Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D.
Aaron and Marjorie Ziegelman Presidential Professor
215.576.0800, ext. 129
THE FIRST WOMAN RABBI to head a Jewish congregational union and lead a Jewish seminary, Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., emphasizes Reconstructionist Judaism’s distinctive path toward meaning and connection.
Rabbi Waxman leads through close collaboration with the board of governors of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities, and with her extraordinary colleagues in the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association. She has installed a cabinet of exceptional leaders, augmenting the vice presidents for academic affairs and administration with three new positions: vice presidents for community engagement, strategic advancement and student development. She has increased focus on Israel by appointing a director of Israel engagement and liaison to Israeli Jewish renaissance. Additionally, Camp JRF and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities will share a new experiential educator. In her first nine months as president, Rabbi Waxman visited 13 Reconstructionist congregations and met with members and leaders of 20 more.
In addition to her rabbinical and academic credentials, Rabbi Waxman brings significant expertise in strategic planning to her post. Along with a team of Reconstructionist movement leaders, she led the development of the first strategic plan for both the College and the movement as a combined organization. In her previous role as vice president for governance, Rabbi Waxman helped to set mandates and evaluate the impact of the board of governors’ 13 committees—and was key in the successful integration of the rabbinical college and the congregational union in June 2012.
In past positions for the movement, Rabbi Waxman won support from leading funders such as the Kresge Foundation, Wexner Foundation and Cummings Foundation. She also led RRC’s academic accreditation work.
Rabbi Waxman has been on the faculty of RRC since 2002, teaching courses on Reconstructionist Judaism and practical rabbinics. From 2002 to 2012, she served as High Holiday rabbi for Congregation Bet Havarim in Fayetteville, NY.
Her academic published articles include a chapter on bar/bat mitzvah, co-authored with Rabbi Joshua Lesser, in the forthcoming A Guide to Jewish Practice, Volume 3 (RRC Press); “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); “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); and a review of the National Museum of American Jewish History for Pennsylvania History (Winter 2012). She has received a number of academic honors, including the Ruth Fein Prize given by the American Jewish Historical Society. She serves on the society’s academic council.
Rabbi Waxman graduated cum laude from Columbia College, Columbia University, where she was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Society. She received rabbinical ordination and a Master of Arts in Hebrew letters from RRC in 1999. She studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as both an undergraduate and graduate student, and received a Horace W. Goldsmith Fellowship to support her graduate work. She earned a Ph.D. in American Jewish history from Temple University in May 2010; her dissertation was titled “Faith and Ethnicity in American Judaism: Reconstructionism as Ideology and Institution, 1935–1959.”
In 2016, President Waxman was named to the Forward 50. In naming her to this important list, the Forward remarked that “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.”