Shout out to Feminist Fathers!
I like to think that some men are born feminists, some become feminists, and some have feminism thrust upon them when they become the fathers of daughters. While in an ideal world, men would support women regardless of women's relationship to them, alas, sometimes it takes having a daughter before men realize just how unbalanced, and unequal, the world can be when sexism enters the mix. Some fathers (the best fathers in my opinion) decide to change the world in order to correct this inequality. They educate their daughters, create new traditions, teach them how to use power tools, and never tell them they should expect less from the world simply because they are women.
Jewish women, with their strength, their tenacity, and their grit, have shaped history, but what about the fathers who supported these women, the ones who fought alongside them and didn’t let sexism extinguish their daughters’ fire? In honor of Father’s Day, here are some of the fathers who fought tooth and nail for their daughters and, through their advocacy, expanded opportunities for women.
Rashi is often considered the greatest Jewish scholar of medieval times in Ashkenaz (Germany, France and England). He was also the father of four daughters and no sons. During this period, having no sons often meant having no legacy, but Rashi, as the foremost scholar of the Talmud and Torah during his time, was often an advocate for mutual respect in marriage, a supporter of women’s education, and interested in at least partially including women in traditional practices and conversations. His daughters became key influences in Rashi’s biblical interpretations regarding the role of women and marriage in Judaism, and thereby Rashi’s legacy to be not only about the pursuit of truth but about the important role that women can play in Jewish society. This was pretty progressive for the mid-eleventh century!
Benjamin Szold (1829-1902)
The founder of Hadassah, Henrietta Szold, was shaped by her relationship with her father and his support of her education. Szold’s parents were immigrants from Hungary who moved to Baltimore in order for her father, Benjamin Szold, to become the head rabbi at Congregation Oheb Shalom. The oldest of five daughters, Henrietta became her father’s star pupil. He taught her his love of tradition and his belief that Judaism could be accessible and relevant to the common person. Szold’s singular education allowed her to become one of the foremost thinkers and commentators on American Jewish life. She became the only woman to contribute to the Jewish Publication Society, which was the first English publisher of nondenominational Jewish works. Szold proved to be a key force in translating, indexing and creating a cohesive archive of Jewish American writing. Inspired by her belief in women’s capacity to be dynamic political actors, Szold began to work with women-led Zionist movements and went onto to become the first president of Hadassah. Szold’s leadership would not have been possible without her father’s mentorship, his dedication to her education, and his example as a leader in the Jewish community.
Louis Brandeis (1856-1941)
Louis Brandeis was surrounded by powerful women. His sisters-in-law, Josephine and Pauline Goldmark, were key researchers and contributed significantly to the Brandeis Brief (the research paper that led to the landmark labor rights case Mueller v. Oregon). Working in partnership with his sisters-in-law, Louis Brandeis forever changed our understanding of labor laws in America. The first Jewish Supreme Court Justice also played a major role in raising his two daughters, Susan Brandeis Gilbert and Elizabeth Brandeis Raushenbusch, in part because of his wife Alice’s illness left her an invalid for the majority of her adult life. He took his daughters on hikes, oversaw their education, and took on most of the household’s domestic duties. His daughters both became lawyers at a time when women lawyers were a rarity and he supported them when they faced discriminatory hiring practices. Both Susan and Elizabeth followed in their father’s footsteps as advocates for fair labor standards, working throughout their lives to make sure that workers earned living wages and had access to safe working conditions.
Mordechai Kaplan (1881-1983):
Did you have a bat mitzvah? If so, you can thank a Jewish dad! Mordechai Kaplan was the father of four daughters and no sons when he held a Bat Mitzvah for his eldest daughter, Judith Kaplan, in 1922. An innovative rabbi who would go on to become the father of Reconstructionist Judaism, Rabbi Kaplan organized a rather spontaneous ceremony, waiting until the night before to nail down all of the details. Nevertheless, this radical inclusion of young women in the Jewish coming of age ceremony opened the door to bat mitzvahs and recognition of women as adult members of the Jewish community.
Otto Frank (1889-1980)
Is there anyone whose thoughts, feelings, and experiences are more belittled and dismissed than those of the teenage girl? If one father had not been committed to honoring his teenage daughter’s experience, the world would have missed out on one of the most powerful pieces of literature of all time. Anne Frank received her diary for her thirteenth birthday, shortly before her family went into hiding. She wrote about her feelings for Peter, a fellow resident in the Annex; the challenges of living in a small space with her parents and her sister; and her thoughts on what it means to be fearlessly hopeful in the face of immense systemic injustice. When Otto Frank returned to Amsterdam after the war as the sole survivor of the Frank family, he was given Anne’s diary by a family friend who had rescued it from the Annex. Though it was initially too painful to read, Otto eventually translated his daughter’s diary, edited out pieces that felt too personal, and published it. In doing so, Otto Frank allowed his daughter, and her experiences as a young woman living in hiding, to come alive for readers. Publishing his daughter’s diary forever changed how people engaged with the Holocaust and made the unequivocal statement that the experiences and insights of young women are valuable and deserve to be heard.
History teaches us that when men work alongside women, uplifting their voices and supporting their education, the world can change in radical ways. The support of a loving and dedicated father can be transformative, allowing women to enter into new spheres and take up more space in the historical narrative.
This Father’s Day, JWA wants to not only celebrate the fathers who have helped shape women’s history, but to also give a quick shoutout to the dads who are raising feminist daughters today.
We love you guys!
How to cite this page
Book, Bella. "Shout out to Feminist Fathers! ." 16 June 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 25, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/shout-out-to-feminist-fathers>.