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Rachel Frank-Litman

Rachel (Ray) Frank (April 10, 1861 in San Francisco – October 10, 1948) was a Jewish religious leader and educator in the United States. Frank was the daughter of Polish immigrants who emigrated to the far west of the United States. She described her parents, Bernard and Leah Frank, as "liberal-minded orthodox Jews." Her father, a descendant of the Vilna Gaon, was a traveling merchant whose livelihood involved commerce and trade with Native/indigenous peoples. As a young woman, Rachel Frank taught Bible studies and Jewish history at the First Hebrew Congregation of Oakland's Sabbath school, where she began to hone her skills as a public speaker and make a name for herself within the California Jewish community. Her students included Gertrude Stein, later to become a famous writer, and Judah Leon Magnes, who would become a prominent Reform rabbi. At the same time, Frank worked as a correspondent for several San Francisco and Oakland newspapers and was a frequent contributor to a number of national Jewish publications. In the fall of 1890, Frank was visiting Spokane, Washington when she was invited to deliver a sermon on the eve of Yom Kippur (Jewish day of Atonement). The impassioned sermon she delivered after the service made a deep impression on the audience made up of townspeople- Christians as well as Jews. As the first Jewish woman to preach formally from a pulpit in the United States, inaugurating a career as "the Girl Rabbi of the Golden West" that would help to blaze new paths for women in Judaism. Despite the fact that Frank claimed to have no interest in becoming a rabbi, her actions forced American Jewry to consider the possibility of the ordination of women seriously for the first time. As a result, Frank spent much of the 1890s traveling up and down the West coast giving lectures to B'nai B'rith lodges, literary societies, and synagogue women's groups, speaking in both Reform and Orthodox synagogues, giving sermons, officiating at services, and even reading Scripture. Although headlines began to refer to Frank, incorrectly, as the first woman rabbi, and she was reportedly offered several pulpits, Frank insisted that she had never had any desire for ordination.


Opening Prayer for the Jewish Women’s Congress, by Rachel Frank-Litman (World Parliament of Religion at the World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893)

Contributed on: 04 Dec 2021 by Aharon N. Varady (transcription) | National Council of Jewish Women | Rachel Frank-Litman |

The opening prayer of the Jewish Women’s Congress held at the World Parliament of Religion at the World’s Columbian Exposition as published in the Papers of the Jewish Women’s Congress: held at Chicago, September 4-7, 1893 (1894), p. 8. . . .

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