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.
“Nerve,” according to activist-writer Midge Decter, is “the one thing all writers need.” Her own career has demonstrated this principle several times over, as Decter’s controversial opinions have put her at the center of public debates over issues such as feminism and foreign policy. A neoconservative who enjoys debunking cherished liberal beliefs, Decter has inspired both fury and respect among readers. Even those who disagree violently with her insist that hers is “an opinion to be reckoned with.”
Ida Dehmel (née Coblenz) was born in Bingen am Rhein, the daughter of a prosperous Jewish family, whose genealogy on her father’s maternal side can be traced back to the year 1735. Her father Simon Zacharias (1836–1910) became a partner in the wine merchant firm of Joseph Philip Meyer, marrying Meyer’s daughter, Emilie (1840–1878). The couple had five children: Elise or “Alice” (1864–1935), Julie Hedwig (1865–1935), Cornelius (1866–1922), who died in Worthing, Sussex, Ida (1870–1942) and Marie Louise, or “Lulu” (1877–1892). Emilie’s early death in 1878, six months after a complicated childbirth, meant that the family was raised in a patriarchal milieu that was dominated by firm rituals, decorum and etiquette. However, their stern upbringing was relieved by the close proximity of their late mother’s parents, the Meyers, who resided nearby in a large family house on the Marktplatz (market square). In the unpublished autobiography of her youth, which she started in 1901 (entitled Urschrift) and which was reworked during the 1920s and in 1940 as a novel (entitled Daja), Ida fondly recalled her grandmother, who was Paris-born and who took a keen interest in her grand-daughter’s well-being (Daja, 7–9, in HH 1970, 3).
Katya Delakova was a pioneer of Jewish dance, blending folk traditions, Hasidic worship, modern dance, and improvisation. Her integration of various dance philosophies from around the world allowed her to create and teach her own philosophy, titled “The Art of Moving.”
Sonia Delaunay was known for her vivid use of color and her bold, abstract patterns, breaking down traditional distinctions between the fine and applied arts as an artist, designer and printmaker.
Delilah is the only woman in the Samson story whose name is given. Whatever its etymology, her name is a wordplay on Hebrew layla, “night,” for as the night overcomes the mighty sun (the name Samson, Shimshon, is related to “sun,” shemesh), so Delilah overcomes the apparently invincible strong man, Samson.
The midrashim on Delilah attest to the negative attitude of the Rabbis toward non-Jewish women. The Biblical Delilah was not loyal to Samson and her relationship with him was for the sole purpose of delivering him to the Philistines. The Rabbis accentuated the negative aspects of the relations between Samson and Delilah in order to demonstrate the havoc that a foreign woman could wreak.
Marriage and Divorce. Before World War II the Jewish marriage pattern was rather favorable for fertility. In 1939 one half of the Jewish women aged 20–24 and more than 70 percent of those aged 25–44 in the Russian Federation were currently married. However, in 1959, the percentage of currently married Jewish females below the age of 25 was much lower than it had been in pre-war 1939 (Table 1). This may be seen as an indirect indicator of the rise in age at first marriage between the two censuses, for which we have no direct data.
The existence of two autobiographies and two biographies attest to the importance of Florence Denmark’s contributions to American psychology. However, none of these published materials mention the fact that she is Jewish, probably because she has never felt that her Jewish heritage is particularly salient to her. Nevertheless, like the work of other Jewish women of her generation, Denmark’s contributions to psychology have been socially activist in nature. She is a founder of the field of the psychology of women, and has contributed much to its legitimization in terms of both scholarship and organizational leadership.
For a woman who was to transform film, it is fitting that Maya Deren was born in Russia in 1917, during the birth of the Revolution.
Born Eleanora Derenkowsky in Kiev, Ukraine, on April 29, 1917, the only child of Marie (Fiedler) and Solomon David Derenkowsky, she was named after Eleanora Duse, the eminent Italian actor.
“How to sustain the miracle/Of being, that like a muted bell,/Or like some ocean-breathing shell,/Quivers, intense and still?” asked Babette Deutsch in her poem “Quandary.” Questions surrounding the miracle of life formed an important part of Babette Deutsch’s poetry. She also published many novels and works of literary criticism, but she is best known for her poetry, which was greatly influenced by Jewish themes and culture.
In 1923, Helene Deutsch became the first psychoanalyst to write a book about female psychology, called Psychoanalysis of the Sexual Functions of Women in English. Her interest in the subject, along with that of Karen Horney, helped to push her mentor Sigmund Freud, who did not like being left behind, into writing articles about female psychology. When Deutsch was completing her manuscript, she wrote to her husband, Felix, “It brings something new to this terra incognita in analysis—I believe, the first ray of light on the unappreciated female libido.” For her to draw attention to the female libido in that era was implicitly to amend Freud’s own outlook. At the same time, Deutsch was pioneering the importance of motherhood. Other psychoanalysts of the period, such as Otto Rank, Sandor Ferenczi, and Georg Groddeck, were also intrigued by the neglected role of mothering, but Deutsch was the one to insist on its special significance for female psychology. Although she always remained loyal to Freud’s conceptual framework, her writings were an outgrowth of her own personal experiences and insight.
Naomi Deutsch, a leader in the field of public health nursing, was born on November 5, 1890, in Brno, Moravia, the second child of Rabbi Dr. Gotthard and Hermine (Bacher) Deutsch. With her parents, her brother Herman, and her sister Edith, she immigrated to Cincinnati, Ohio, where her brothers Eberhard and Zola were born. She graduated from Walnut Hills High School in 1908 and from the Jewish Hospital School of Nursing in 1912.
Devar ha-Po’elet was founded in 1934 as the organ of the women workers’ movement. It was conceived as a monthly supplement to the daily newspaper Davar, both to increase its readership and in response to the demand of the women workers’ movement, which thus realized its goal of creating a women’s magazine—a goal it had cherished since the 1920s. The women’s magazine was both officially and financially subordinate to Davar, which provided printing and distribution services. The Mo’ezet ha-Po’alot (Council of Women Workers) was responsible for its funding, which it supplied through contributions and an allocation from the Histadrut (General Federation of Workers in Israel). An independent editorial staff, led by a woman editor, was responsible for content and design.
“I do not discuss my age, height, weight, or other vital statistics. Other than that, shoot. I tolerate any kind of nonsense up until six o’clock. After that, I just want to be admired.” In typical Selma Diamond fashion, the witty, wisecracking (with a voice she once described as sounding like Brillo), longtime comedy writer/actor held her own when warding off nosy interviewers. Best known as the crotchety, chainsaw-voiced bailiff Selma Hacker on television’s Night Court from 1984 to 1985, Diamond embodied in her writing and her comedy routines the quintessential cynical, jaded character. Penning skits and jokes for some of the early greats of radio and television, she became one of the most famous and accomplished female comedy writers of her time.
More than half a century after the death of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, researchers from many countries and from diverse disciplines began to express a new interest in her, focusing respectively on her paintings, furniture and stage designs, and her teaching in Theresienstadt (Terezin), a ghetto established by the Germans in Czechoslovakia.
As the most important German Jewish newspaper in America, Die Deborah propagated a program of German identity, of bourgeois culture, and of Jewish Reform in which women were assigned a strategic place. The paper published essays on Jewish religion, culture, and history, and debates on education. Literature, mostly ghetto novels, was given a privileged place. While Die Deborah reported on Jewish issues from all over the world, it focused on news from Germany, and it gave special attention to the cultural life of the German immigrant community in America.
Dinah is the daughter of Jacob, the father of twelve sons (and thus the twelve tribes) in the ancestor narratives of Genesis. She is born to Leah after Leah has given birth to six sons. Leah names her (Gen 34:21), as biblical women often did as part of the maternal role. Of Jacob’s daughters (others are noted in Gen 46:15), only Dinah is mentioned by name.
Dinah was the only daughter of Jacob and Leah, and the Rabbis present her as possessing many positive qualities, as was fitting for the daughter of the progenitors of the Israelite nation.
Dorothy Dinnerstein earned her place as a major feminist thinker with her groundbreaking 1976 book The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and Human Malaise. In her later work, she shifted her focus to ecology and nuclear disarmament.
Esther Dischereit’s childhood and indeed her entire life were marked by her mother’s survival in hiding together with a daughter, born in 1937, from her first marriage. After the war, her mother married a German physician and had two daughters, of whom Esther, born in 1952 in Heppenheim in southern Hesse, was the younger. Her parents divorced when Esther was seven and the children lived with their mother, who saw to it that they were instructed in Jewish religion and customs. They attended Hebrew School at the Jewish Community in Darmstadt, participating in the Purim plays, and on Friday evenings an Orthodox rabbi came to their home. When Esther was fourteen her mother died and the children lived with the father and his new family, including a half-brother and half-sister, in a small town in northern Hesse. Esther developed rapidly. She completed gymnasium (high school) in record time and attended university briefly, “fleeing” from it because there were “too many superfluous words” (Gelebte Zeit…, 144). After getting a degree in education she wanted to become a teacher since “children are all that counted for me” (Übungen jüdisch…, 199). Her first book was a children’s book. But she had come of age with the rebellious generation of 1968 and had been active in the “red cells.” This precluded a career in a public school. She apprenticed as a typesetter and worked for several years in print shops, playing an active role in the trade union. She lives in Berlin with her two daughters and holds a position with the German Trade Union Federation.
Many scholars in the area of Jewish marriage and divorce point proudly to the fact that Jewish marriage is a private ordering between individuals. Those scholars claim that Jewish marriage is a matter of contract between two willing parties, and therefore, unlike the custom in most liberal Western democratic countries, the parties, not the state, determine their personal status. The parties by agreement can decide to get divorced, in the same way that they decided to marry. No reason need be alleged for the divorce. No fault is relevant. No time need elapse between separation and divorce. In theory, parties can marry one day, divorce the next, and then remarry without delay or period of separation.
Barbara Berman Dobkin is the pre-eminent Jewish feminist philanthropist of the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century. Her vision, dedication, generosity and financial commitment have contributed significantly to changing the landscape of Jewish women’s organizations and funding in both North America and Israel. In her central pursuit of the full equality and integration of women and women’s issues into every aspect of Jewish life, Dobkin co-founded Ma’yan: The Jewish Women’s Project and has served as the chair of The Jewish Women’s Archive and the ten million dollar Hadassah Foundation. She has also been a pioneering donor-activist on Jewish gay and lesbian issues, in progressive Israeli organizations, and in the U.S. women’s funding movement, and has garnered a national reputation as a speaker on issues of women’s philanthropy and leadership.
In the medieval period, Jewish women doctors were found in most of the countries of western and central Europe, i.e., Spain, France, Provence, Italy, Sicily, and especially in Germany. Slawa of Warsaw (1435) is the only one who has so far been found from eastern Europe, but others will probably come to light when the records are examined more thoroughly. Evidence of women doctors in Egypt and Turkey comes from the beginning (ninth to twelfth centuries) of this period and from its end (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), although evidence for women healers is scattered throughout the sources.
A woman of gusto and talent, Selina Simmons Belasco Dolaro was an exceptional performer and single mother in late nineteenth-century England and America. Through her income from singing, dancing, acting and writing, she raised and supported four children.
Florence Dolowitz was a founder and lifelong leader of the Women’s American Ort (Organization for Rehabilitation and Training). She was born in a small town in Lithuania sometime in 1879, the exact date unknown. She was a precocious student, and, to further her education, she was sent with a brother-in-law to live with a childless uncle and aunt in the United States. When the nine-year-old arrived in the country, her destination had been shifted to another uncle. After a few years, she moved to New York City to join her two older sisters who had also emigrated and were now living on Henry Street.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Encyclopedia." (Viewed on February 19, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/content/D>.