French woman breaks down barriers to become France's first female Orthodox rabbi

Myriam Ackermann-Sommer is leading what is thought to be one of the only Modern Orthodox congregations in France


A French woman is breaking down barriers to become the country’s first Orthodox female rabbi.

Myriam Ackermann-Sommer, 26, who graduated from an American rabbinical program this month is now running one of Paris’ only Modern Orthodox congregations known as Ayeka with her husband. 

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Ackermann-Sommer stressed the need for “women to be involved in Jewish life as well.”

She said: “Jewish girls in France grow up surrounded by women who excel in all areas of civilian life. They are lawyers, doctors, teachers… but all of our rabbis are long-bearded men! We need women to be involved in Jewish life as well.”

Ackermann-Sommer also explained that she wished to embody a Judaism that is both conservative and modern, where, according to her, "freedom of thought is felt."

She went on to say: “Some are perfectly alright with how Orthodox communities work and that’s great for them. 

“I, as a woman, am outraged whenever I’m at the synagogue and I cannot hear or see what is going on because I’m seated far away in the back behind the men or on a balcony where I can’t hear very well.

“We offer a response to women, among others, who want more participation in the ritual and in the study.”

Ackermann-Sommer also said their movement does not aim to be “a revolution” but added: “We hope to be able to show the French Jewish community that we do not want to reform or fight existing communities but merely open new doors.

“Those who come here have an intellectual and spiritual thirst. They are not only women who come as feminists, and the topics studied aren’t only related to women obviously, it’s about getting to know Jewish tradition the way it has long only been taught to men.”

Ayeka often draws 50 people for Saturday Shabbat services. Women are also separated from men by a divider that seats them side by side as per Orthodox practice. 

The congregation holds prayers according to the standards of what is known as a “partnership minyan”. This model is followed in a number of liberal Orthodox congregations, largely in the United States and Israel, in which women can chant weekly Torah readings and lead certain portions of services.

Ackermann-Sommer discovered Judaism as a teenager through the teachings of her rabbi uncle after being raised in a non-religious household. She then started actively studying Jewish texts after meeting her husband in 2017.

She earned a rabbinical degree this month from Yeshivat Maharat, a liberal Orthodox seminary in New York City. Her husband Emile Ackermann graduated from its partner school for men known as Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.

Orthodoxy is the dominant Jewish denomination in France but traditionally prohibits women from leading prayer services or becoming rabbis. However, some liberal segments of Modern Orthodoxy ordain female rabbis. 

French philosopher and expert on religion Michaël de Saint Chéron said: “This is a historic moment in the history of French Judaism.

“They [new female rabbis] are an example for many. Other women have already followed in Ackermann-Sommer’s footsteps and started studying to be rabbis themselves.”

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