Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D. | Reconstructing Judaism

Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D.

President, Reconstructing Judaism; Aaron and Marjorie Ziegelman Presidential Professor, RRC

THE FIRST WOMAN RABBI to head a Jewish congregational union and a Jewish seminary, Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., became President of Reconstructing Judaism in 2014. Since then, she has drawn on her training as a rabbi and historian to be the Reconstructionist movement’s leading voice in the public sphere.

Through visiting numerous congregations (more than 50 at last count), making public appearances in-person and online, and in writing for The Forward, The Times of Israel, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Huffington Post and other publications, Rabbi Waxman is projecting a vision of Judaism that embraces all peoples and inspires Jews to be strong allies to the most vulnerable among us.

Rabbi Waxman leads the Reconstructionist congregational union through close collaboration with the Board of Governors, the leaders and congregants of the nearly 100 affiliated Reconstructionist communities, and her extraordinary colleagues in the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association. This matrix of institutions has collaboratively achieved many milestones to support the movement leadership’s vision of 21st century Reconstructionist Judaism.

Since Rabbi Waxman has assumed her leadership role, Reconstructing Judaism has undertaken a number of major initiatives including:

Revising the rabbinical college’s curriculum. The rabbinical college’s leadership launched a new curriculum that trains students to embrace entrepreneurialism as well as tradition, and develop new ways to connect people with positive Jewish experiences.

Building relationships with congregational leadership. Reconstructing Judaism’s Affiliate Support team has strengthened organizational and consultative ties between its central operations and Reconstructionist communities across North America.

Innovating Judaisms for the 21st Century. Reconstructing Judaism’s Innovation and Impact team is channeling new technology, young minds, and the latest spiritual thinking to develop relevant and vibrant Jewish communities in this time of rapid societal and technological change.

Bolstering Reconstructionist Judaism’s ties to Israel. Reconstructing Judaism has deepened the Reconstructionist movement’s religious, social, and cultural engagement with the Israeli-Jewish Renaissance and successfully completed the very first Reconstructionist Birthright Israel trip in 2016. In 2018, Reconstructing Judaism led two dozen members of affiliated Reconstructionist communities on an Israel Mission that explored Israeli music, arts and politics.

Opening a second summer camp. Camp Havaya leadership won a grant to open a second summer camp in 2018, Havaya Arts in southern California.

Besides her academic credentials and rabbinical studies, Rabbi Waxman brings an experienced strategic mind to her post. She led a team of movement leaders in developing the first strategic plan for both the college and the congregational union as a combined organization. In her previous role as vice president for governance, she was key in the successful integration of the rabbinical college and the congregational union.

Rabbi Waxman has taught courses on Reconstructionist Judaism and practical rabbinics since 2002 at the college, where she is the Aaron and Marjorie Ziegelman Presidential Professor.

Her academic publications include a chapter on bar/bat mitzvah, co-authored with Rabbi Joshua Lesser, in A Guide to Jewish Practice, Volume 3 (The Reconstructionist Press 2014); “Multiple Conceptualizations of the Divine” in Sh’ma (April 2014); “ ‘A Lady Sometimes Blows the Shofar’: Women’s Religious Equality in the Postwar Reconstructionist Movement” in A Jewish Feminine Mystique?: Jewish Women in Postwar America (Rutgers University Press 2010); “Distinctiveness and Universalism: How to Remain Jewish if Jewish Isn’t Better” in Zeek (Fall 2010); and “The Challenge of Implementing Reconstructionism: Art, Ideology, and the Society for the Advancement of Judaism’s Sanctuary Mural,” co-authored with Joyce Norden, in American Jewish History (September 2009). She serves on the American Jewish Historical Society’s Academic Council.

Waxman is a cum laude graduate of Columbia College, Columbia University, and a recipient of a rabbinical ordination and a Master of Arts in Hebrew letters from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1999. She earned a Ph.D. in American Jewish history from Temple University in May, 2010.

In 2016, Rabbi Waxman was named to the annual “Forward 50” list of most influential Jews by the Forward, a pre-eminent American Jewish publication. In naming her to this list, the Forward remarked, “in the long communal conversation over how to relate to Jews who marry non-Jews, those in the ‘be welcoming’ camp won a major battle this year, thanks in large part to Rabbi Deborah Waxman.”

Let's Journey Together

In an essay that appeared in Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent, Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., makes the case that Reconstructionist Judaism matters now more than ever.

News

A Message of Condolence

We express condolences on the tragic death of Rabbi Aaron Panken, Ph.D., 12th president of HUC-JIR.

News

Why Belong?

Why belong to the Jewish people? Why belong to a synagogue? Why belong to the Reconstructionist movement? These are some of the most important questions that I am asked and that I, along with all of us at Reconstructing Judaism, strive to answer powerfully and convincingly.

News

Reconstructionist Movement Updates

Though we count time Jewishly, by any consideration the secular year 2018 is an exciting year for the Reconstructionist movement.

News

About Our New Name

We’re changing our name to Reconstructing Judaism. Rabbi Deborah Waxman, president of Reconstructing Judaism, explains why.

News

Movement Update from Rabbi Deborah Waxman

Reflections on the state of Reconstructionist Judaism as 2018 begins.

News

High Holiday Message from Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D.

At Rosh Hashanah, as we turn to new beginnings, we seek to repent—to do teshuvah—for what we have done wrong. And we can also affirmatively foster ourselves toward resilience—toward a thriving, loving outlook in spite of whatever challenges we encounter in life. In this video, I explore themes of resilience embedded into Jewish practice.

Video

Keeping the Faith: Resilience in the Jewish Tradition

In an essay for eJewishPhilanthropy, Rabbi Deborah Waxman delves into Jewish history and tradition around resilience — the focus of our new podcast, Hashivenu.

News

The Cornerstone of a Better World

A powerful Reconstructionist message responding to recent acts of anti-Semitism, as well as inspiring examples of the best of humanity.

News

Light Through The Cracks

Rabbi Deborah Waxman reflects on finding spiritual equilibrium in a time of shifting sands.

News

Rabbi Deborah Waxman Speaks to Faith Leaders on Solidarity

Rabbi Deborah Waxman made this statement to faith leaders during a 11/28/2016 call on “Faith and Solidarity during a time of White Supremacy.”

News

Jewish Nasty Women: We must claim our history to repudiate Trump

In this personal and political post in The Times of Israel, Rabbi Deborah Waxman discusses what's at stake in this presidential election and beyond.

News

Light and Darkness

In this video, Rabbi Deborah Waxman offers a High Holiday message of hope in spite of the problems confronting the world and the personal travails we all face.

Video

Rejecting Chosenness in Favor of Distinctiveness

Waxman asks if it is “possible to believe that all people are created equal and to believe that Judaism is superior to other religions.”

Article

Judaism on the Cutting Edge

Rabbi Deborah Waxman describes how her own experience as a trail blazer was made possible by the Reconstructionist movement’s combination of fearless innovation and pragmatic spirit.  

Article