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.
Editor, writer and one of the first few women journalists in Erez Israel, Bracha Habas was born in Alytus, a town in the district of Vilna (Lithuania) on January 20, 1900, to a wealthy and cultured family of merchants who were actively involved in communal life. (The family name is the acronym of Hakham Binyamin Sefardi or Hakham Beit Sefer [School].) Her grandfather, Rabbi Simha Zissel, the scion of a rabbinic family in Vilna (that of the Yesod, Yehudah ben Eliezer; Yesod is an acronym for Yehudah safra ve-dayyan, “Yehudah scribe and judge,” d. 1762), was the first member of the family to turn to trade, opening a large general store that became a center of life in the township. On the other hand, her father, Rabbi Israel, successfully combined business with study: ordained in the yeshivas of Volozhin and Slobodka, he turned to business as a leather merchant only after marriage; nevertheless he continued to teach and to lecture on Torah-related subjects and, on joining the Hibbat Zion (Lovers of Zion) movement, was extremely active in converting people to the Zionist ideal and the study of Hebrew. He established a branch of Safah Berurah (“Plain Language,” a society founded in Jerusalem in 1889) in his hometown, was among the founders of the Mizrahi movement in 1902 and, once in Erez Israel, edited a non-partisan religious Zionist journal, Ha-Yesod (1931). Habas’s mother, Nehama Devorah, daughter of Rabbi Nahman Schlesinger (a descendant of Rabbi Eliyahu, the Vilna Gaon, 1720–1797), was also highly educated. Her father taught her Bible and she was fluent in both spoken and written Hebrew (an exceptional phenomenon among women born in the 1870s).
The experience of Jewish women under the Habsburg Monarchy differed greatly according to the part of this large and extremely diverse country in which they lived. The Habsburg Monarchy was a dynastic state, whose territory had been acquired over many centuries and whose inhabitants spoke a wide array of languages, practiced many different religions, and constructed many different ethnic, national and cultural identities in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
“One of the finest artist gifts to come out of Israel is Hadassah,” proclaimed the Dance Congress of 1953. Hadassah was recognized as a major dance artist of the twentieth century, a performer of Jewish, Hindu and other ethnic dance forms, and a leading force in presenting the dance of other cultures to the American public. She was a pioneer in bringing Jewish dance to the United States and was recognized as such in the first U.S. Congress on Jewish Dance held in New York City in 1949.
When seven women concluded on February 14, 1912, “that the time is ripe for a large organization of women Zionists” and issued an invitation to interested friends “to attend a meeting for the purpose of discussing the feasibility of forming an organization” to promote Jewish institutions in Palestine and foster Jewish ideals, they scarcely anticipated that their resolve would lead to the creation of American Jews’ largest mass-membership organization. Yet Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, became not only the most popular American Jewish organization within a short span of years, maintaining that preeminence to this day, but also the most successful American women’s volunteer organization, enrolling more women and raising more funds than any other national women’s volunteer organization.
Nursing was not recognized as a profession until 1918, when the American Zionist Medical Unit, which later became the Hadassah Medical Organization, opened a nursing school. The group of young women accepted for the first class included women from various areas and population groups in the country: immigrants from Eastern Europe and native-born women, daughters of orchard farmers, founders of the first moshavot and pioneers who, together with men, drained swamps and built roads. These new women students decided to learn a profession that would allow them to live independent lives and contribute to the country.
Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America (HWZOA) (hereafter: Hadassah) has a lengthy history of activity in the Yishuv and Israel, going back to 1913, about a year after it was founded in New York, and continuing to this day, with the exception of a short period during World War I. This activity, outstanding in its scope, continuity, stability and diversity, encompasses efforts in the sphere of health and medical services, and in the welfare of children and youth through support of Youth Aliyah, vocational education, vocational training and more.
Born in Chelm, Poland, on December 15, 1928, Ida Haendel was the younger of two daughters born to Nathan and Fela Hendel [sic]. Several sources state the year of her birth as 1923 or 1924. The confusion, Haendel claims, is the result of a performance she gave in London in 1937 when she was nine years old; just before she was to appear, her manager was informed that no performer was allowed to appear under the age of fourteen, and so he claimed that was indeed her age.
Although there has been much academic interest in assorted aspects of the history of the Haganah, the subject of women in that organization has not yet merited an in-depth study, despite the considerable contribution of women in the Haganah during the struggle to establish the State of Israel. The present article is based on interviews conducted with some thirty women from various sectors of the population, who were active in the Haganah. The overall treatment of the various orientations among the women stems, among other things, from the information that emerged from these interviews.
Reference to Hagar appears in a wisdom poem (Bar 3:9–4:4) that is itself part of an apocryphal letter written sometime between 200 to 60 b.c.e. to the priests and people of Jerusalem from Baruch, the scribe and close friend of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36).
Hagar is Sarai’s Egyptian slave girl, whom Sarai (later Sarah) gives to Abram (later Abraham) as a wife who would bear a child that would be considered Sarai’s (Gen 16:3). Although it bears a resemblance to modern technological surrogate motherhood, this custom may seem bizarre. However, cuneiform texts of the second and first millennia b.c.e. attest to this custom in ancient Mesopotamia.
The Rabbis present Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian handmaiden, as an Egyptian princess whom Pharaoh king of Egypt gave to Sarah as a gift. She grew up in the home of Abraham and Sarah, and converted. Sarah initially had to persuade Hagar to marry Abraham (to compensate for her own barrenness), but Hagar quickly became accustomed to her new status, taking advantage of it in order to vex Sarah and disparage her in the eyes of others. The midrash tells that Abraham grew close to Hagar and ceased viewing her as a handmaiden. He heeded his wife as regards Hagar, but he also took care not to harm the latter. Sarah, in contrast, treated her handmaiden harshly and abused her in various ways, causing her to flee to the wilderness. Hagar is depicted by the Rabbis as being strongly influenced by the atmosphere in the house of Abraham and Sarah. She became accustomed to seeing angels and therefore was not alarmed when an angel of the Lord was revealed to her at Beer-lahai-roi. The spiritual level of Sarah’s handmaiden was higher than that of people from later generations (see below, the comparison with Manoah).
The takkanah (regulation enacted by halakhic scholars supplementing the Talmudic halakhah) was, in practical terms, a legislative tool of major importance in organizing Jewish communities in medieval times. The Jewish communities of the time felt they were subordinate to Talmudic law, which they saw as sacred and binding. But when urgent needs arose which put the Jewish community under pressure, the sages’ preferred manner of coping with them was the takkanah, which the Talmud refers to as a legislative tool.
Nan Halperin was born in Odessa, Russia, in 1898 and moved to the United States in 1900. She was the daughter of Samuel Halperin, a confectioner, and Rebeka Rose Halperin. She had two brothers—Hal Halperin, manager of the Chicago office of Variety, and Max Halperin, a Chicago agent—and two sisters—Sophie Halperin, who sometimes accompanied Nan on her tours, and Clara Halperin.
Art dealer, collector, and influential businesswoman, Edith Halpert changed the way Americans perceive their art. Born in Odessa, [now] Ukraine, on April 25, 1900, she was the daughter of Gregor and Frances (Lucom) Fivoosiovitch. Her father died when she was very young and when she was six years old, her mother brought her and her sister to New York City. While in high school, at age fourteen, Edith took classes at the National Academy of Design after convincing the instructors she was really sixteen.
Anna Halprin is one of the founders of the American avant-garde in modern dance. Beginning with her work in the late 1950s and early 1960s, she radically expanded the ideas of what could constitute a dance, what kind of personal material was permissible as content in a dance work, and how to give voice to forgotten segments of the population—people of color, the aged, the terminally ill.
Born on April 11, 1896, in New York, Rose Luria Halprin was the daughter of Pesach (Philip) Luria, a dealer in silverware, and Rebecca (Isaacson) Luria. Her parents were ardent Zionists and gave her a Hebrew education. Even as a young girl, she was active in Zionist causes, serving as the leader of the Stars of Zion, a youth division of the Austro-Hungarian Zionist Society, to which her parents belonged. When the society nearly lost its meeting rooms on the Lower East Side because of a lack of funds, Halprin and two friends staged a benefit concert that raised the money necessary to pay the rent. In her later Zionist activities, she would often be called upon to muster vital resources in times of crisis and need.
Julia Horn was born to affluent German Jewish parents, Jacob Meyer and Hannah Horn, in New York on October 19, 1883, during the early years of the Eastern European Jewish immigration. Like many middle-class women in the Progressive Era, she was able to attain a high level of education, earning a B.A. in 1903. Also like so many women of her class, she turned to teaching. She was a New York public school teacher from 1903 to 1905, and in 1905 she became a teacher of “mental defectives.” Since teaching was a career for unmarried women, her paid career ended with her marriage to Gabriel Max Hamburger in 1910. The Hamburgers had two children, son Bernard and daughter Maxsina.
Born in Hamburg on September 21, 1896, Käte Hamburger grew up in a middle-class home which enabled her, even as an adult, to obtain a relatively orderly academic education, even throughout World War I. She studied philosophy and graduated in Munich in 1922. The topics with which she dealt throughout her “writing life” became truly her own. Thus reading Jean Paul’s Titan during an illness shortly after her graduation resulted in her essay “The Problem of Death in Jean Paul.” Here we already see an inclination towards literature, even though her approach always remained philosophical.
Sarah Hamer-Jacklyn, a popular and highly acclaimed author, brought a generous embrace and a well-honed theatrical sensibility to her short stories, sketches and portraits. She moved her characters and readers from the pious, rooted intimacy of the shtetl to the fragmented, often despairing experience of America.
Hamutal was the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah, the consort of Josiah, king of Judah from 639 to 609 b.c.e., and the mother of two Judean kings, Jehoahaz and Zedekiah. Since most Judean regnal formulas include the name of the king’s mother and several of these women appear to wield considerable influence in political and cultic matters, the queen mother may have served as an official functionary of the royal court. Alternatively, Ben-Barak suggests that the activities of the more prominent queen mothers do not represent official roles. Rather, their prominence may be the result of personal influence earned by individual women who successfully garnered the support necessary to advance a younger son ahead of an older sibling in the royal succession.
Best known as the inventor of the Barbie doll, Ruth Mosko Handler combined her marketing genius with her husband Elliot Handler’s creative designs to form the toy company Mattel, Inc. Starting in their garage in 1939, the Handlers produced Lucite gifts, wooden picture frames, and dollhouse furniture before developing their first toy, the Uke-A-Doodle, in 1947. The success of the Uke-A-Doodle was followed by a series of rubber-belt-driven musical toys, including the Jack-in-the-Box, as well as toy guns such as a Winchester rifle replica. Yet it was the Barbie doll, created in 1959, that “ran off the counter.” Thirty years later, sales of the doll that Handler named after her daughter exceeded one billion dollars.
In the Second Book of Maccabees (II Maccabees, Chapter 7) a story is told of a (nameless) mother of seven who was arrested with her sons for defying the decree of the Seleucid monarch to transgress the commandments of the Torah. Refusing to capitulate to the king’s demands, the sons were tortured to death one by one. Instead of persuading them to desist, their mother encouraged them to die for their belief. The story ends with a short note to the effect that after the death of her sons, she too died. In contrast to the elaborate description of their death, hers is merely mentioned, not described.
The narrative in 1 Samuel 1–2, in which Hannah is protagonist, is set in the late premonarchic period (eleventh century b.c.e.). It opens obliquely with the introduction of her husband, Elkanah, who is identified by name, location, and extensive genealogy. Elkanah’s two wives conclude the exposition, and they are presented without genealogy. The significance of the women lies in their relationship to Elkanah and in their childbearing capacity: “The name of one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children” (1:2).
Hannah is depicted by the Rabbis as a righteous woman who was devout in her observance of the commandments, especially those of pilgrimage to the Tabernacle, niddah (the laws governing family purity), the taking of hallah from dough, and the kindling of the Sabbath lights.
Leah Cohen Harby wore her heritage proudly, practicing fidelity to country, faith, and family in her writing and everyday living. Born to a distinguished family in Charleston, South Carolina, on September 7, 1849, she grew up in an environment that encouraged intellectual development and prized patriotism.
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Encyclopedia." (Viewed on April 20, 2018) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/content/H>.