Beth Abraham Rabbi Emeritus Samuel B. Press dies at 87

Rabbi Samuel B. Press,who guided Beth Abraham Synagogue along Conservative Judaism’s path toward women’s full equality in worship, died April 29 at the age of 87.

He served Beth Abraham, the Dayton area’s only Conservative Jewish congregation — then at Salem Avenue and Cornell Drive in Dayton View — from 1978 until he retired in 2002.

Born in Middletown, Conn. and raised in Springfield, Mass., Press received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and his rabbinic ordination at the Orthodox movement’s Yeshiva University. At Press’ ordination, Yeshiva honored him with its Talmud Award. He also pursued graduate studies at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary.

In line with the Conservative movement, Beth Abraham began allowing women to be called for aliyot (to recite blessings over the Torah) in 1975 on certain occasions.

By the early 1980s, during Press’ rabbinate, a girl was allowed to have her bat mitzvah on Shabbat morning and could have a Torah aliyah if accompanied by her father. An adult woman could also receive an aliyah if accompanied by her husband.

In 1985, 16 adult women participated in a b’not mitzvah ceremony at a Beth Abraham Shabbat afternoon service.

Beginning in 1986, Press would occasionally conduct fully egalitarian Shabbat morning services in Beth Abraham’s small chapel while the main service took place in the sanctuary. A year later, a bat mitzvah girl could be called to the Torah for an aliyah by herself; the synagogue board also approved women being counted toward a minyan (quorum) for daily services. In 1989, Beth Abraham’s board adopted a plan for full egalitarian worship.

Before his time in Dayton, Press had served as a chaplain in the Air Force for the state of Alaska. He was also the founding rabbi of the Oyster Bay Jewish Center in Long Island.

In Dayton, Press was active in Black-Jewish and Christian-Jewish relations, and race and clergy relations overall. He founded the Synagogue Forum of Greater Dayton and served on the boards of Womanline and Dayton Free Clinic.

— Marshall Weiss

To read the complete June 2024 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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