The Encyclopedia features over 1,700 biographies, 300 thematic essays, and 1,400 photographs and illustrations on a wide range of Jewish women through the centuries -- from Gertrude Berg to Gertrude Stein; Hannah Greenebaum Solomon to Hannah Arendt; the Biblical Ruth to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Ray Karchmer Daily was a leader in Texas in the struggle for equal opportunities for women. She was born in Vilna, Lithuania, on March 16, 1891, to Kalman and Anna (Levison) Karchmer. The youngest of five children (Jack, Alex, Sidney, Nathan, and Ray), she immigrated to the United States with her parents when she was age fourteen. The family settled in Denison, Texas, where her father operated a business. In 1913, she became the first Jewish woman to graduate from a Texas medical school. After much difficulty, she found an internship at Women’s Hospital in Philadelphia, the only hospital/medical school with a dormitory for women. Throughout her career she crusaded for adequate housing for female medical students. Her chosen specialty was ophthalmology, but there were no residence positions available in the United States for women. She finished her training in Vienna, Austria.
Helen Miller Dalsheimer was a distinguished leader in the Jewish community, both nationally and in her native Baltimore. She had a distinguished career as a volunteer whose contributions helped bring women, both volunteers and professionals, into positions of leadership previously occupied only by men.
Shoshana Damari was born in 1923 in the city of Dhamar, Yemen. With the outbreak of anti-Jewish persecution in Yemen in 1924, the family set out on foot for the Land of Israel. Reaching the port of Aden, they continued by ship to Palestine and settled in Rishon le-Zion, where Damari’s father found work as a teacher at a local talmud Torah.
Until 1920, dance—like other artistic activities—was virtually nonexistent in Palestine, then a neglected province of the Ottoman Empire. The Bezalel Academy of Art and Design (founded in 1906) operated in Jerusalem, while Tel Aviv had two modest music conservatories, Shulamit (founded in 1910) and Beit Ha-Levi’im (founded in 1914). Attempts were also made to set up small symphony orchestras and amateur theater, but these soon folded. There were no dance or drama schools or even auditoriums. Under the more liberal administration of the British Mandate which went into effect in 1920, waves of immigration increased until, by the middle of the 1920s, the Jewish population reached about ninety thousand. (There were 83,790 Jews in Palestine according to the first British census in 1922). The character of immigration also changed: while previously most of the immigrants had been young idealists who arrived as individuals, most of those who arrived during the third aliyah (1919–1923) were entire families, primarily from eastern Europe. They increased the population in urban settlements, built on the sands of Tel Aviv, and gave momentum to the development of the arts, particularly dance.
Dance has always had a special place in the Jewish community because of its capacity to heighten communal and individual joy at weddings as prescribed in the Talmud, at bar and bat mitzvah celebrations, and on other happy occasions. The Bible contains many mentions of dance in celebration of important holidays and Israelite victories. Jews have always danced with the Torah scrolls in processionals on the holiday of Simhat Torah, and there are movement processionals on other holidays, as well as during the weekly Sabbath services. A very simple form of dance is even part of Jewish prayer, as the rhythmic rocking movement of davening (praying) literally embodies the notion of total devotion to God.
Ruby (Rivka) Daniel lived for more than half of her life in kibbutz Neot Mordekhai in the Upper Galilee, but her book Ruby of Cochin: An Indian Jewish Woman Remembers richly illuminates Jewish life in Kerala, a green land of tropical abundance and religious tolerance on India’s southwest coast. Born in December 1912, Daniel spent the first half of her life in the ancient Jewish community of Cochin, where she developed her gifts as a compelling storyteller. She was the first Jewish girl who left the neighborhood to continue her education, and the first to complete high school and attend college. After working as a government clerk and serving in the Indian Navy, she was among the first in her community to make aliyah, in 1951, and to join a kibbutz. She was also the first Cochin Jewish woman to write a book.
“A stage set is like a painting that comes to life, becoming three-dimensional. Like a moving sculpture!” (Ruth Dar in Hotem, December 29, 1978). “I call this profession ‘painter’ and not set designer. I paint with space and costumes, and in my eyes there is no real difference between the two because the costumes are part of the concept of the space … Since I’m a minimalist, there is nothing extraneous on stage. Every little object that is there has a reason, and it has to have a place in the whole. I prefer to telegraph a spatial concept. For this reason, I have never done a set of a room with four walls and a few chairs” (Ha-Ir, June 12, 1997).
International actor Lili Darvas won acclaim in her adopted country, the United States, on stage, in films, and on television. Born in Budapest on April 10, 1902, to Alexander and Berta (Freiberger) Darvas, both of whom were Jewish, she was educated at the Budapest Lyceum. She made her professional debut at age twenty, playing Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at the Magyar Szinhas in Budapest. Married to one of Hungary’s outstanding playwrights, Ferenc Molnar, Darvas appeared in a range of modern and classical works and became one of Budapest’s leading actors. Molnar, inspired by her talent, created a series of sparkling plays for her, including Riviera, Olympia, and The Girl from Trieste. In 1926, Darvas joined the acting troupe of the German impresario Max Reinhardt, even though she had learned to speak German only two years earlier, by reciting classical German verse plays for hours at a time.
The story of this unnamed woman appears near the end of her father’s story (see Judg 11:1–12:7). Its position, as well as the events that it narrates, suggests that it functions primarily, though not necessarily solely, as a further explication of the character of her father. It is, further, one of the most enigmatic stories in the Hebrew Bible.
The daughter of Pharaoh did not follow her father’s wicked ways, but rather converted and ceased worshiping idols. She was highly praised by the Rabbis, and the midrash includes her among the devout women converts: Hagar, Asenath, Zipporah, Shiphrah, Puah, the daughter of Pharaoh, Rahab, Ruth and Jael wife of Heber the Kenite (Midrash Tadshe, Ozar ha-Midrashim [ed. Eisenstein], p. 474). The midrash specifically praised the daughter of Pharaoh for her rescue of Moses, thereby aiding in the exodus of all the Israelites from Egypt. Moses was raised in her home, by a woman who believed in God. She radiated warmth and loved him as if he were her own son, and accordingly was richly rewarded: she married Caleb son of Jephunneh and joined the people of Israel. Some midrashim attest to her longevity and claim that she entered the Garden of Eden while still alive.
When the men of Sodom demand sexual relations with two messengers from God, Lot, who has given the messengers hospitality, offers his two daughters to the men of Sodom instead. The daughters are living with their parents and have not had sexual relations with any man (19:8), although they are apparently betrothed (19:24). Lot’s offer indicates that, at least from the perspective of the men who produced the text, a father might find it less shameful to allow his own daughters to become objects of forced sexual relations than to allow male visitors to become such objects (compare Judg 19:24). Lot’s daughters are spared this fate, however, and escape with their father before Sodom is destroyed.
The story of the five daughters of Zelophehad provides legitimation of a limited right of Israelite women to inherit land. It also places specific marriage restrictions upon any women who inherit under this right. The story celebrates women’s boldness and at the same time offers comfort for men who have the misfortune (from the Bible’s androcentric point of view) to have no sons.
The Rabbis rain many praises on the daughters of Zelophehad: they are wise, exegetes and and virtuous (BT Bava Batra 119b); they are like the daughters of kings, fine and worthy (Sifrei Zuta 15:32). The midrash declares that all five daughters possessed all these admirable qualities: none was better than the others, and all were equal (Sifrei on Numbers, para. 133).
“Feminists can and should have a significant role in promoting understanding and respect between Christians and Jews.” These words of Annette Daum highlight her devotion to two causes: interfaith dialogue and feminism.
Founder and longtime editor in chief of Outlook magazine, Carrie Dreyfuss Davidson, born in Brooklyn, New York, on February 12, 1879, exemplified the often competing paradigms of Jewish homemaker and accomplished writer and community leader. Introduced to many in American Jewish society as the wife of renowned professor Israel Davidson of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, this gifted woman eventually founded and fostered an array of significant organizations and publications.
Rita Charmatz Davidson led the vanguard for women in the state of Maryland, rising through the ranks of appointed local public service posts to the governor’s cabinet and seats on both of Maryland’s appellate courts.
Natalie Zemon Davis is a leading European historian, a pioneer in feminist studies, and one of the first women to assume a senior position in academic life. In 1987, when she served as president of the American Historical Association, the largest professional organization of historians in the United States, she became only the second woman ever to hold that post. Davis’s work has enriched historical understanding by challenging the boundaries of scholarly inquiry and broadening the scope of the historical profession.
In her essay entitled “What is the Use of Jewish History?” Lucy S. Dawidowicz wrote that ahavat Yisrael, the love of the Jewish people, was a crucial ingredient in writing Jewish history. She went on to say that “Some people think that the professional historian’s personal commitments—to his people, his country, his religion, his language—undermine his professional objectivity. Not so. Not so, as long as historians respect the integrity of their sources and adhere strictly to the principles of sound scholarship. Personal commitments do not distort, but instead they enrich, historical writing.”
“All the links in the chain of Devorah’s life cast a light of great activity and influence on her surroundings, both near and far. Love of her motherland was the main force behind all her writings (and actions) and intermingled with everything: home, village, motherhood, the farm, teaching new immigrants and their children, the fate of her sons in battle and her bereavement.” Thus Rahel Katznelson-Shazar eulogized the new Hebrew woman as exemplified by Devorah Dayan.
Frances Allen de Ford chose the nontraditional route for women of medical school and medical practice to continue her paternal family’s tradition of philanthropy. As a physician, de Ford pioneered hygiene measures in the Kensington section of northeast Philadelphia, a heavy industrial and malaria-ridden district.
Currently one of the country’s flourishing arts, opera in Israel owes its creation primarily to singer, director, producer and impresario Edis De Philippe, who founded the Israel National Opera Company in 1947 and ran it with an iron hand until her death on July 5, 1979, following brain surgery.
In the preface to her book Builders of Emerging Nations (1961), Vera Dean poses the question, “What makes a leader?” While the book goes on to discuss the important qualities necessary to be a leader in the political arena, the story of Vera Dean’s life is a testament to her own leadership abilities. She helped shape American foreign policy and opinion on international relations, as both an educator and a writer.
Rebekah’s nurse Deborah died when Jacob was on his way to the Land of Canaan, close to Bethel. She is mentioned by name only once in the Torah, in Gen. 35:8, in the description of her burial under an oak tree that was named “Allon-bacuth [the oak of the weeping].” Deborah is also mentioned, anonymously, in Gen. 24:59, when she accompanied Rebekah on the latter’s journey to the Land of Canaan to wed Isaac: “So they sent off their sister Rebekah and her nurse,” as was fitting for a wealthy and distinguished family that retained a nurse.
Deborah is presented in the Rabbinic sources as a very talented woman. She was an upright judge, with the same prophetic ability as Samuel; Torah scholars would come to learn from her. This ability was granted her as reward for her good deeds, namely, the preparation of wicks for the Tabernacle. She also encouraged her fellow Israelites to regularly attend the synagogue and Tabernacle, and thanks to her beneficial influence on her husband, he merited a portion in the World to Come. There is a tradition that presents Deborah as being guilty of the sin of pride, which led to her loss of the gift of prophecy, while the other traditions speak in her praise, and number her among the twenty-three Israelite women of outstanding righteousness (Midrash Tadshe, Ozar ha-Midrashim [ed. Eisenstein], 474).
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Encyclopedia." (Viewed on February 19, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/content/D>.