Ayala Emmett was born in Israel in Tel Aviv and grew up in Ra’anana in an Orthodox Socialist community. After high school she served in the IDF on a border kibbutz. She studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and graduated with a B.A. majoring in Anthropology, Sociology and English Literature and a minor in Jewish History. She got her M.A. and Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Rochester and joined the faculty of the department of anthropology at the University of Rochester in 1987. She was one of the founders of the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women’s Studies at the university.
Ayala Emmett is the author of a book on women’s peace activism in Israel, Our Sister’s Promised Land: Women, Politics, and Israeli-Palestinian Coexistence (reissued in 2003 in paperback edition with new introduction). Emmett has edited special volumes and written numerous articles on peace, justice, gender, and religion. She is the recipient of the Society for Humanistic Anthropology Fiction Award and published short stories in the journal Anthropology and Humanism. She served as chair of national and local committees and was the anthropology editor for the journal Sex Roles.
Ayala Emmett is the founder and director of Seeds for College Foundation, a foundation to support inner city minority students to graduate high school and go to college. She is one of the founders of JWCR (Jewish Women for Child Refugees) in Rochester N.Y.
Emmett is a past president of Temple Beth David and a current member of Congregation BHBI and Temple Brith Kodesh.
In January 2014 Ayala Emmett was appointed Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Rochester. She founded, together with two other editors, Peter Eisenstadt (U.S.) and Matia Kam (Israel), The Jewish Pluralist a website that gives space to wide and diverse Jewish voices, American and Israeli, commenting on Jewish and non-Jewish life and committed to Jewish values and ethics. The website locates itself within the long history of Jewish concern with justice, peace, and human dignity.