#6: A Cantor’s Torah (Cantor Sarah Sager & Rabbi Jennifer Hartman)

In this mother-daughter conversation, Rabbi Hartman speaks with the esteemed Cantor Sarah Sager, a feminist pioneer and inspiring Torah scholar. Cantor Sager was the first invested cantor at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, and has served there for over 40 years. Listen as she shares insights from this groundbreaking career, including the story of how Cantor Sager’s words galvanized the creation of The Torah: A Women’s Commentary. Please subscribe to Temple Talks and review the show. Comments and questions can be directed to tmoss@templeisrael.com. Talk with us!
An edited excerpt from this week’s Temple Talks follows below. 

Rabbi Hartman
I remember when you were dreaming up this women’s commentary on the Torah, back in the early 90s when I was just a girl. And now that book sits in this and so many other congregations, with your preface written in it.

Cantor Sager
Yes, my involvement with The Torah: A Women’s Commentary was probably the proudest moment of my career.  I received an invitation from Region 3 of what was then the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (NFTS), and is now the Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ). They asked me to speak at their regional convention in '91 or '92 on the topic of the Torah from the perspective of Reform Jewish women. I received that call during the week with the Torah portion containing Akedat Yitzchak, the binding and almost-sacrifice of Isaac. Before the call came, I had been thinking about the portion for a d’var Torah I was giving at the board meeting that month. For some reason, maybe because I was a relatively new mother, it occurred to me that if Sarah had been asked to sacrifice her child, the story would have stopped right there. She’d have just said no; this is not my God; this is not possible.

Because the call came as I was considering that possibility, I said yes to being the scholar in residence at this regional convention, which was to be about a year later. I spent a year studying and creating two major presentations. I realized that there was an article there, and a book there, and something here, but there was no central place I could go to find the literature and the scholarship on women in biblical times and as represented in our sacred texts. I thought to myself, what if there was as a central place—and I thought about it for me! It was kind of selfish in that way, but it also occurred to me that if there was a place that could bring together all the rewards of all the women who had recently conducted Jewish feminist scholarship, it would be a terrific tool, and a tool for study for decades. 

As part of my presentations at that convention, I charged the NFTS to commission a women’s commentary to the Torah that would make use of every woman scholar or rabbi who had something to say about our tradition. They were so excited that I was asked to speak at the WRJ national convention. They embraced the idea, raised the money, and we were able to move forward. 

Welcome to Temple Talks, a new podcast from Temple Israel in Minneapolis, where Jewish wisdom meets our ever-changing world. Join us as we talk with our favorite partners and thought leaders, from around town and around the world. We hope these talks will inspire you, challenge you, and give us all new ideas about Judaism, religious life, and social justice. Join us for services, learning, and community at TempleIsrael.com.