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Naomi W. Cohen

November 13, 1927–2018

by Tamar Kaplan Appel

In Brief

One of the first women scholars in the new field of Jewish studies, Naomi W. Cohen earned a reputation as one of the foremost historians of American Jewry. A graduate of Columbia University, Cohen worked as a professor at several institutions. Cohen’s research, beginning with Not Free to Desist: The American Jewish Committee, 1906–1966, published in 1972, focused mainly on the intersection of religion and politics in American Jewish life and included important scholarship on American Zionism and on Jewish-Christian relations in America. Two of her later books were honored with the National Jewish Book Award. In 1996, she retired from teaching and made Aliyah. The following year, she was honored as the National Foundation of Jewish Culture’s Laureate in Historical Studies.

Article

A prolific author and noted educator and academic, Naomi W. Cohen achieved prominence as a historian of the United States and Jewish Americans.

Cohen was born to Louis and Mary (Halkin) Wiener on November 13, 1927, in New York City. She received her B.A. from Hunter College in 1947 and her BHL (bachelor of Hebrew letters) from the Seminary College of Jewish Studies in 1948. The same year she married Gerson D. Cohen, a Jewish historian who later became chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (1983–1986). The couple had two children, Jeremy, and Judith.

Naomi Cohen went on to earn a master’s degree in 1949 and a PhD in 1955 from Columbia University. In 1962, she was appointed assistant professor of history at Hunter College of the City University of New York. In 1968, she was made an associate professor, and became a full professor in 1973. She was also on the faculty of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Her husband died in 1991, and Cohen herself retired in 1996 and moved to Israel.

Cohen’s research focused on two main areas: twentieth-century American history and American Jewish history. Her numerous publications include Not Free to Desist: The American Jewish Committee, 1906–1966 (1972), American Jews and the Zionist Idea (1975), The Year After the Riots: American Responses to the Palestine Crisis of 1929–1930 (1988), and The Americanization of Zionism, 1897-1948 (2003). She also edited Essential Papers on Jewish-Christian Relations in the United States: Imagery and Reality (1990). Her books Encounter with Emancipation (1984) and Jews in Christian America: The Pursuit of Religious Equality (1992)—considered a seminal work on church-state separation in the United States—were recipients of the National Jewish Book Award for Jewish History.

Cohen was a member of many scholarly organizations, including Phi Beta Kappa, the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the Academic Council of the American Jewish Historical Society, the Association for Jewish Studies, and the Conference on Jewish Social Studies. She was the National Foundation of Jewish Culture 1997 laureate in Historical Studies.

Cohen was one of the first women scholars in the newly recognized field of Jewish Studies, whose leaders, all male, organized a professional organization, the Association for Jewish Studies, in 1969. Still, by 1978, only one female full professor was listed as a member of the Association for Jewish Studies, as opposed to 101 males. Naomi Cohen served as a pioneer to the many female scholars who now play an equal role in the field. With her scholarship, Naomi W. Cohen contributed a great deal to Jewish knowledge, culture, and self-awareness.

Cohen died in January 2018.

Selected Works:

American Jews and the Zionist Idea (1975).

The Americanization of Zionism, 1897-1948 (2003).

Encounter with Emancipation (1984).

Essential Papers on Jewish-Christian Relations in the United States: Imagery and Reality, edited by Naomi W. Cohen (1990).

Jacob H. Schiff: A Study in American Jewish Leadership (1999).

Jews in Christian America: The Pursuit of Religious Equality (1992).

Not Free to Desist: The American Jewish Committee, 1906–1966 (1972).

The Year After the Riots: American Responses to the Palestine Crisis of 1929–1930 (1988).

Bibliography

Contemporary Authors. Edited by Hal May. Vol. 114 (1985).

Directory of American Scholars. 8th ed. Vol. 1: History (1982).

Ritterband, Paul, and Harold Wechsler. Jewish Learning in American Universities (1994).

Who’s Who in World Jewry (1978).

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How to cite this page

Appel, Tamar Kaplan. "Naomi W. Cohen." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 31 December 1999. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 30, 2021) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/cohen-naomi-w>.