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National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods


NATIONAL FEDERATION OF TEMPLE SISTERHOODS (Women of Reform Judaism ), national organization of synagogue women's organizations dedicated to promoting Reform Judaism, founded in 1913. This organization, renamed the Women of Reform Judaism in 1993, counted 75,000 members in 500 local affiliates in the United States, Canada, and 12 other countries in 2005. Founding President Carrie Obendorfer Simon did not want nfts to duplicate the work of existing Jewish women's organizations, especially that of the *National Council of Jewish Women, which in 1913 focused especially on immigrant aid. Instead, Simon saw nfts carrying the banner of religious spirit forward in Jewish congregational life. Although she initially invited women from synagogue sisterhoods of all denominations to join nfts, within a decade sisterhood women in both Conservative and Orthodox synagogues would create their own national associations.

At its inception nfts declared that it would use the forum of a broad, public organization to further Jewish women's responsibilities to Reform Judaism, its synagogues, religious schools, seminary, and the wider Jewish community. nfts encouraged its members to attend services weekly, to beautify their synagogues, and to be involved with their synagogue religious schools and the education their children received there. Reform Jewish women extended their mandate for youth work to rabbis-in-training, funding scholarships and building a dormitory at Hebrew Union College in 1925. After World War ii, its leaders helped create the North American Federation of Temple Youth (nfty) for Reform Jewish high school students.

For decades, the guiding light behind nfts was executive director Jane Evans. Joining nfts in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression, Evans pushed Reform Jewish women to look beyond the confines of the synagogue and to engage the great issues of the day. Subsequently, its members took stances on access to birth control, civil rights, fair employment practices, and a host of other issues important to American women. In 1963, nfts voted overwhelmingly in favor of their movement's considering women's ordination. A decade later they endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment.

Through nfts, sisterhood women exercised a collective voice. Although they shared the public spaces of their synagogues and Reform Judaism's national institutions with their husbands and sons, nfts nationally and through its local chapters allowed women a venue for the creation of a female Reform Jewish culture. Through its programs and shifting interests, the nfts helped change the expectations of American Jewish women's proper behavior within the portals of their Reform synagogues and ultimately prepared them to enlarge their roles there and in the world.


P.S. Nadell and R.J. Simon, "Ladies of the Sisterhood: Women in the American Reform Synagogue, 1900–1930," in: M. Sacks, Active Voices: Women in Jewish Culture (1995), 63–75; P.S. Nadell. "National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods," in: P.E. Hyman and D. Dash Moore, Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, 2 (1997), 979–82; Proceedings of the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (1913– ).

[Pamela S. Nadell (2nd ed.)]

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