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.
In the preface to her book Builders of Emerging Nations (1961), Vera Dean poses the question, “What makes a leader?” While the book goes on to discuss the important qualities necessary to be a leader in the political arena, the story of Vera Dean’s life is a testament to her own leadership abilities. She helped shape American foreign policy and opinion on international relations, as both an educator and a writer.
Rebekah’s nurse Deborah died when Jacob was on his way to the Land of Canaan, close to Bethel. She is mentioned by name only once in the Torah, in Gen. 35:8, in the description of her burial under an oak tree that was named “Allon-bacuth [the oak of the weeping].” Deborah is also mentioned, anonymously, in Gen. 24:59, when she accompanied Rebekah on the latter’s journey to the Land of Canaan to wed Isaac: “So they sent off their sister Rebekah and her nurse,” as was fitting for a wealthy and distinguished family that retained a nurse.
Deborah is presented in the Rabbinic sources as a very talented woman. She was an upright judge, with the same prophetic ability as Samuel; Torah scholars would come to learn from her. This ability was granted her as reward for her good deeds, namely, the preparation of wicks for the Tabernacle. She also encouraged her fellow Israelites to regularly attend the synagogue and Tabernacle, and thanks to her beneficial influence on her husband, he merited a portion in the World to Come. There is a tradition that presents Deborah as being guilty of the sin of pride, which led to her loss of the gift of prophecy, while the other traditions speak in her praise, and number her among the twenty-three Israelite women of outstanding righteousness (Midrash Tadshe, Ozar ha-Midrashim [ed. Eisenstein], 474).
Deborah is one of the major judges (meaning charismatic leaders, rather than juridical figures) in the story of how Israel takes the land of Canaan.
“Nerve,” according to activist-writer Midge Decter, is “the one thing all writers need.” Her own career has demonstrated this principle several times over, as Decter’s controversial opinions have put her at the center of public debates over issues such as feminism and foreign policy. A neoconservative who enjoys debunking cherished liberal beliefs, Decter has inspired both fury and respect among readers. Even those who disagree violently with her insist that hers is “an opinion to be reckoned with.”
Ida Dehmel (née Coblenz) was born in Bingen am Rhein, the daughter of a prosperous Jewish family, whose genealogy on her father’s maternal side can be traced back to the year 1735. Her father Simon Zacharias (1836–1910) became a partner in the wine merchant firm of Joseph Philip Meyer, marrying Meyer’s daughter, Emilie (1840–1878). The couple had five children: Elise or “Alice” (1864–1935), Julie Hedwig (1865–1935), Cornelius (1866–1922), who died in Worthing, Sussex, Ida (1870–1942) and Marie Louise, or “Lulu” (1877–1892). Emilie’s early death in 1878, six months after a complicated childbirth, meant that the family was raised in a patriarchal milieu that was dominated by firm rituals, decorum and etiquette. However, their stern upbringing was relieved by the close proximity of their late mother’s parents, the Meyers, who resided nearby in a large family house on the Marktplatz (market square). In the unpublished autobiography of her youth, which she started in 1901 (entitled Urschrift) and which was reworked during the 1920s and in 1940 as a novel (entitled Daja), Ida fondly recalled her grandmother, who was Paris-born and who took a keen interest in her grand-daughter’s well-being (Daja, 7–9, in HH 1970, 3).
Dancer and choreographer Katya Delakova was a pioneer in incorporating Jewish experience into dance. Delakova applied themes from the Bible, Hasidic elements of worship, and American and European folk dance in the creation of theatrical dances for the stage. She later explored Old Testament themes using improvisation, developing a highly effective method for making large-scale dance-theater works. Her innovative teaching method, which drew from Eastern traditions like tai chi chuan along with modern and folk dance, was particularly influential in America and Germany.
Sonia Delaunay was known for her vivid use of color and her bold, abstract patterns, breaking down traditional distinctions between the fine and applied arts as an artist, designer and printmaker.
Delilah is the only woman in the Samson story whose name is given. Whatever its etymology, her name is a wordplay on Hebrew layla, “night,” for as the night overcomes the mighty sun (the name Samson, Shimshon, is related to “sun,” shemesh), so Delilah overcomes the apparently invincible strong man, Samson.
The midrashim on Delilah attest to the negative attitude of the Rabbis toward non-Jewish women. The Biblical Delilah was not loyal to Samson and her relationship with him was for the sole purpose of delivering him to the Philistines. The Rabbis accentuated the negative aspects of the relations between Samson and Delilah in order to demonstrate the havoc that a foreign woman could wreak.
Marriage and Divorce. Before World War II the Jewish marriage pattern was rather favorable for fertility. In 1939 one half of the Jewish women aged 20–24 and more than 70 percent of those aged 25–44 in the Russian Federation were currently married. However, in 1959, the percentage of currently married Jewish females below the age of 25 was much lower than it had been in pre-war 1939 (Table 1). This may be seen as an indirect indicator of the rise in age at first marriage between the two censuses, for which we have no direct data.
The existence of two autobiographies and two biographies attest to the importance of Florence Denmark’s contributions to American psychology. However, none of these published materials mention the fact that she is Jewish, probably because she has never felt that her Jewish heritage is particularly salient to her. Nevertheless, like the work of other Jewish women of her generation, Denmark’s contributions to psychology have been socially activist in nature. She is a founder of the field of the psychology of women, and has contributed much to its legitimization in terms of both scholarship and organizational leadership.
For a woman who was to transform film, it is fitting that Maya Deren was born in Russia in 1917, during the birth of the Revolution.
Born Eleanora Derenkowsky in Kiev, Ukraine, on April 29, 1917, the only child of Marie (Fiedler) and Solomon David Derenkowsky, she was named after Eleanora Duse, the eminent Italian actor.
“How to sustain the miracle/Of being, that like a muted bell,/Or like some ocean-breathing shell,/Quivers, intense and still?” asked Babette Deutsch in her poem “Quandary.” Questions surrounding the miracle of life formed an important part of Babette Deutsch’s poetry. She also published many novels and works of literary criticism, but she is best known for her poetry, which was greatly influenced by Jewish themes and culture.
In 1923, Helene Deutsch became the first psychoanalyst to write a book about female psychology, called Psychoanalysis of the Sexual Functions of Women in English. Her interest in the subject, along with that of Karen Horney, helped to push her mentor Sigmund Freud, who did not like being left behind, into writing articles about female psychology. When Deutsch was completing her manuscript, she wrote to her husband, Felix, “It brings something new to this terra incognita in analysis—I believe, the first ray of light on the unappreciated female libido.” For her to draw attention to the female libido in that era was implicitly to amend Freud’s own outlook. At the same time, Deutsch was pioneering the importance of motherhood. Other psychoanalysts of the period, such as Otto Rank, Sandor Ferenczi, and Georg Groddeck, were also intrigued by the neglected role of mothering, but Deutsch was the one to insist on its special significance for female psychology. Although she always remained loyal to Freud’s conceptual framework, her writings were an outgrowth of her own personal experiences and insight.
Naomi Deutsch, a leader in the field of public health nursing, was born on November 5, 1890, in Brno, Moravia, the second child of Rabbi Dr. Gotthard and Hermine (Bacher) Deutsch. With her parents, her brother Herman, and her sister Edith, she immigrated to Cincinnati, Ohio, where her brothers Eberhard and Zola were born. She graduated from Walnut Hills High School in 1908 and from the Jewish Hospital School of Nursing in 1912.
Devar ha-Po’elet was founded in 1934 as the organ of the women workers’ movement. It was conceived as a monthly supplement to the daily newspaper Davar, both to increase its readership and in response to the demand of the women workers’ movement, which thus realized its goal of creating a women’s magazine—a goal it had cherished since the 1920s. The women’s magazine was both officially and financially subordinate to Davar, which provided printing and distribution services. The Mo’ezet ha-Po’alot (Council of Women Workers) was responsible for its funding, which it supplied through contributions and an allocation from the Histadrut (General Federation of Workers in Israel). An independent editorial staff, led by a woman editor, was responsible for content and design.
“I do not discuss my age, height, weight, or other vital statistics. Other than that, shoot. I tolerate any kind of nonsense up until six o’clock. After that, I just want to be admired.” In typical Selma Diamond fashion, the witty, wisecracking (with a voice she once described as sounding like Brillo), longtime comedy writer/actor held her own when warding off nosy interviewers. Best known as the crotchety, chainsaw-voiced bailiff Selma Hacker on television’s Night Court from 1984 to 1985, Diamond embodied in her writing and her comedy routines the quintessential cynical, jaded character. Penning skits and jokes for some of the early greats of radio and television, she became one of the most famous and accomplished female comedy writers of her time.
More than half a century after the death of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, researchers from many countries and from diverse disciplines began to express a new interest in her, focusing respectively on her paintings, furniture and stage designs, and her teaching in Theresienstadt (Terezin), a ghetto established by the Germans in Czechoslovakia.
As the most important German Jewish newspaper in America, Die Deborah propagated a program of German identity, of bourgeois culture, and of Jewish Reform in which women were assigned a strategic place. The paper published essays on Jewish religion, culture, and history, and debates on education. Literature, mostly ghetto novels, was given a privileged place. While Die Deborah reported on Jewish issues from all over the world, it focused on news from Germany, and it gave special attention to the cultural life of the German immigrant community in America.
Dinah is the daughter of Jacob, the father of twelve sons (and thus the twelve tribes) in the ancestor narratives of Genesis. She is born to Leah after Leah has given birth to six sons. Leah names her (Gen 34:21), as biblical women often did as part of the maternal role. Of Jacob’s daughters (others are noted in Gen 46:15), only Dinah is mentioned by name.
Dinah was the only daughter of Jacob and Leah, and the Rabbis present her as possessing many positive qualities, as was fitting for the daughter of the progenitors of the Israelite nation.
Since its publication, Dorothy Dinnerstein’s The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and Human Malaise (1976) has been recognized as one of the most important contributions to modern feminist thought. The book, translated into at least seven languages, is widely used in women’s studies courses and is an influential text outside academia as well. Comparing Dinnerstein’s book to Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, one reviewer declared that this seminal essay not only belongs in “every feminist library” but in the “library of every well-educated person.”
Esther Dischereit’s childhood and indeed her entire life were marked by her mother’s survival in hiding together with a daughter, born in 1937, from her first marriage. After the war, her mother married a German physician and had two daughters, of whom Esther, born in 1952 in Heppenheim in southern Hesse, was the younger. Her parents divorced when Esther was seven and the children lived with their mother, who saw to it that they were instructed in Jewish religion and customs. They attended Hebrew School at the Jewish Community in Darmstadt, participating in the Purim plays, and on Friday evenings an Orthodox rabbi came to their home. When Esther was fourteen her mother died and the children lived with the father and his new family, including a half-brother and half-sister, in a small town in northern Hesse. Esther developed rapidly. She completed gymnasium (high school) in record time and attended university briefly, “fleeing” from it because there were “too many superfluous words” (Gelebte Zeit…, 144). After getting a degree in education she wanted to become a teacher since “children are all that counted for me” (Übungen jüdisch…, 199). Her first book was a children’s book. But she had come of age with the rebellious generation of 1968 and had been active in the “red cells.” This precluded a career in a public school. She apprenticed as a typesetter and worked for several years in print shops, playing an active role in the trade union. She lives in Berlin with her two daughters and holds a position with the German Trade Union Federation.
Many scholars in the area of Jewish marriage and divorce point proudly to the fact that Jewish marriage is a private ordering between individuals. Those scholars claim that Jewish marriage is a matter of contract between two willing parties, and therefore, unlike the custom in most liberal Western democratic countries, the parties, not the state, determine their personal status. The parties by agreement can decide to get divorced, in the same way that they decided to marry. No reason need be alleged for the divorce. No fault is relevant. No time need elapse between separation and divorce. In theory, parties can marry one day, divorce the next, and then remarry without delay or period of separation.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Encyclopedia." (Viewed on September 2, 2015) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/toc>.