Asenath Barzani: Judaism’s First Woman Rabbi?

Rabbi Steven Jacobs is a dedicated spiritual leader and the founder of the Progressive Faith Foundation. A great advocate for civil rights and Jewish community relations, Rabbi Steven Jacobs serves on national boards pertaining to these matters, including Faith in Public Life, Equality California, and Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

In seventeenth century Kurdistan, Asenath Barzani was recognized for her thorough knowledge of the Torah, along with Kabbalistic and Talmudic law. Well-educated and raised by scholars, Asenath directed and taught in a male yeshiva, previously run by her father, scholar and leader Rabbi Samuel Barzani. Even after her marriage, her father stipulated in her marriage contract that household chores should not hinder his daughter’s ability to teach and learn. Following his death, Asenath went on to become the first female dean, head teacher, and Rosh Yeshiva.

In addition to her teaching duties, Asenath write poetry in the Hebrew language, and practiced the Kabbalah. It is believed that the term Tanna’it (female Talmudic scholar) was coined in order to define Asenath Barzani. Today, she is recognized by many as the first woman rabbi in Judaism.

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