of being a die-hard liberal Democrat (although I’m disgusted with Obama!) in the US and a hard-line rightwinger in Israel (I’m also disgusted with Netanyahu!). I hold two citizenships and my older daughter, who is a lesbian, has lived in Jerusalem for seven years and doesn’t want to live anywhere else even though it is highly unlikely that she will ever be able to marry her partner. Despite my feelings about Israel, I think that it is wonderful that a liberal, gay woman rabbi is able to successfully lead a congregation in New York.

    She had a panel in the synagogue where at least three of the members were advocates of the extermination of Israel

      Natan79 says:

      Is that true? Do you have the details – when did it happen, who were the three members?

    ednastvincent says:

    If your daughter marries her partner in the United States and returns to Israel, their marriage will be recognized (outside the Rabbinate). Israel is in many ways more progressive than the United States on gay rights.

Lisa Liel says:

How is she in any way “new”? She’s been at CBST for decades.

Also… Cynthia Nixon and Christine Quinn? Wow. You couldn’t find someone even remotely Jewish?

    Jack Meoff says:

    I wanted to come, but since I haven’t been outed yet, the good Rabbi thought that it would be inappropriate. Plus, my “wife” (“Michelle”) threatened to sit on me if I went. Considering just how large her big fat butt is, I would have been squished to death!

    ROTFLMAO!!! I am a f ucking riot!

      Natan79 says:

      No, you a racist. You accuse Obama of being as stupid and mean as you are.

        Jack Meoff says:

        I assume that English isn’t your first language, you moron. Look up the word “racist”. Accusing my wife of having a big fat butt (which she does have, by the way) isn’t racist. And neither is it racist to be willing to sit on a gay panel discussion.
        Now go home and play with yourself or I will call up the IRS and have you audited! And you know that I can do that!

      ednastvincent says:

      Are there no standards at all for the comments section? I mean, okay, varied political debate is fine but can’t we censor outright stupidity and vulgarity?

marjorie says:

I’m going to opt not to read the comments! But I wanted to tell Allison this was a terrific profile. Brava.

So much for Torah, huh?

This I am against! Rabbis are meant as teachers of us and children children I choose not to have one as my TEACHER! Another reason I have no problem not talking to a Rabbi and study Torah on my own as a Kohen!

Irit says:

I believe that this people are wrong and apparently they have not read the Torah or ignore it to their own benefit. the Torah states clearly that homosexuality is a sin. Its a mockery and disrespect to HSM that she acts as a rabbi, wears a tallit, kippa and stands on the bima to talk about G-ds word. I agree this is a pagan and false believe, I would agree she did not grew up in a real jewish home. I dont have the gay people but I don’t aprove of what they do. This is a mayor sin in the Torah and you cannot add or take away what G-d said and established.

    ednastvincent says:

    What Jew talks about “G-ds word”? I bet anyone on this board $500 that this person is a Christian.

    The Torah says absolutely nothing about lesbianism. Nothing. Not a word. Compared to lighting a cigarette on Shabbat or driving your car, lesbian sex barely registers as a violation of mitzvot. So try again.

Jack Meoff says:

Did you know that half of all of the Reconstructionist Rabbis are lesbians? The other half are men!

ROTFLMAO!!! I am a f ucking riot!!

    ednastvincent says:

    Sounds like a good environment for learning Torah — the women and men will be less distracted by each other, right?

Aaron says:

I’ve resisted saying anything negative about
CBST, my former employer, or Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, CBST’s rabbi. But
this blindly-glowing encomium begs to be responded to.

Of all LGBT
leaders I know or know of, Rabbi Kleinbaum is the most ‘untouchable’ –
that is, to subject her to public scrutiny is almost tantamount to
heresy. But the shroud around her is way too much. She treats CBST
employees horribly; she ridicules them, she puts completely unrealistic
expectations on them, and when they exceed those expectations, she
shoots them down for having failing. She contradicts herself
consistently as well, and when a staff member calls her out for that
however politely, she slams them. (I find it ironic that she’s dating
the head of the AFT, because – though she publicly supports unions –
she’s extremely anti-union when it comes to CBST itself.) Essentially,
Rabbi Kleinbaum is completely undeserving of any of the many public
honors she’s received over the years. And the board of CBST is either
intentionally or unintentionally blind of all the internal strife
surrounding Kleinbaum. If they knew what was good for CBST, they’d fire
her (but they won’t since individual board members probably fear her).

Speaking of CBST, the synagogue plays a great smoke-and-mirrors game.
I’ve never been part of a more dysfunctional organization. CBST has 11
non-rabbinical staff – and over the last year, 9 of those staff members
have left (and my replacement lasted only a month before she quit),
leaving CBST with a turnover rate of 82% in its non-rabbinical employees
this year. A management consultant hired in 2011 concluded in 2012 that
although the organization is relatively sound, the staff was in crisis.
And the capital campaign is now a joke – several months ago, to a local
newspaper, the Interim Executive Director publicly offered to refund
donors the money they pledged. (Who the fuck does that?!?!) CBST,
through-and-through, is a toxic environment, led by an even more toxic

    ednastvincent says:

    I sympathize with what you are saying but this is unfortunately common in non-profit organizations and even more common in organizations led by charismatic people. Charismatic people are rarely good managers and the best thing they can do for everyone is to recognize that and hire someone else to do that work.


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New York’s New Firebrand Rabbi

For Sharon Kleinbaum—friend of Christine Quinn, partner to Randi Weingarten—the personal is political