Anne Lapidus Lerner
Anne Lapidus Lerner is a prolific scholar and was the first woman vice chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary. She began teaching Hebrew literature at JTS in 1969 and in 1993 became the institution’s first female vice chancellor. During her tenure, she created JTS’s combined social work program with Columbia University and founded the Jewish Women’s Studies program, as well as directing the Jewish Feminist Research Group. Her 1977 study of the interaction between second wave feminism and Judaism, “Who Has Not Made Me a Man: The Movement for Equal Rights for Women in American Judaism,” remains a classic of Jewish feminist history. Throughout her career, Lerner has remained a trailblazer in the fields of Jewish Studies, Jewish literature, Jewish gender and women’s studies, and religion.
When Anne Lapidus Lerner entered Radcliffe College in 1960, university-based Jewish Studies departments were virtually nonexistent. The few male professors of Jewish subjects in the United States were scattered among departments of history, philosophy, religion, and Semitic languages in an equally scant number of institutions. But by the time Lerner earned her Ph.D. in comparative literature (French, modern Hebrew, and American literatures) from Harvard in 1977, Jewish Studies programs were springing up in colleges and universities across North America. When she was appointed Vice Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1993, her fields, Hebrew literature and women’s studies, were full-fledged sub-disciplines of Jewish studies. Lerner’s impressive academic contributions alongside her august mentorship and leadership efforts have merited her an important place in the field.
Family and Education
Raised in Boston, where she was born on October 30, 1942, Anne Lapidus was the daughter of American-born public school teachers who were also natives of Boston. Her father, Joseph (1906–1988), attended Harvard Dental School for two years but went on to receive a B.S. at Boston University College of Liberal Arts (1929) and an M.A. in French literature. From 1931 to 1933 he attended the Sorbonne. In 1940 he married Lillian Green (1912–1993), who had studied at Hebrew Teachers College (c. 1927–1929), earned a B.A. at Boston University College of Liberal Arts (1933), taken graduate courses in history at Radcliffe (1933–1934), and become a teacher of history at her own alma mater, Boston’s Girls’ Latin School. Lerner also studied there before the family moved to Brookline, Massachusetts, where she graduated from Brookline High School in 1960. Joseph and Lillian had two more children: Marcia (Kaunfer, b. 1945) and Robert Eliot (b. 1948). Anne describes her family as “shomer shabbes lay Conservative Jews.”
Before earning her doctorate, Lerner received two B.A. degrees, from Radcliffe and Hebrew College, as well as two M.A. degrees, one from Harvard in comparative literature and one from Hebrew College in Jewish history. In 1970 Anne Lapidus married Rabbi Stephen Lerner (1940-2021); together they have two children, (Rabbi) David Gavriel (b. 1971) and Rahel Adina (b. 1977), and five grandchildren.
Lerner, whose first academic position was at Boston’s Hebrew College, was appointed to the faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1969. In her more than fifty years at JTS, Lerner distinguished herself as a member of both the faculty and the administration. She was the first American-born woman offered a full-time position there, later serving as dean of List College (1986–1993) and associate dean of what is now known as the Gershon Kekst Graduate School. In 1993, Lerner was appointed Vice Chancellor, the first woman in the history of JTS (or any other Jewish institution of higher learning) to achieve so elevated a rank. She held this position until 1999.
Lerner was influential in the development of many new programs and initiatives at JTS, including its combined social work program with Columbia University and its inter-disciplinary M.A. She was the founder and director of the Jewish Women’s Studies Program at JTS and director of the Jewish Feminist Research Group. In recognition of her achievements, Lerner received the Jewish Theological Seminary Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Teaching in the Rabbinical School in 2010 and in 2012 was awarded an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters by Hebrew College in Boston. Only the eleventh person to ever receive the distinction, in 2017 Lerner was the recipient of the Mathilde Schechter Award on the centennial celebration of the founding of the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism.
During the 2001–2002 academic year, Lerner was a research associate and visiting lecturer in the Women’s Studies in Religion Program at Harvard University’s Divinity School. She has been a research associate at Brandeis University’s Hadassah-Brandeis Institute and in 2011 was scholar-in-residence there. In addition to her role as professor emerita at JTS since 2014, Lerner is a contributor to the institution’s myriad online learning initiatives, such as Torah Online and its holiday “Sound Bytes,” where she shares her knowledge through short videos and texts for public audiences.
Among Lerner’s many publications, “Who Has Not Made Me a Man: The Movement for Equal Rights for Women in American Judaism,” a study of the interaction between second generation feminists and American Judaism, has become a classic of American Jewish feminist history. Initially written for The American Jewish Yearbook in 1977, this groundbreaking study was later printed independently. In 2007 Brandeis University Press published Lerner’s acclaimed Eternally Eve: Images of Eve in the Hebrew Bible, Midrash and Modern Jewish Poetry. In subsequent years, Lerner published several articles, essays, and book chapters on the subject of Eve. In addition to her extensive publication history, including three books and dozens of academic articles, Lerner is a contributing editor to Lilith magazine and has served on the editorial boards of Hadassah Magazine, Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought, and Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues.
Under the auspices of the Association for Jewish Studies Women’s Caucus, in 2014 Lerner inaugurated the Paula E. Hyman Mentoring Program. With Lerner at the helm, this program was established to nurture a cohort of young female scholars in Jewish Women’s and Gender Studies. The program was named and established in memory of the late Hyman (1946-2011), a trailblazing Jewish historian, teacher, mentor, and close friend and colleague of Lerner.
Lerner’s work remains influential, and her continued service is a powerful testament to her dedication to Jewish scholarship and education. During a speech conferring the Mathilde Schechter Award upon Lerner, former Women’s League for Conservative Judaism president Cory Schneider explained that “any discussion about Jewish feminism, conservative Judaism, and the Jewish Theological Seminary must include Dr. Anne Lapidus Lerner.” At the convocation, Pamela Nadell, historian and former president of the Association for Jewish Studies, lauded Lerner’s singular contributions to the field of women in Judaism. Commenting on the profound impact of Lerner’s 1977 “Who Has Not Made Me a Man,” Nadell explained that she could point to myriad “articles and books spurred by this very first learned article on Jewish feminism.”
Both personally and through her teaching and writing, Lerner has been a pioneering force in the fields of Jewish Studies, Jewish literature, Jewish gender and women’s studies, and religion. Her achievements and legacy are nearly unmatched. She has established and fostered a long-lasting legacy through the teaching and mentorship of generations of students and through her life-long dedication to Jewish learning and thought.
Selected Works by Anne Lapidus Lerner
Eternally Eve: Images of Eve in the Hebrew Bible, Midrash, and Modern Jewish Poetry. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2007.
“A Tale of Two Queens.” Jewish Theological Seminary Sound Bytes for Purim. February 26, 2015, video, 3:31. https://www.jtsa.edu/a-tale-of-two-queens.
“Judaism and Feminism: The Unfinished Agenda.” Judaism 36 (2) (Spring 1987): 167-173.
“‘Who Hast Not Made Me a Man’: The Movement for Equal Rights for Women in American Jewry.” The American Jewish Year Book 77 (1977): 3-38.
“Anne Lapidus Lerner.” Jewish Theological Seminary. Accessed March 30, 2021. https://www.jtsa.edu/anne-lapidus-lerner.
“Convention Day-by-Day.” Women's League for Conservative Judaism | Engaging, enriching, and empowering Conservative Jewish women, July 18, 2017. https://www.wlcj.org/womens-league-convention-2017/convention-day-by-day/.
“Eternally Eve.” HBI Series on Jewish Women. Brandeis University. Accessed March 30, 2021. https://www.brandeis.edu/press/books/hbi-series/eternally-eve.html.
Lerner, Anne Lapidus, Joanne Palmer, Larry Yudelson, Abigail Klein Leichman, Jonathan E. Lazarus, Ron Kampeas, Lois Goldrich, et al. “Paula Hyman: A Personal Appreciation.” The Jewish Standard, December 30, 2011. https://jewishstandard.timesofisrael.com/paula-hyman-a-personal-appreciation/.
Lerner, Anne Lapidus. “’Who Hast Not Made Me a Man’: The Movement for Equal Rights for Women in American Jewry." The American Jewish Year Book 77 (1977): 3-38.
Mehta, Samira K. “The Paula E. Hyman Mentoring Program.” Religion in American History: A Group Blog on Religion in American Culture and History, January 11, 2015. http://usreligion.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-paula-e-hyman-mentoring-program.html.
Paula Hyman Mentorship Program. Accessed March 30, 2021. https://www.associationforjewishstudies.org/professional-development/workshops-and-programs/paula-hyman-mentorship-program.
Silow-Carroll, Andrew. “Rabbi Stephen Lerner, 80, Brought over 1,800 Students to Practice of Judaism.” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, February 1, 2021. https://www.jta.org/2021/02/01/bonds-of-life/rabbi-stephen-lerner-80-brought-over-1800-students-to-practice-of-judaism.
Women’s League for Conservative Judaism. “Convention 2017, Monday Evening: A Century of Change (Part 1).” September 12, 2017, video, 47:33. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tg71h9VNt6I&ab_channel=Women%27sLeagueforConservativeJudaism.