Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum


Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum serves as spiritual leader of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST) in New York City.  She was installed as CBST's first rabbi in 1992, arriving at the height of the AIDS crisis when the synagogue was in desperate need of pastoral care and spiritual leadership.  She guided the congregation through a period of loss and change, while addressing social issues of the day and building a strong and deeply spiritual community.  Under her leadership as Senior Rabbi, CBST has become a powerful voice in the movement for equality and justice for persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions and a significant force challenging the radical right's dominance over religious ad political life in the U.S. and around the world.  

Rabbi Kleinbaum's education and experience cut across all varieties of contemporary Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and secular activist. She received her ordination from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1990. A 1977 graduate of Frisch Yeshiva High School of Northern New Jersey, she graduated cum Laude from Barnard College in Political Science in 1981. Rabbi Kleinbaum has also studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and at the Oxford University Centre for Post-Graduate Hebrew and Yiddish.

Prior to joining CBST, Rabbi Kleinbaum was Director of Congregational Relations at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, DC, 1990-1992. In 1989-1990 and 1987-1988, she served as Student Rabbi at the gay synagogue Congregation Beth Haverim in Atlanta, Georgia, 1989-1990. In 1988-1989, she was Senior Educator, National Federation of Temple Youth, Jerusalem, Israel. 1982-1985 she was Assistant Director, the National Yiddish Book Center, in Amherst, Mass. 

Raised in a whole family of social activists, Rabbi Kleinbaum's own social action career began in her first year at Barnard College, leading protests against the school's investments in South Africa and against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It has continued nonstop ever since. As a human rights advocate--for blacks, women, gays and lesbians, immigrants, Palestinians--she has been jailed, arrested, vilified, and lauded, all with equal aplomb.

Rabbi Kleinbaum has testified in Federal Court and before the U.S. Congress in hearings on the subject of same-sex marriage. She attended the President's White House meeting of national religious leaders in 1999. Rabbi Kleinbaum has been a speaker or a panelist at numerous feminist and LGBTQ rights conferences. She has frequently been engaged to speak about same-sex marriage, Judaism & homosexuality, gay synagogues, and Judaism and social justice.

For many years Rabbi Kleinbaum has been ranked by Newsweek among the 50 most influential rabbis in America.  She has been named one of the country's Top 50 Jewish leaders by both national Jewish weeklies, The Forward and Jewish Week.  Rabbi Kleinbaum has been the subject of a New York Times profile and has been featured and interviewed in many books, magazines, and newspaper articles.

Rabbi Kleinbaum was appointed by President Biden to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.  She serves on the Welcome Council of Welcome.US on which former U.S. presidents and their First Ladies, Obama, Bush and Clinton serve as honorary Co-chairs. Rabbi Kleinbaum is also a Commissioner on New York City's Commission on Human Rights, serves on the mayor's Faith Based Advisory Council and serves on the boards of the New York Jewish Agenda and the New Israel Fund.  

Rabbi Kleinbaum is a member of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform), and the New York Board of Rabbis. 

(This biographical statement taken from information provided on the web site of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah.)

Biography Date: February, 2004; rev. January 2022

Additional Resources

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah produced this 20th anniversary tribute video on Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum in 2012: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=372aEb8n45Q


Jewish (Reconstructionist) | Jewish (Reform) | Clergy Activist | Feminism | New York | New York City | Kleinbaum, Sharon


“Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed May 24, 2024, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/sharon-kleinbaum.


“I joined CBST in 1988.  At that time I was new to the US and disenfranchised from the Judaism of my childhood, but the idea that a LG synagogue existed was an amazing concept to me and so should be supported.  When Rabbi Kleinbaum came on board, there was a huge rush for members to get to meet with her one-on-one.  To say that we were a community in desperate need of a spiritual leaded would be an amazing understatement.  I believe I waited three months to see meet with her in person and was involved with the newsletter at the time.  The first question she asked me was (and I paraphrase) “What is your relationship with G-d”.  We then went on to discuss some of the things in my life.  I mentioned that I ran weekend retreats for another organization and that a dream of mine would be to have a CBST retreat, where we could all experience a shabbat together.  Sharon immediately jumped on that idea and with the help of Yolanda Potasinski (the current board chair), to get me board approval, we were off and running on our first retreat. RSK can get anything accomplished.  She has systematically been the force behind a multitude of changes, taking things that most people dream and making them real.  She will be missed when she moves on, but I know that she will continue to realize dreams into a reality that improves on the world for all, not just the LGBTQ+ community.”
 – as remembered by Mike Finesilver on September 26, 2023

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