Of all the people we’ve interviewed over the years, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum’s one of the most inspirational. And awesome.
A spunky, socially aware New Jersey native, Kleinbaum currently presides over New York’s queer-inclusive synagogue, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah.
Aside from her Orthodox upbringing, Kleinbaum cites her background in Yiddish literature as one of the reasons why she chose to become a rabbi.
Said the jarringly young looking 49-year old:
I actually first seriously started considering Rabbinical school while I was teaching Yiddish literature. I thought I could teach Yiddish literature to a community without a religious background, but ultimately Yiddish is so infused with Judaism that it’s really hard to really deeply understand Yiddish just as a language, because it isn’t simply a language: it was embedded deeply in a culture, and that culture included Judaism, and you can’t parse them out without bleaching out from all of them really the power of what they are.
Now, years on, Kleinbaum uses her position and moral authority to fight injustice, like anti-gay legislation. In fact, the good Rabbi found herself behind bars last year for a Times Square protest against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which prohibits openly gay Americans from serving in the military.
Our editor recently headed over to CBST to chat with Kleinbaum on the nature of religion, how she reconciled her faith with her lesbianism, Sarah Silverman’s "Great Schlep" and why religious leaders must talk politics.