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Reena Sigman Friedman, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Modern Jewish History, RRC

Reena Sigman Friedman, Ph.D., is associate professor of modern Jewish history at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Her modern civilization seminar explores the evolution of Jewish communities around the world in the modern period. In her teaching, she emphasizes that many issues raised at the dawn of the modern period are still very much with us in the 21st century. Among the topics she touches upon are the development of the modern rabbinate; innovations in Jewish education; various forms of modern Jewish politics; Jews’ engagement in social justice movements; and the American response to the Holocaust. Friedman encourages students to apply what they have learned about modern Jewish history to their practical rabbinic work.

Friedman was honored by her students with RRC’s Yaakov Gladstone Fine Teaching Award in 2017.

Her scholarly research has focused on Jewish charitable institutions, Jewish women’s history, the history of the Jews of Philadelphia, American Jewish religious movements, and American Jews and social justice. She was awarded the Loewenstein-Wiener Fellowship by the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives for the 2019-20 academic year, a research fellowship to support her work on a project related to American Jews and social justice.

She is the author of These Are Our Children: Jewish Orphanages in the United States, 1880-1925, as well as entries in the Encyclopedia Judaica, Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America and Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. She has chapters in Rela Mintz Geffen and Marsha Bryan Edelman’s Freedom and Responsibility: Exploring the Challenges of Jewish Continuity and in Michael N. Dobkowski’s Jewish American Voluntary Organizations. She has also published numerous scholarly articles and book reviews in many academic journals (Jewish Social Studies, American Jewish Archives, American Jewish History, Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies), as well as in The Reconstructionist and Evolve.

Friedman served as a consultant for Challenge and Change, a series of textbooks and teachers’ guides on American Jewish history for seventh- to ninth-grade students, and was a co-facilitator of teacher training seminars related to the books. She is also a member of the Education Committee of the National Museum of American Jewish History.

She earned her M.A., M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees from Columbia University, and her B.A. from Cornell University.


Selected Courses


Modern Civilization Seminar: This course surveys Jewish history in the modern period from the 18th through the 20th centuries.


Ritualwell Immersion Online Learning Experience

In Their Own Words: American Jews and Social Justice: This four-part online series explores Jewish involvement in movements promoting public health, liberal immigration laws, labor rights, gender equality and racial justice.


At Gratz College

America’s Jews: Honoring the Past, Looking to the Future: This course presents an overview of American Jewish history, from the mid-17th through the 21st centuries.

America’s Response to the Holocaust: This class studies the response of the American governmen, American public and American Jewish community to the Shoah, from the 1930s to the present.


Recent Presentations

Reena Friedman recently spoke as part of the Recon Connect Beit Midrash on “Lillian Wald: An Inspiration for Our Time.”


Other Course Offerings and Lecture Topics

“Jews in the ‘City of Brotherly Love’: History of the Jews of Philadelphia”

Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof: American Jews and Social Justice”

“Is American Jewish History Unique?”

“The American Jewish Experience Through Film”

“Jewish History in the First Person: Memoirists’ Perspectives”

“American Judaism: Four Paths” (the evolution of Jewish religious movements in America)

“American Jewish Women and Political Activism”

“ ‘My Yiddishe Mama’: East European Jewish Family Life in America”

Yontif in America: Jewish Holiday Celebrations Through the Centuries”

“Divided Loyalties, Common Concerns: American Jews and the Civil War”

The Reconstructionist Network

Serving as central organization of the Reconstructionist movement

Training the next generation of groundbreaking rabbis

Modeling respectful conversations on pressing Jewish issues

Curating original, Jewish rituals, and convening Jewish creatives

The Reconstructionist Network