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Alissa Thomas Newborn

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Position  Kehilla intern
Semicha  Rabbi Avi Weiss
Yeshiva  Yeshivat Maharat
Name  Alissa Thomas-Newborn
Denomination  Orthodox
Role  Clergy
Spouse  Akiva Newborn

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Synagogue  B’nai David-Judea Congregation

Alissa Thomas-Newborn is an Orthodox Jewish woman who became the first Orthodox female clergy member to preside in the Los Angeles, California area when she assumed her post as a spiritual leader at B’nai David-Judea Congregation (BDJ) in August 2015. The announcement of her appointment came on May 2, 2015 from the pulpit by the lead clergyman of the synagogue, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky.


Alissa Thomas-Newborn Morateinu Alissa ThomasNewborn joins the clergy Jewish Journal

Early life

Alissa Thomas-Newborn alissa thomasnewborn Archives Jewish Journal

Thomas-Newborn was raised in Redondo Beach, California. Her mother, Didi Thomas, is a Reform rabbi and spiritual leader of Temple Emet, a Reform synagogue that meets in Rancho Palos Verdes.


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Thomas-Newborn graduated magna cum laude from Brandeis University with a degree in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and Classical Studies Archaeology and Ancient History. She is a research writer for The Center for Jewish End of Life Care at Metropolitan Jewish Health System. She also spent time studying at a number of other institutions, including the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Neve Yerushalayim and The Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Thomas-Newborn trained at Yeshivat Maharat, the female rabbinical training program run by Rabbi Avi Weiss in Bronx, New York, and took her ordination exam in May 2015. In addition to her rabbinical training, Thomas-Newborn is a certified chaplain, having trained at a number of hospital-based programs such as New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She received chaplaincy certification from Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains (NAJC) in 2016.


Thomas-Newborn is currently serving in a one-year congregational internship at BDJ. BDJ employed three previous interns, all of whom were male and all of whom went on to become rabbis. Her appointment as an intern makes BDJ the seventh Orthodox synagogue to appoint a female to their clergy staff.

Like all Yeshivat Maharat graduates, Thomas-Newborn received the title of maharat at ordination, which is an acronym for manhiga hilchatit ruchanit toranit, translating into English as a "female leader of Jewish law, spirit and Torah."

Because of communal politics and controversy about the formal appointment of females as members of the clergy in Orthodoxy, caution is in place when it comes to assigning a title for Thomas-Newborn. After consideration, the synagogue board came up with the title morateinu, which means "our teacher" in Hebrew, for her to assume upon formal appointment.


To highlight the controversial nature of this appointment, Rabbi Avi Shafran, Director of Public Affairs and Spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, spoke out strongly against the concept of a female clergy member. "The maharat title is universally and correctly understood as a ruse," said Shafran, referring to the official title Thomas-Newborn and others receive at ordination from Yeshivat Maharat. Others have called her promotion from intern and appointment to morateinu as "the latest development in the continued adulteration of Orthodoxy."

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), one of the world's largest organizations of Orthodox rabbis, adopted a position in April 2010 stating that "due to our...commitment to sacred continuity...we cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title," and went on to criticize the founders of Yeshivat Maharat. Sara Hurwitz, the first graduate of Yeshivat Maharat, chose the title rabba for herself, ostensibly a female version of the term rabbi that is currently held exclusively by males in Orthodox Judaism.

A collaborative effort between four Los Angeles-based Orthodox institutions—Young Israel of Century City, Shalhevet, BDJ and Beth Jacob—was almost derailed when the latter found out that Thomas-Newborn was one of the seven scheduled speakers. Because the event was being held entirely at Beth Jacob and they intended to pull out of the event, it was almost canceled. Eventually, a plan was brokered in which the event would be split into two partial events held at different locations, with Thomas-Newborn scheduled to speak at BDJ, where she currently serves as an intern. Beth Jacob had no issue with Ruthie Skaist, another female Judaic studies teacher, being included on the list of speakers because there "was no controversy surrounding her," whereas the perception was that some thought that Thomas-Newborn "was becoming a rabbi," according to Marc Rohatiner, past president of Beth Jacob and an alumni parent at Shalhevet, another of the four institutions involved. The BDJ website asserts that the synagogue has a "commitment to women’s equality in Judaism." Rabbis Elazar Muskin, Kalman Topp and Yosef Kanefsky of Young Israel of Century City, Beth Jacob and BDJ, respectively, are all members of the RCA.

Personal information

Thomas-Newborn married Akiva Newborn, currently enrolled at UCLA Law School, on May 26, 2014.


Alissa Thomas-Newborn Wikipedia

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