From the top of her 29 years, Iris Ferreira will become, Sunday, July 4, the first female rabbi to be ordained in France, reports to Agence France-Presse (AFP) the movement of liberal Judaism. She will go to officiate at the Liberal Jewish Union of Strasbourg (UJLS), “A community which currently does not have a liberal rabbi”.
She becomes the fifth female rabbi in office in France, after Pauline Bebe, Delphine Horvilleur, Floriane Chinsky and Danièla Touati, who had all been ordained abroad.
Etienne Kerber, a 36-year-old man of the liberal tendency of Judaism, will be ordained rabbi at the same time as her. Both will receive the “semikha” (the transmission of authority from one rabbi to another) from rabbis Tom Cohen and Pauline Bebe, in their respective communities in Paris. Such an event had not taken place in France for 53 years.
The liberal movement, largely dominant in the Anglo-Saxon world, but minority in France, is in favor of an open vision of Judaism. Unlike traditionalists and Orthodox who consider that entrusting the rabbinate to a woman is not in accordance with Jewish law, the halacha, liberal Jews believe that women have as many rights as men in all areas.
“A turning point in Jewish life”
After four years of medicine, a license in Hebrew, Iris Ferreira went to study in London at Leo Baeck College, for five years, no rabbinical training then existing in France for the liberal movement.
The one who first frequented Orthodox Judaism communities in western France says she discovered in the liberal movement “An openness that allows everyone to make their way in a freer context”, she told AFP.
“We are at a turning point in Jewish life. I hope that this will better meet a need in the community ”, she adds, as several other women currently in training will become rabbis within four or five years.
Attracted by the rabbinate “From adolescence”, Etienne Kerber, studied English and American literature. Also trained at Leo Baeck College, he will officiate at the Liberal Jewish Community of Paris, alongside Pauline Bebe. In addition, both will teach at the start of the school year at the Ecole rabbinique de Paris, which opened in September 2019 and trains around ten liberal rabbis.
A thousand female rabbis around the world
The ceremony on Sunday, organized by Leo Baeck College, will also involve two other rabbis, ordained at the same time in Cambridge and Amsterdam.
In June 2019, an international meeting of female rabbis or teachers from the United States, Israel and France took place in Troyes, a first in France. The question of a greater place for these women in Judaism was at the heart of the discussions.
In all, there are about a thousand female rabbis in the world. Some 800 work in the United States, about fifty in Europe, the rest in Israel. A dozen liberal rabbis (men and women) now practice in France.