Four Questions with Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights – North America

Originally published on

created at: 2011-05-09Last month, Rabbi Jill Jacobs became Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights – North America, an organization working to involve Rabbis in the United States and Canada in being moral voices in current human rights issues both at home and in Israel. Rabbi Jacobs is the author of There Shall Be No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice Through Jewish Law and Tradition (Jewish Lights, 2009) and Justice Shall Dwell There: A Hands-on Guide to Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community (Jewish Lights, forthcoming in June 2011). She writes a regular column, “Public Judaism,” for the Forward, serves as a panelist for the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog, and blogs at the Huffington Post. She was Rabbi-in-Residence of Jewish Funds for Justice from 2005 to 2010, and Director of Education and Outreach at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs from 2003 to 2005. Rabbi Jacobs received rabbinical ordination and an MA in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary, an MS in Urban Affairs from Hunter College, and a BA from Columbia University. She is an alumna of the Wexner Fellowship Program and spent the 2009-2010 academic year as a Jerusalem Fellow at the Mandel Leadership Institute. And perhaps most relevant to, she grew up in Framingham, MA.

What’s the origin of your passion for social justice?

My very first social justice campaign ever was when I was a junior in at Framingham High School, and my principal was quoted in the local newspaper saying there was no teen pregnancy problem in Framingham. I thought otherwise because I walked the halls of my school and saw pregnant teens. I did a little research, called Planned Parenthood, and found that Framingham had one of the highest teen pregnancy and STD rates in the US. We were one of the few schools in Massachusetts that had no sex education whatsoever, and I figured those two facts weren’t disconnected.

I started meeting with the school board about making sex ed and condoms available at our school. At the time, I had no idea that was connected to Judaism – that Jewish women had been involved in reproductive health battles for a long time.  I did notice that my parents were supportive and that my synagogue was supportive, so I knew there was something vaguely Jewish about it, but I couldn’t put it together. Only as an adult did I learn that Jews had been involved in reproductive health forever, and Jews had been involved in social justice work, and Jewish law includes thousands of pages on how we should behave in civil society.  Continue reading