Deborah Marcus Melamed
Deborah Marcus Melamed encouraged Jewish women to form their own relationship with Jewish practice through her 1927 book The Three Pillars, an interpretive guide to rituals and customs. She worked as the supervisor of foreign languages for public schools in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a position she held from 1923 to 1954. Melamed also served as vice president of the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism from 1920 to 1930 or 1932 and founded the Elizabeth chapter of Hadassah. As of 2014, the Women’s League had reprinted her book nine times.
Deborah Marcus Melamed wished that Jewish ceremonies, customs, and symbols would enthrall the hearts of women. She believed that Jewish women could mold Jewish practices and invest them with meaning, and that in doing so they would contribute to the preservation of Judaism. With this hope in mind, as well as a sincere desire to fulfill the wishes of her colleague Mathilde Schechter, Melamed wrote The Three Pillars (1927). Schecter was the founder of the National Women’s League of the United Synagogue of America, now the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism. This book contained clear descriptions of those observances with which she thought all Jewish women should be familiar. She added interpretive words, desiring to instill in other women the love she felt for Jewish tradition. The popularity of The Three Pillars is reflected in the fact that it had been reprinted nine times as of 2014. This volume also became the cornerstone of the educational philosophy of the National Women’s League, an organization established within the Conservative Movement with the purpose of improving the souls of women by inducing them to recognize the greatness of Jewish life and literature. Melamed was vice president of this organization from 1920 to 1930 or 1932.
Deborah Marcus Melamed was born in New York City on July 21, 1892. She was the daughter of Hannah Rebecca (Kimhi) and Abraham Marcus, a doctor. After receiving an education in classics at Hunter College, she became a high school Latin instructor. She moved to Philadelphia in 1915, when she married Raphael Hai Melamed, a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary (1909), who was completing his Ph.D. at Dropsie College. They shared a love for ancient languages: Raphael Melamed wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the Targum to Canticles, an Aramaic commentary on the Song of Songs, and Deborah Melamed became a fellow in Semitic languages at Dropsie College (1915–1917).
When the Melameds finally settled in New Jersey in 1923 and Raphael Melamed took a position as the rabbi of the B’nai Israel Congregation in Elizabeth, Deborah Melamed began her work in the New Jersey public schools. She became the supervisor of foreign languages in the Elizabeth public schools, a position she held until 1954. However, her full-time career did not preclude time spent working for the Jewish community. Melamed helped found the Elizabeth chapter of Hadassah and played an active role in the National Women’s League for many years.
Deborah Marcus Melamed died at age sixty-two on November 4, 1954. She is remembered as a woman able to fulfill her responsibilities as a mother of two children, Judith Tamar and David Joseph, while maintaining a career and contributing to the preservation of the Jewish community.
Hadassah Archives, NYC and Elizabeth, N.J..
Melamed, Deborah M. The Three Pillars (1927).
Obituary. NYTimes, November 4, 1954, 31:4.
Schorsch, Ismar. “A Marriage Made in Heaven.” Outlook 63 (1993): 15+.
National Women’s League. They Dared to Dream: A History of National Women’s League, 1918–1968 (1967).
Women’s League of the United Synagogue of America. Seventy Five Years of Vision and Voluntarism (1992).