Rabbi Reuben Zellman

Shalom aleichem! I have a few great loves-- language, music, Judaism, and gender-bending—and I’ve been blessed to be able to weave them all into my career as a rabbi, teacher/learner, and musician. I have an undergraduate degree in linguistics, a Master’s of Hebrew Literature and rabbinical ordination from Hebrew Union College, and a Master’s of Music in choral conducting. (Yep, the person who waves their arms around.) I studied Yiddish at the YIVO Institute in New York, and Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) at the Instituto de Estudios Sefaradíes in Santiago de Chile. While in rabbinical school, I was also trained by generous cantorial faculty and alumni, who taught me trope, chazzanut, and liturgy. I have served several congregations, including nine years as the assistant rabbi and music director at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley.

I identify as trans and queer (my pronouns are he or they), and I have been involved in transgender community work since the 1990s. I’ve written and spoken quite a bit on the intersections of gender identity and Judaism. My rabbinic thesis focused on social and legal analysis of the tumtum and the androgynos, prominent intersex/non-binary figures, in the Shulchan Aruch and Mishneh Torah.

In my current work, I serve several different communities: I am the baal korei (Torah chanter) at San Francisco’s Congregation Ner Tamid; I am a lecturer in the School of Music at San Francisco State University, teaching musicianship and choral ensembles; I direct New Voices Bay Area Trans, Intersex and Genderqueer Chorus at the Community Music Center in San Francisco; and I sing as a freelance countertenor.

In my experience, anyone can learn how to chant Torah, read Hebrew, engage with Jewish texts, or improve musical abilities. These are skills developed with careful practice over time, not matters of ‘talent.’ I love working with absolute beginners as well as those who are more advanced. I’m both comfortable and experienced working with neurodivergent students and those with disabilities, and I’m committed to consistent anti-oppression practice in my teaching—I often fail, but I keep trying. Some of my very favorite things, in no particular order, are: chanting Torah and haftarah, singing Renaissance and Baroque music, nusach, eating watermelon, learning with interesting people, languages, crime shows, Psalms, maps, dogs with floppy ears, and the history of art music in Jewish communities before 1800.

Rabbi Reuben Zellman Favorite Subjects


Hebrew Language





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