Sydneysider ordained as Australia’s first Hebrew Priestess

July 25, 2017 by J-Wire News Service
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The Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute has given smicha  [ordination] to its fifth cohort comprised of thirteen women including one from Australia at a ceremony at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Connecticut.

Keshira haLev Fife is ordained

Co-founded by Rabbi Jill Hammer, PhD and Taya Shere 12 years ago, Kohenet is an educational organisation that runs concurrent retreat-based, residential  on the East and West coasts of the U.S and online training programs They facilitate the creation of transformative Jewish ritual that is embodied, earth-based, feminist and inspired by traditions of women’s spiritual leadership from ancient Israelite sources, Jewish texts and folklore, kabbalah and contemporary creativity.

The new Kohanot, Hebrew Priestesses, are primarily from the US and Canada, with Australia claiming one as our own, Keshira haLev Fife, who is based in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, Australia but spends a significant amount of time in her hometown of Pittsburgh.

A former Board President of the North Shore Temple Emanuel, and once active with the UPJ, Fife began to take a different approach to her communal involvement a few years ago, when a casual dinner conversation inspired her to experiment with creating an intimate, musical, lay-led Kabbalat Shabbat gathering in her home.   One success led to another and the events soon outgrew her home and became a monthly gathering 35-60 people.

Davening Shacharit

Along the way, she became a registered wedding celebrant and also began to explore and develop lifecycle rituals which are current-moment relevant and grounded in Jewish practice and tradition.  And then, one day, she tripped across the Kohenet Institute and immediately knew that this would be her next step.

“The Kohenet Institute is an utterly new yet ancient movement, drawing on stories of women of the Bible and Talmud as well as ancient, medieval, and modern ritual practices to create a Jewish experience that is transformative, reverent, and inclusive,” says Rabbi Jill Hammer, cofounder of Kohenet and the Director of Spiritual Education at the Academy of Jewish Religion

Traveling back and forth seven times over 3.5 years, she delighted in her transformed relationship with Jewish practice, her deepening spiritual connection, her exposure to a rich and vibrant international community, and her awakening to how she might best serve her communities.

With a strong balance between academic and experiential learning, she comes away feeling inspired to step even more fully into communal leadership; she notes that “while the institutional Jewish world does a phenomenal job of engaging and supporting its congregations, there are still many unaffiliated people within our communities who yearn for connection and Jewish involvement.  Part of my mission is to serve in way that complements the many wonderful offerings out there, increasing the richness and texture of our communal fabric.”

More information about The Kohenet Institute can be found at  More information about Keshira haLev Fife can be found at


2 Responses to “Sydneysider ordained as Australia’s first Hebrew Priestess”
  1. David Austin says:

    A French field marshal on seeing the Charge of the Light Brigade said “C’est magnifique mais ce n’est pas la guerre” – It’s magnificent but it’s not warfare.

    There is room within even the strictest orthodox Judaism for women to have their own congregations, and to lein Torah, and goodness knows we have had many many women since Devorah who have been wise in Torah. And more power to their elbow.

    But priesthood?? Ho hum.

    I wonder what our brethren in the normative conservative and reform movements think about this particular excursion into new territory.

    • simon aagaard says:

      …to be fair, if the charge of the Light Brigade had been some kind of success, we wouldn’t care what a French field marshall said about it…proof of the pudding etc. So G*d bless the kohenet, and check again in 160 years…

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