German-language "Die Deborah" first published
August 24, 1855
Die Deborah, the most important German-Jewish newspaper in the U.S. in its time, debuted on August 24, 1855. Reform leader and editor Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise published Die Deborah as a German-language supplement to his English-language The Israelite (later The American Israelite). He designed it particularly for "the instruction and the intellectual entertainment of the ladies." Geared to recent female Jewish immigrants from German-speaking lands who adopted English more slowly than their male counterparts, Die Deborah featured a variety of articles on subjects thought to be of particular interest to women. In addition to serialized literature, it printed essays on Jewish religion, culture, and history, and debates about education. The newspaper also published didactic essays instructing women on proper care of the home and instruction of children.
Like many mid-to-late nineteenth-century publications, Die Deborah advanced a particular vision of womanhood. Based in middle-class culture, this vision portrayed women as inherently moral and religious. Women were also supposed to be devoted to the home, where their influence was the primary force shaping their children. Calling Jewish women "priestesses of the home," Die Deborah told women that it was their calling to ensure the moral standard of the family, to provide Jewish education to her children, and to set a good example of truth, gratitude, gentleness, order, and charity. Departing from a vision of Judaism that placed male learning at the center, Die Deborah put Judaism forward as a moral institution, with women's influence at the center.
As ideas about women's roles changed in the larger American culture, those changes were reflected in the pages of Die Deborah. Beginning in the 1880s, the ideal of domesticity which had placed women firmly in the home expanded into a new vision of women as "social housekeepers," extending their moral influence into the larger world. In Die Deborah, this new vision of womanhood brought an emphasis on Jewish women's historical accomplishments and support for women's professional careers. Reflecting women's wider sphere, the newspaper also began to feature an increasing number of articles written by women.
Although Die Deborah was a staple of middle-class German-Jewish life in the U.S. for several decades, its popularity declined as the German-born population gave way to an American-born generation that preferred to read in English. The newspaper ceased publication in 1902, just two years after the death of its founding editor Isaac Mayer Wise. The American Israelite, which had also been edited by Wise, took over some of the terrain of Die Deborah, publishing an increasing number of articles related to women's issues. Die Deborah remains a crucial tool for understanding the lives and attitudes of Jewish women, and their evolving status, over a half-century.
To learn more about Die Deborah, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
See also: German Immigrant Period in the United States.
Source:Benjamin Maria Baader, "Die Deborah;" Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 320-322.