About Previous Editions
History of the Encyclopedia of Jewish Women
In the mid-1990s, publisher Ralph Carlson and Dr. Michael Feldberg, then Executive Director of the American Jewish Historical Society, initiated what would become the prize-winning Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Edited by pioneering historians of Jewish women Paula E. Hyman, z”l, of Yale University and Deborah Dash Moore of the University of Michigan, the encyclopedia was first published in 1997 by Routledge and included approximately 800 biographical entries and 110 topical essays. Its two thick red volumes soon became a fixture on the bookshelves of students and historians of American Jewry and Jewish feminism.
Around the same time, Moshe Shalvi, z”l, began to explore the creation of a comprehensive historical encyclopedia of Jewish women, one that would stretch from Biblical times to the present and cover Jewish communities around the world. An experienced editor who has worked on the Encyclopedia Judaica and the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Shalvi was struck by how under-represented women were in mainstream scholarship. According to his calculations, only about 400,000 of the 13 million words in the Encyclopedia Judaica – a mere 3% – were devoted to women. Inspired in large part by his wife, leading Israeli feminist and academic (and later winner of the Israel Prize) Alice Shalvi, he resolved to expand the historical record.
In 2006, Shalvi Publishing Ltd released Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia on CD-ROM, edited by Paula Hyman and Dalia Ofer of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. This version incorporated and expanded upon the contents of the earlier Jewish Women in America and now included 1,690 biographical entries and 330 topical essays. It was – and remains – the largest collection of well-researched and thoroughly-vetted material about Jewish women.
In 2009, Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia was made freely available on the Jewish Women’s Archive’s website, where it now attracts more than 1.2 million unique page views each year from students, teachers, scholars, genealogists, religious leaders, and researchers of all faiths and genders from more than 200 countries.
In 2017, JWA began work on a new edition of the Encyclopedia, which will be renamed the Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women.
Editors' Preface (2006 edition)
by Paula E. Hyman and Dalia Ofer
This encyclopedia seeks to make available to all who are interested in Jewish history and culture the varied accomplishments of Jewish women and their many contributions to the Jewish historical experience over the course of the past three millennia. Women have been largely absent from most accounts of the Jewish past, because male experience served as the guide to historical significance. Only recently have women begun to be integrated into Jewish encyclopedias, but not yet in proportion to their demographic and social importance and their public activity. The prize-winning encyclopedia Jewish Women in America, which was published in 1997, marked a major advance but was limited to one geographic location and historical period. In general reference works, Jewish women are most often not noted as Jews because their Jewishness is not considered relevant to their accomplishments. As editors we strove to recover the Jewish women who remained invisible in standard reference works. We were ambitious: our vision embraced the whole Jewish world and all of Jewish culture from the Hebrew Bible to the present. Although we privileged Jewish women as actors in history, we also addressed the representations of Jewish women, particularly in classical biblical and rabbinic texts.
Because there is still relatively little scholarship on Jewish women, this encyclopedia includes a great deal of new research. We tried to be comprehensive as regards Jewish communities but were not; we hope to rectify our omissions as new scholarship appears. Jewish Women generates new knowledge and interpretations of the history of Jewish women and their contributions to society and culture. We expect that scholars and non-specialist readers of this work will discover unknown dimensions of Jewish history. Many of the topical articles, as well as the biographies of individual women, demonstrate that women were hardly on the margins of Jewish history and culture. The range of women's activities, particularly in the modern period for which our documentation is comparatively rich, emerges clearly from the biographies.
We took the time from our personal research agendas to undertake this project because we recognized its significance. It provided an opportunity to shape a field of knowledge. We also considered Jewish historiography to be both incomplete and skewed due to its ignorance of women's experiences. Believing that knowledge empowers, we were particularly eager to provide this and future generations of women the tools to become, as much as possible, agents of their own situations. We also recognized the importance of this knowledge for Jewish men.
It is no easy matter to create an encyclopedia. In the case of an encyclopedia of Jewish women, basic difficulties of definition immediately pose themselves. Defining who was a Jewish woman was challenging. We did not limit ourselves to a conception of Jewishness based on Jewish law, which accepts as Jewish the child of a Jewish mother but not of a Jewish father if the child's mother is not a Jew. Any woman with a Jewish mother was a Jew as was the daughter of a Jewish father who defined herself as a Jew and was perceived by others as a Jew. Even when women who met the above criteria converted from Judaism as adults or otherwise dissociated themselves from the Jewish community, we considered them for inclusion in the Encyclopedia because conversion is part of the Jewish experience. However, daughters of Jews who were converted as children and raised as Christians, are generally not included in the Encyclopedia. Converts to Judaism, regardless of the affiliation of the rabbi performing the conversion, are Jews. Women whose Jewish origins were remote are subjects of an entry primarily when they were raised in converso families.
No encyclopedia can be truly comprehensive. Recognizing that we would have to exclude some women who deserved to be in the Encyclopedia, we developed criteria that emphasized accomplishment. Since this is a historical encyclopedia, we gave preference to women whose lives were over. Our guidelines called for limiting entries on living women to those fifty or above. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. In the fields of sports and entertainment, individuals often achieve fame at a relatively early age. We also occasionally included a woman slightly younger than fifty when we were sure that she had secured a place in history. We also made exceptions for women in national politics. But we recognize that any selection process is subjective and that some individuals who merited inclusion in the Encyclopedia were overlooked.
We made an effort to survey Jewish women's participations in many countries and in various fields where many of them were active, such as literature, film, and scholarly disciplines. Unfortunately, we were unable to find contributors for every society and field we sought to survey because these include areas where basic research still remains to be done. However, biographies are indexed by country and field as well as by name so that readers can identify individuals from a particular place and a particular area of endeavor. Although we were specifically concerned with the perspectives of feminist scholarship, each entry reflects the individual viewpoint of its author.
A project of this scope could not have been completed without the valuable assistance of many people. We are extraordinarily grateful to the hundreds of contributors from several countries who generously volunteered their time and expertise to research and write entries. Our board of editors helped us with the formidable task of shaping the contours of the Encyclopedia. Alice Shalvi was a masterful stylist, who provided us and subsequent readers with clear prose. Finally, no words can express our gratitude to our publisher, Moshe Shalvi, who had the vision to create this majestic reference work, the enthusiasm and stamina to secure its funding, and the determination and wisdom necessary to shepherd it to completion. Working with Moshe was a joy. As editors we found our responsibilities in creating this encyclopedia challenging but also enormously rewarding. We learned a great deal as we encountered a panoply of extraordinary women who span the thousands of years of Jewish history and culture and represent the manifold role of women in Jewish communities and in the general societies in which they lived. We expect that readers will share our excitement in meeting these women and exploring their lives.
Publisher's Preface (2006 edition)
Tam aval lo nishlam!
by Moshe Shalvi
Finished but not completed—five and a half years of creative work on Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia together with a small devoted staff of women and 1,071 contributors.
An encyclopedia is a living organism which has to be periodically revised and updated. Living women who appear in this encyclopedia continue to create and contribute to society. Younger women reach the age and stage where they become worthy of inclusion in the Encyclopedia. The ongoing blossoming of gender research adds to our knowledge about female personalities and gender related subjects that should be included in the Encyclopedia.
I met Ralph Carlson, president of Carlson Publishing Inc., in 1993 at a conference at Radcliffe College where he was selling his recently published two-volume work, Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. It was a most impressive production. Based on the success of Black Women in America Carlson undertook the publication of a similar work, Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia which was published in 1997.
I had, in the meanwhile, developed the idea of a comprehensive historical encyclopedia of Jewish women on CD-ROM, which would include the whole world and range from biblical women until the present day. There were a number of reasons for the choice of CD-ROM as the medium:
- The flexibility of the computer medium, which enables random input of articles of unlimited length (i.e. no printed page/volume constrictions) and last minute updating.
- The outstanding possibilities for cross-reference, linkage, indexing and keyword retrieval.
- Considerably lower production costs.
- The relatively inexpensive possibility of producing a partial update or complete revision whenever deemed necessary.
I prepared a proposal and began seeking the necessary finance for the project. I was fortunate in finding a feminist woman donor (who wishes to remain anonymous) who most generously agreed to fund the entire project.
I obtained the academic sponsorship of the Institute of Jewish Studies and the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Organization Sponsorship of the Jewish Women's Archive. Professors Paula E. Hyman and Dalia Ofer agreed to co-edit the work. Professor Hyman was the co-editor of Jewish Women in America and her experience at that task, coupled with her extraordinary range of knowledge stood us in good stead.
I could not have begun my work on the Encyclopedia without the publishing knowledge and experience that Ralph Carlson shared with me and for this I owe him a great debt of gratitude.
I began the work in January 2000 with Sarah Lemann, my administrative assistant. Her contribution to the project warrants the equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor. It comprised general correspondence and correspondence with the 1,071 contributors, control of the Master Title List database, receipt of the articles and entries, filing them in folders, producing a hard copy for editing, correcting the edited copy in its various revisions and finally working on the index.
As the volume of work increased, Rahel Jaskow joined us in February 2002 doing corrections and fact checking. She was followed by Yael Ehrenpreis Meyer in April 2004 and Hadassa Kurtz Orbach in October 2004. Yael used her writing skills to update many of the entries and articles from Jewish Women in America. She also became the de facto illustrations editor, maintaining correspondence with the various copyright holders and skillfully surfing the Internet for suitable illustrations which were in the public domain.
During the final months of work on the Encyclopedia I was fortunate to find another capable young woman, Rebecka Goldman, to assist in preparing the index.
Pnina Shalvi was responsible for the tree logo design, the graphic work, scanning and retouching photographs where necessary. Last but not least, the Associate editor Alice Shalvi read some two million words, styled them and checked the corrections, translated from German, French, and Hebrew when necessary, wrote entries and finally checked the entire text of the first stage of the Indexing process.
In the early stages of our work Joan Roth was most helpful in obtaining a large batch of illustrations and was also very generous in allowing us to use many of her wonderful photographs. Harriet Feinberg was superb in sleuthing addresses of contributors.
In 1986 Eitan Ben-Noah designed a database for my work as Project Coordinator of the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. It contained all the information related to the articles and entries in the Master Title List and a means of traffic control as the articles went through the various stages of processing. He adapted this database for use in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Women and made various adjustments during the course of our work on the Encyclopedia to meet ongoing needs.
The fact that we were able to operate a network of five computers for a period of five and a half years with almost zero downtime is due to the skill and availability of Dani Deitch, our Computer Network and Systems Engineer.
We all hope that our efforts will prove worthwhile and that users of the Encyclopedia will find their knowledge and appreciation of Jewish women's contributions to society in general and to Jewish culture in particular deepened and enriched.
Editorial Board (2006 edition)
Judith R. Baskin
Deborah Dash Moore
Harriet Pass Freidenreich
Dafna (Nundi) Izraeli
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "About Previous Editions." (Viewed on December 5, 2023) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/about-previous-editions>.