The Encyclopedia features over 1,700 biographies, 300 thematic essays, and 1,400 photographs and illustrations on a wide range of Jewish women through the centuries -- from Gertrude Berg to Gertrude Stein; Hannah Greenebaum Solomon to Hannah Arendt; the Biblical Ruth to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Beba Trachtenberg was born on October 14, 1895 in Yekaterinoslav (Dnepropetrovsk), Ukraine, then part of the Russian empire. Her parental home was poor and unattractive and the family lived in hardship, primarily because her father, Yitzhak, had no regular means of income. The Trachtenbergs provide a good example of the changes undergone by East European Jewry at the time. Beba’s mother, Rivka, was a pupil at the progymnasia, a kind of state junior high school. Her father, who was religiously observant, studied Talmud but was also well-versed in the customs and practices of modern life. He sent his sons to heder and hired a private tutor for his daughters.
The Iggeret ha-Kodesh (The Holy Epistle), a Kabbalistic work written in the second half of the twelfth century, has been mistakenly attributed to the Ramban (Moses ben Nahman or Nahmanides, 1194–1270 - see Update below). The question of the composition’s author has prompted various answers: Gershom Scholem (1897–1982) at first believed that the author was Rabbi Joseph ben Abraham Gikatilla (1248–1325), a kabbalist who lived a generation after the Ramban. He later recanted this view and attributed the work to the kabbalist Rabbi Joseph of Shushan (thirteenth century), who was especially known for his erotic works.
Imma Shalom (Mother of Peace) is identified in the Babylonian Talmud as the wife of R. Eliezer, a prominent sage who flourished circa 75 c.e., and the sister of Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh, the head of the Sanhedrin. She is mentioned only a few times in rabbinic literature. After R. Eliezer defied his colleagues in the story about the oven of Aknai, his wife tried to save him from the harm she predicted would befall him. However, she failed because she erred regarding the New Moon (BT Baba Mezia 59b). Upon hearing her husband predict that a student who treated him disrespectfully would not finish out his week, she asked him if he were a prophet (BT Eruvin 63a).
Clara Immerwahr was born on June 21, 1870 on the Polkendorff Farm near Breslau, where she grew up together with her three older siblings, Elli, Rose and Paul, in a wealthy, highly-cultured, open and liberal family, which wore its Jewishness lightly. Her father, Philipp Immerwahr, had studied chemistry and sought to establish a factory, but when this enterprise failed he turned to Polkendoff, where his farming skills and inventive spirit combined to make him wealthy. He married his cousin Anne, née Korn. The family regularly spent the winter months in Breslau, where Philipp’s mother owned a large store selling clothes and dress materials.
Rabbinic Judaism constructed differing legal, religious, and social roles for men and women that were intended to foster women’s reproductive functions and nurturing qualities, even as it placed them under the control of a dominant husband. While childlessness was perceived as a grave misfortune for both men and women, a male’s failure to generate offspring violated a legal obligation, since men alone were obligated to have children. The prooftext frequently cited for this unilateral ruling was Genesis 35:11, where Jacob is commanded in the second person masculine singular to “Be fertile and increase.” According to BT Pesahim 113b, the childless man is reckoned as if menuddeh, “cut off” from all communion with God, like one who has deliberately disregarded divine commands. BT Nedarim 64b, among other texts, accounts him as already dead, together with the pauper, the leper, and the blind. BT Sanhedrin 36b ordains that the childless scholar may not sit on the Sanhedrin.
In this article “intermarriage” refers to the marriage of a Jew to a non-Jew who does not convert to Judaism. The terms “interfaith marriage” and “mixed marriage” will be used interchangeably with “intermarriage.” In sociological terms, marrying within one’s ethnic or religious group is called endogamy, while marrying outside is exogamy.
An agunah (plural: agunot) is a woman “chained” to a husband either unwilling or unable to grant her a Jewish divorce. Because halakhah (Jewish law) requires that the get (the divorce document) be granted by the husband, an agunah cannot remarry, and any subsequent children she bears are considered mamzerim (illegitimate children) who can never marry legitimate Jews. Legal loopholes exist to allow non-divorced husbands to remarry; none exist to help wives. The plight of agunot has become an increasing problem in contemporary times, with Jewish communities unable to pressure recalcitrant husbands into granting divorces to their wives. In addition, in the State of Israel, both marriage and divorce fall within the realm of religious law; there is no civil alternative.
The International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW) is an umbrella organization for forty-nine affiliates representing some two million women in forty-six countries. The head office rotates according to the place of residence of its current chairwoman, who is elected for a period of three years. Plans for future actions are decided on by a team of directors at international triennial conventions which take place in various countries. Each affiliate organization of the ICJW retains its own name and has its own projects. The ICJW is an entirely voluntary organization based on the good will of women motivated by their belief in the humanitarian duty rooted in in Judaism, in the vocation of the Jewish woman or mother, or simply in a sense of Jewish solidarity. Established in the early twentieth century and reconstituted immediately after World War II, ICJW never ceased its development throughout the vicissitudes of the past century.
The International Ladies Garment Workers Union was founded in 1900. The eleven Jewish men who founded the union represented seven local unions from East Coast cities with heavy Jewish immigrant populations. This all-male convention was made up exclusively of cloak makers and one skirt maker, highly skilled Old World tailors who had been trying to organize in a well-established industry for a couple of decades. White goods workers, including skilled corset makers, were not invited to the first meeting. Nor were they or the largely young immigrant Jewish workers in the newly developing shirtwaist industry recruited for the union in the early years of its existence. But these women workers still tried to organize.
“When Rachma had a son the well-wishers congratulated the family with ‘B’siman Tov’ [good fortune] and ‘Tesewihum Sab-a’ [may there be seven], but when she had a daughter they merely said ‘Mazal Tov’ [good luck], sometimes adding what were in effect words of sympathy, ‘Al-Hamd Lilah Ala Salamitha’ [thank God the mother is well] and ‘Ala Rasa Libnin’ [may boys follow her]” (Cohen 1973, 1996; Zenner 1982). Sons were preferred to daughters and this is still the case, though it is no longer expressed so openly. When Rachel gave birth in Israel to her first child, a girl, her parents-in-law decided to cancel their planned visit from America. Rachel commented “My in-laws may consider themselves educated and modern [they were born in America], but they behave as if they were living in Iraq.”
Following World War I, the government of Britain was granted a mandate over Palestine by the League of Nations, with the aim of establishing a national home for the Jews. That “National Home,” the Yishuv, would later become an independent Hebrew state. However, in May 1939, with World War II imminent, the British government issued a “White Paper” banning Jewish immigration to Palestine. “Illegal” immigrant ships that had managed to escape from Europe were barred from entering Palestine and some were even forced to return to Europe, to almost certain death.
She was born in New York City on June 18, 1884. After graduating from Barnard College, in 1910 she married Stanley M. Isaacs, with whom she had two children, Myron (b. 1911) and Helen (nicknamed Casey, b. 1913). When Stanley Isaacs ran for office (he served as Manhattan borough president from 1938 through 1941, and later as Republican minority leader on the City Council), Edith Isaacs ran his campaigns. She described her work as writing clever jingles for him, “corralling and instructing volunteers, drafting letters to constituents, working with experts on newspaper articles and advertising, and after the election, writing letters of thanks to all who helped.”
Israel is the only country where military service is obligatory for both men and women. Women constitute approximately a third of the conscripts and close to twenty percent of the standing professional army. In 2003, the military conscripted some seventy-seven percent of the cohort of eighteen-year-old Jewish men and fifty-nine percent of the cohort of eighteen-year-old Jewish women.
To page through the newsletters and annual reports published periodically by the Israel Women’s Network between February 1986 and January 2000 is to become aware of the powerful impact that can be made by a group of well-informed, energetic, articulate and determined feminists. Combining consciousness-raising, education, litigation and lobbying, the Israel Women’s Network was responsible for a veritable transformation in the status, image and self-image of Israeli women which marked the last fifteen years of the twentieth century.
An intense desire to share the joy of dance coupled with a strong identification with both Israel and their Jewish roots profoundly affected a diverse group of North American Jewish women. Each added a dimension to the flourishing of Israeli dance activities in communities, including regional festivals, workshops, performing groups and weekly folk dance sessions. All were also involved in enriching Jewish education by training teachers and developing dance resources or programs.
The achievements of women’s writing in Hebrew rank among the unquestionable triumphs of Israeli feminism. From a (culturally speaking) atypical starting point of almost total exclusion from Hebrew language and literature, Israeli women writers have been able to ascend to a prominent position in the Hebrew literature of the last two decades. In the space of less than fifty years, Israeli literature has undergone a profound process of change, in which women played an important role. The talent of the women writers, coupled with the encouragement of women readers and academics, have helped women’s writing to progress from marginalization to its rightful status. This change, which did not come about easily, was part of the struggle for equality of the sexes in every aspect of Israeli society. Before reviewing the accomplishments and analyzing the processes that produced the change, this article will focus briefly on the obstacles that confronted women authors writing in Hebrew.
Jews have lived on the Italian peninsula uninterruptedly since antiquity. During the middle ages, the center of the Jewish population of Italy shifted from the south to the north. There, during the early-modern period, having been granted charters, local Jews, joined by refugees from Europe, including waves from French, German, and Iberian lands, provided valuable services as moneylenders and merchants. Although this period saw anti-Jewish agitation by churchmen and the establishment of ghettos, new governmental bodies to supervise the Jews, and local inquisitions, the fact that Italy was not unified provided the Jews with opportunities to leave one city-state to bring their services to another that offered greater promise for more tranquility, an incentive for their hosts to ensure their continued presence.
The history of Italian Jews in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is essentially a story of social integration and embourgeoisement, with the exception of the years of Fascism, the racial laws (1938) and World War II. In Italy, each pre-unification state had a particular relation to its Jewish population, reflecting the strong regional differences that in many ways were maintained even after political unification in 1860.Even if the different realities of Italian Jewry were shaped by the history and the socio-cultural context in which they lived, some elements—such as the high degree of literacy among Jewish women and men—distinguished the Italian Jewish population in general. This literacy, which characterised nearly all Italian communities, with the exception of Rome, remained an advantage over the gentile population long after the barriers of the ghetto were pulled down.
Blanche Frank Ittleson was born September 27, 1875, into the third generation of a prominent German Jewish family in St. Louis. She was the oldest of four siblings, all brothers. After completing high school, she trained as a kindergarten teacher. In 1898, she married Henry J. Ittleson. They had two sons, Henry, Jr., and Lee, who was retarded. Moved by Lee’s needs, Ittleson continued her interest in child development and studied social work at Washington University’s School of Social Economics. The Ittleson family moved to New York City in 1915, where Henry Ittleson founded Credit and Investment Company, the first time-payment company in the United States. (It is now the CIT Financial Corporation, a broadly diversified financial company.)
On April 6, 1944, Klaus Barbie (1913–1991), Chief of the Nazi Gestapo in Lyons during the German occupation of France, raided a home for Jewish children in Izieu, a remote hilltop village overlooking the valley of the Rhône (70 km. east of Lyons). This action was to become one of the most infamous symbols of Nazi brutality and, ironically, the single count (of crimes against humanity) for which Barbie, torturer and murderer of Jewish men, women and children, but most excoriated as the executioner of Résistance hero Jean Moulin, was tried and convicted some forty-three years later.
Izraeli was Professor of Sociology and former Chairperson of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Bar Ilan University, Israel. At the time of her death, she was Chair of the Interdisciplinary Program in Gender Studies and head of the Rachel and J. L. Gewurz Center for Research on Gender at Bar Ilan, which she endowed in the name of her parents. The Bar Ilan Program, which she initiated, is one of only two M. A./Ph. D. Gender and Women’s Studies programs in Israel.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Encyclopedia." (Viewed on February 12, 2016) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/toc/I>.