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Anne Lapidus Lerner

b. 1942

by Lisa Kogen

When Anne Lapidus Lerner entered Radcliffe College in 1960, university-based Jewish Studies departments were virtually nonexistent. The few male professors of Jewish subjects in the United States were scattered among departments of history, philosophy, religion and Semitic languages in an equally scant number of institutions. But by the time Lerner earned her Ph.D. in comparative literature (French, modern Hebrew and American literatures) from Harvard in 1977, Jewish Studies programs were springing up in colleges and universities throughout North America. When she was appointed Vice Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1993, her fields, Hebrew literature and women’s studies, were full-fledged sub-disciplines of Jewish studies.

Raised in Boston, where she was born on October 30, 1942, Anne Lapidus was the daughter of American-born public school teachers who were also natives of Boston. Her father, Joseph (1906–1988), attended Harvard Dental School for two years, but went on to receive a B.S. at Boston University College of Liberal Arts (1929) and an M.A. in French literature. From 1931 to 1933 he attended the Sorbonne. In 1940 he married Lillian Green (1912–1993), who had studied at Hebrew Teachers College (c. 1927–1929), earned a B.A. at Boston University College of Liberal Arts (1933), taken graduate courses in history at Radcliffe (1933–1934) and become a teacher of history at her own alma mater, Boston’s Girls’ Latin School. Lerner also studied there before the family moved to Brookline (MA), where she graduated from Brookline High School. The couple had two more children: Marcia (Kaunfer, b. 1945) and Robert Eliot (b. 1948). Anne describes her family as “shomer shabbes lay Conservative Jews.” Lerner holds two B.A. degrees: from Radcliffe in French literature and from Hebrew College; two M.A. degrees: from Harvard in comparative literature and Hebrew College in Jewish history. In 1970 Anne Lapidus married Rabbi Stephen Lerner; they have two children, (Rabbi) David Gavriel (b. 1971) and Rahel Adina (b. 1977).

Lerner, whose first academic position was at Boston’s Hebrew College, was appointed to the faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1969. In her more than thirty years at JTS, Lerner distinguished herself as a member of both the faculty and administration. She was the first American-born woman offered a full-time position there, later serving as dean of List College (1986–1993). In 1993, Lerner was appointed Vice Chancellor, the first woman in the history of JTS (or any other Jewish institution of higher learning) to achieve so elevated a rank. She held this position until 1999.

Lerner was influential in the development of many new programs and initiatives at JTS, including its combined social work program with Columbia University and its inter-disciplinary M.A. She was the founder and director of the Jewish Women’s Studies Program at JTS, and director of the Jewish Feminist Research Group. During the 2001–2002 academic year she was a research associate and visiting lecturer in the Women’s Studies in Religion Program at Harvard University’s Divinity School.

Among Lerner’s many publications, “Who Has Not Made Me a Man: The Movement for Equal Rights for Women in American Judaism,” a study of the interaction between second generation feminists and American Judaism, has become a classic of American Jewish feminist history. Initially written for The American Jewish Yearbook in 1977, this pioneering study was later printed independently. Lerner’s book, Eternally Eve: Images of Eve in the Hebrew Bible, Midrash and Modern Jewish Poetry, will be published by Brandeis University Press.

Anne Lapidus Lerner
Full image

Anne Lapidus Lerner.  Photo courtesy of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

How to cite this page

Kogen, Lisa. "Anne Lapidus Lerner." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 27, 2014) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/lerner-anne-lapidus>.

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