Rabbi Yoel Kahn

Rabbi Yoel Kahn

A native of the Bay Area, Rabbi Yoel Kahn grew up spending weekends and summers at Camp Swig and lived on a kibbutz in Israel during his sophomore year of high school. After graduating with honors from UC Berkeley, he returned to Jerusalem to study at the Hebrew University and begin rabbinical school. He was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1985. Upon ordination, he moved to San Francisco to become Rabbi of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav. During his eleven-year tenure, the congregation was known for its liturgical innovation and commitment to social justice. Kahn left in 1996 to complete his graduate studies, receiving his Ph.D. through the Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California, in 1999. He also served as the Executive Director with the Hillel Foundation at Stanford University and as Visiting Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies at the Graduate Theological Union. Prior to coming to Congregation Beth El, he served as the Associate Director of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and Director of its Taube Center for Jewish Life where he was responsible for Jewish education and Jewish life as well as the arts and lectures programs of the Center.

Rabbi Kahn has served on the Liturgy Committee and has been a member of the Responsa [Law] Committee, the Committee on Reform Jewish Practice and the Board of Directors and the of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. In 2010, he was elected President of the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis. He is the former Chair of the Legislative Affairs Committee of the Jewish Community Relations Council and former host of Mosaic, the Jewish community’s monthly public affairs TV program on KPIX. He is currently a member of the Board of Directors of Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay.

Kahn’s research on the history of Jewish worship was published in the award-winning book The Three Blessings: Boundaries, Censorship and Identity in Jewish Liturgy (Oxford University Press, 2011). He has published and spoken widely on Reform decision making, spirituality, and issues of sexuality, feminism, and theology. He has taught at the conferences and conventions of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the American Academy of Religion, Graduate Theological Union, Stanford University, and at synagogues and campuses around the country. His articles have appeared in Sh’ma, Bridges, CCAR Journal, Out/Look and other journals. In 2010, he was awarded a Doctor of Divinity honoris causa by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination.

Rabbi Kahn retired after serving Congregation Beth El for 15 years on May 28, 2021.

“Get to know Rabbi Kahn” video clips

In 2007, Rabbi Kahn recorded a series of short interviews about his vision for the synagogue and his ideas about spirituality, prayer, community.

Rabbi Kahn's Recent D'rashot (Sermons):


Rosh Hashanah 5776:
"Creating a Shabbat Practice"

Yom Kippur 5776: 
"Second Naivete and Mature Zionism"


Rosh Hashanah 5775:
"Cultivating the Soul - the Holiness of the Self"

Yom Kippur 5775:
"The Mi Shebeirach Prayer"