Nima Adlerblum’s scholarship and Zionist activism helped shape worldwide perspectives about the land where she was born, Jerusalem. After Adlerblum studied in Paris at the Alliance Israelite Universelle before earning her PhD at Columbia University, she wrote a book on Jewish holidays and contributed heavily to the Jewish Heritage series edited by Rabbi Leo Jung. Adlerblum also founded Hadassah’s national cultural and educational program and served as its national and cultural chair from 1922 to 1935. According to family stories, she flew to Rome during the Holocaust to secure the release of 250 Jewish refugees. Her outlook on life is best captured in her posthumous Memoirs of Childhood: An Approach to Jewish Philosophy, in which she interwove philosophy with an account of her experiences growing up in an environment steeped in ethics, philosophy, and religion, offering this as an ideal for Jewish and Zionist life.
Early Life and Family Background
Nima Adlerblum was a writer, educator, and early Zionist activist in New York, whose life began and ended in Jerusalem. She wrote widely on philosophy, education, Jewish philosophy, and American history, contributing to encyclopedias and scholarly journals. According to her daughter, Ivriah Sackton, Nima completed thirty-nine journal notebooks, of which only one, written in 1901, has survived.
She was born in Jerusalem on August 4, 1881, the daughter of Rabbi Hayyim Hirschensohn (1855 or 1858–1934) and Eva or Chava (ha-Cohen) Hirschensohn (1861–1932), who named her Nehama (later Nima). Her mother was the daughter of Rabbi Benjamin Shaul ha-Cohen, who had come to Jerusalem in 1858 and had headed the Etz Hayyim Yeshivah. Adlerblum’s paternal grandfather, Jacob Mordechai Hirschensohn, was a famous scholar who established yeshivahs in Safed and Jerusalem. Her father was a scholar, writer, and publisher, as well as an associate of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. Her mother, also a strong advocate of the Hebrew language, was involved in the publishing of a Yiddish bi-weekly in Jerusalem devoted to women, Ha-Zvile-Beit Ya’akov (1892–93).
The oldest of five children, Nima Adlerblum maintained close contact throughout her life with her siblings, especially her sisters, Tamar De Sola Pool, Tehilla Lichtenstein, co-founder and leader of the Jewish Science movement, and Esther Taubenhaus, founder of the campus Hillel association at Texas A&M University in College Station.
Adlerblum’s father was a controversial figure in the Old Yishuv (traditional settlement community in Palestine) environment of late-nineteenth-century Jerusalem because of his progressive views. Nima Adlerblum left Jerusalem when her family went to Constantinople, probably in 1901. Her father founded a school in Constantinople in which he pioneered “Ivrit B’Ivrit” and wrote several Hebrew textbooks. Adlerblum then studied in Paris at the Alliance Israelite Universelle.
Adlerblum’s father came to the United States in December 1903, after attending the Sixth Zionist Congress in Basel in 1903 as a delegate from Constantinople, and became rabbi to five congregations in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Education and Work
Nima followed her father the next year. Adlerblum studied at Columbia University, receiving her B.A., M.A., and doctorate. Her master’s essay in 1907 was written on “The Hebrew conception of suffering analyzed and compared with those of the Greeks with a brief sketch of the conception of suffering developed by Christianity.” Her doctoral dissertation was on Gersonides, the early fourteenth-century philosopher also known as the Ralbag, and was entitled “A Study of Gersonides in His Proper Perspective” (1926). The focus of her approach to Jewish philosophy and to the Jewish philosophers on whom she wrote—including Gersonides, Judah Halevi, and Bachya Ibn Pakuda—was that Jewish philosophy had to be viewed as an expression of Jewish organic life, rather than studied in relation to Greek philosophy or medieval scholasticism.
Adlerblum’s philosophical orientation, in particular her educational philosophy, was influenced by John Dewey, with whom she worked closely. Like Dewey, she placed great emphasis on environment and experience, believing that “a child must be taught life through action, by the adoption of different purposes and projects.” She was active in promoting and disseminating Dewey’s ideas in Latin America, and in 1948, she was chair of the international committee for the celebration of Dewey’s ninetieth birthday.
Adlerblum wrote a book on the Jewish holidays, A Perspective of Jewish Life Through Its Festivals (1930), in which she placed emphasis on idealism in Judaism: “The vision of certain ideals give to a people self-consciousness, coherence, and its own way of thinking. By grasping the vision of a nation we can penetrate into its history and philosophy.” She believed that, for the Jewish people, the “moral life is the sole purpose of existence.”
She worked closely with Rabbi Leo Jung (1892–1987) of New York, and contributed to many of his volumes in the Jewish Heritage Series. After her death, Rabbi Jung said that her life “was a unique manifestation of the human spirit.” In the volume entitled The Jewish Woman (1934), she wrote the concluding chapter, “The Elan Vital of the Jewish Woman.” In it, she said that Jewish women throughout history had maintained Judaism by faithfulness to its ideals and vision.
Zionism and Jewish Leadership
Adlerblum was strongly influenced by the life of her paternal grandmother, Sara Bayla Hirshensohn (1816–1905), whom she remembered from her early years in Jerusalem. In the volume Jewish Leaders, edited by Leo Jung, she wrote about her grandmother in “Sara Bayla and Her Times,” describing her piety and her energy, and particularly her role in the expansion of the Jewish community of Jerusalem in the second part of the nineteenth century. Hirschensohn, who had received from her own father an education more extensive than was typical for girls of her society, was greatly respected by both the rabbinic leaders of her community and the Ottoman authorities of the time.
Influenced strongly by nineteenth-century romanticism, which she defined as “the vesting of our world with the longing aspirations of the soul,” Adlerblum wrote about the “Romance of Judaism,” which for her was “woven out of God, land and people, fused together into an organic spiritual life.” For Adlerblum, Jewish history started with the promise of the land to Abraham. “The transformation of the physical land into the holy land—such was the Jewish dream. It is a dream which has become the chief motive power in the formation of Jewish consciousness… expressing the very essence of Jewish existence.” This romantic perspective is evident in her Memoirs of Childhood: An Approach to Jewish Philosophy (published posthumously in 1999), in which Adlerblum intertwines her philosophic insights with a poetic account of her experiences in the “rabbinic milieu” of her youth. She depicts this environment as an exemplification of her ideal of the seamlessness that should exist among the intellectual, emotional and ethical elements of Jewish life, what she termed the “philosophy of Jewish experience.”
Zionism was a strong part of her life and thought. She founded the national cultural and educational program of Hadassah and was its national and cultural chair, and a member of its national board from 1922 to 1935. Her sister Tamar de Sola Pool was later national president of Hadassah. She enjoyed a warm friendship with Henrietta Szold and corresponded with her on the role of Zionism and of Hadassah in Jewish life. Her reports as national cultural chair expressed her views on Zionism very strongly. For her, Palestine “is the starting point as well as the final goal of Jewish destiny. In making Palestine the starting point, we shall do away with the artificial abstraction of orthodoxy and reform and deal with Jewish life as something integral into which we are born and which we can carry with us throughout the larger world.” In keeping with her role as one of the first children in Jerusalem (together with the children of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda) to use Hebrew on an everyday basis, she fostered the study of Hebrew as a modern language.
Adlerblum was also very involved in the welfare of Jews in other countries. In 1934, she wrote a report on conditions in Germany. In 1935, she wrote a report on Jewish adjustment in the Soviet Union, and made a study of the problems of minority nationalities in Eastern Europe. According to family sources, she was asked by an American Jewish organization to help 250 Jewish refugees from Hitler who had escaped to Italy, where they were imprisoned. She flew to Rome and obtained their release. In 1927, she was granted an audience with the pope.
While growing up in Jerusalem, Adlerblum had been betrothed at age eight to a boy five years her senior whom her father had brought into his house and adopted. The boy lived with them for many years, but the two did not marry. On May 14, 1914, she married Israel S. Adlerblum, an insurance consultant and active Zionist. They had one daughter, Ivriah (d. 1990), who married Professor Alex Sackton (originally Sackowitz) of Texas and had four children, John, David, Margaret, and Elizabeth. One son, David, later settled in Israel.
In 1971 Adlerblum returned to the land of her birth with her husband and lived first in Herzliyyah and then in Jerusalem. Just before her death, she penned her final essay, an introduction to Jung’s autobiography. Nima Adlerblum died on July 25, 1974, at the age of ninety-two.
Adlerblum, Nima H, and Els Bendheim. Memoirs of Childhood: An Approach to Jewish Philosophy. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1999.
Adlerblum, Nima. Introduction to In The Path of a Pioneer: The Autobiography of Leo Jung, by Leo Jung. London, U.K.: 1980.
Adlerblum, Nima H. “A Perspective for the Study of Jewish Philosophy.” The Journal of Philosophy 20, no. 17, 1923, 457–66.
A Perspective of Jewish Life Through Its Festivals (1930).
Adlerblum, Nima. A Perspective of Jewish Life through Its Festivals. New York: The Jewish Forum Publishing Co., inc., 1930.
“A Reinterpretation of Jewish Philosophy.” Journal of Philosophy 14:7, 1917. [GO1]
Adlerblum, Nima Hirschensohn. A Study of Gersonides in His Proper Perspective. New York: Columbia University Press, 1926.
“The Elan Vital of the Jewish Woman.” In The Jewish Woman, edited by Rabbi Leo Jung. New York: 1934.
[GO1]Can’t find correct publishing info for this
Greenbaum, C.N. Introduction to Memoirs of Childhood: An Approach to Jewish Philosophy, by Nima Adlerblum (1999).
Jakobovits, Lord Immanuel. Foreword to Memoirs of Childhood, by Nima Adlerblum (1999).
Obituary. NYTimes, August 2, 1974, 30:4.
Sackton, Ivriah. Interviews with author.
Who’s Who in World Jewry (1972).
WWIAJ (1926, 1928, 1938).