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.
Shulamith Hareven was born in Warsaw on February 14, 1930, the daughter of Abraham Ryftin (born Warsaw 1899, died Jerusalem 1995) and Natalia Wiener (born Warsaw 1903, died Jerusalem, 1996). Her father was a lawyer and her mother a teacher. Making her debut with a book of poems, Predatory Jerusalem (Hebrew, 1962), Hareven never tired of exploring new artistic avenues, publishing nineteen Hebrew books in a variety of genres, including suspense fiction (under an androgynous pseudonym), and children’s literature (recently inspired by her (five) grandchildren).
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Smith College in 1966, Jane Harman graduated from Harvard Law School in 1969 and became a member of the bar in the District of Columbia. She has two children, Brian Frank and Hilary Frank, from her nine-year first marriage to Richard Frank. She also has two younger children, Daniel Geier Harman and Justine Leigh Harman, with her husband Sidney Harman, an audio equipment manufacturer, whom she married in 1980.
Born and educated in London, Zena (née Stern) completed a B.Sc. Econ. in international law and relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1935. During her university years she met Abba Eban from Cambridge and her future husband, Avraham (Abe) Harman from Oxford—both ardent Zionists who tried to draw the young student from an assimilationist background into their activist circle. Although her relationship with Abe developed, Zena remained unconvinced. Upon graduation she started a career in advertising with Unilever. However, when the situation of Jews in Europe deteriorated, she decided to take up a position with the Jewish Association for the Protection of Girls, Women and Children, where she gained her first experience in social work (supplemented by studies in sociology at Morley College). Abe, in the meantime, had immigrated to Palestine and started work in the political division of the Jewish Agency, before being dispatched to South Africa as an emissary of the fledgling Zionist movement.
Janet Simons Harris shepherded the National Council of Jewish Women through one of the most divisive times in its history and led both national and international efforts for women’s rights. The organization grew during her tenure, and she continued to do national and international volunteer work with multiple other organizations until her retirement.
Renee Harris’s career as New York’s first woman theatrical producer began as a direct result of one of the twentieth century’s most renowned tragedies, the sinking of the Titanic. As she watched the “unsinkable” vessel go down in the icy waters off Newfoundland, the handful of survivors on her lifeboat braced against the fierce cold and the shouts of the fifteen hundred passengers still on board. Among these victims was her husband, successful theatrical manager and producer Henry B. Harris, who had stepped out of the lifeboat at the last minute to make room for women and children.
Reina Kate Goldstein, the daughter of Simon and Kate (Mayer) Goldstein, was born in Chicago on February 2, 1880, and lived in the Chicago area her entire life. She became an integral member of the community by devoting her life to organizations that served Chicago’s women.
Marion Hartog, editor of the first Jewish women’s periodical in history, was born in Portsmouth, England, the fourth of twelve children of Joseph Moss (c.1780–c.1840), profession unknown, and Amelia (c.1780–c.1850). Amelia Moss was the granddaughter of the founder of Portsmouth Jewish Congregation and the daughter of Sarah Davids, the first Jewish child born in Portsmouth.
Hundreds of compilations of Hasidic literature were published in Eastern Europe from the start of the nineteenth century until the outbreak of World War II. This literature derived from oral traditions that were passed down among the Hasidim from the movement’s beginnings. Many stories were printed without processing or calculated editing in an attempt to preserve the tradition as intact as possible.
Hasidic women represent a unique face of American Judaism. As Hasidim—ultra-Orthodox Jews belonging to sectarian communities, worshiping and working as followers of specific rebbes—they are set apart from assimilated, mainstream American Jews. But as women in a subculture primarily defined by male religious studies, rituals, and legal obligations, they are also set apart from Hasidic men, whose recognizable styles of dress and yeshiva ingatherings have long presented a masculine standard for outsiders’ understanding of Hasidism.
Hasidism—a spiritual revival movement associated with the founding figure of Israel Ba’al Shem Tov (Besht, c. 1700–1760), which began in Poland in the second half of the eighteenth century and became a mass movement of Eastern European Jewry by the early decades of the nineteenth—has been celebrated as nothing less than a “feminist” revolution in early modern Judaism. The first to depict it in this light was Samuel Abba Horodezky (1871–1957) who, in his four-volume Hebrew history of Hasidism, first published in 1923, claimed that “the Jewish woman was given complete equality in the emotional, mystical, religious life of Beshtian Hasidism” (vol. 4, 68). Horodezky’s account underlies virtually every subsequent treatment of the subject, whether in the popular, belletristic and semi-scholarly literature on the history of Hasidism, or in such works, mostly apologetic and uncritical, as have set out to discover and catalogue the achievements of prominent women throughout pre-modern Judaism. Notably, until relatively recently, Hasidic scholarship has totally ignored the subject, implicitly dismissing it as either marginal or insufficiently documented to permit serious consideration.
For the men of intellect who burst upon Ashkenazic Jewish society in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, starting a cultural revolution of Haskalah (enlightenment), the question of women’s status was the touchstone for the validity and consolidation of their innovative worldview. One of the outstanding proponents of the Haskalah was Judah Leib Gordon (1831–1892), who expressed the ambiguity of maskilim toward the “woman question.” Beginning in the 1870s, women Hebrew readers in the Jewish Pale of Settlement in Russia and women students in various cities in Europe considered him one of the few people who showed special sensitivity and empathy with regard to the difficult lives of Jewish women.
To a large extent, the image of women in Haskalah literature reflects the relationship between the sexes in Ashkenazi Jewish society. Authors, poets and playwrights who wrote in the spirit of the Haskalah movement were affected, in no small measure, by the prevailing attitude toward women in eighteenth and nineteenth-century European culture. But the female characters that they created, whether in Hebrew or Yiddish (the two languages of Haskalah literature), were not simply lifted “as is” from external literary models nor constructed in accordance with some ideological master plan borrowed directly from the European Enlightenment. Most of the extant works from the Haskalah period (it should be recalled that many manuscripts by maskilim never saw print) were written by men.
Among the most prestigious piano competitions of the twentieth century is that dedicated to Clara Haskil, one of the great performers of her time. The competition was established in 1965, five years after Haskil’s death, when first prize was awarded to the then young Christoph Eschenbach, setting a standard of excellence that continues into the twenty-first century. As part of the biennial Montreux music festival, the competition takes place in Vevey, the Swiss town in which Haskil settled towards the end of her life and which boasts Clara Haskil Street, named in her honor in 1962.
No woman of the Hasmonean family is mentioned in the two books devoted to the Hasmonean rebellion—Maccabees I and II, the authors of which showed no interest in the families of the Hasmonean brothers. Yet Hasmonean women seem to have played a decisive role in the history of the dynasty, particularly as regards the succession process. This cannot be contested, in light of the fact that this dynasty produced the only legitimate queen in Jewish history (see under Shelamziyyon). Yet the queen is hardly the only Hasmonean woman who made an impression on history. All we know of these women comes from the works of Josephus, but Josephus himself obviously relied on earlier sources for his description of them. Whatever this earlier source (or sources) was, it was probably written in the same tradition as the books of Maccabees: it documented the women’s actions, but did not see fit to document their names. Thus they can only be described as relatives of their menfolk.
Sylvia Hassenfeld is one of the most important American Jewish communal leaders and philanthropists of the twentieth century. Born in Philadelphia, the only child of Sophie and Joseph Kay, Hassenfeld has been an international leader in business, philanthropy, Jewish communal service, and non-governmental organizations.
Rita E. Hauser is a woman of many accomplishments. She was a trailblazer for women in law, politics and foreign affairs at a time when few women entered the legal profession or achieved top-level positions in business and politics. She was instrumental in persuading Yasir Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization to renounce terrorism publicly and to recognize Israel. She has been involved in Republican presidential politics since Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign, and she was invited to join a major Wall Street law firm as its first woman partner.
Goldie Hawn was born in Silver Spring, Maryland, on November 21, 1945, to Laura (Stienhoff) Hawn, a dance school owner and jewelry wholesaler, and Edward Rutledge Hawn, a professional musician. Hawn was raised Jewish although, she notes, “not in a strictly religious atmosphere,” and describes a happy home life. She began dancing at age three, and danced in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo’s Nutcracker chorus at age ten. Hawn recalls being asked to dance on point for a friend’s bar mitzva. The music started, and she slipped and fell—twice. Succeeding on her third attempt, “I realized I was probably the little girl who was going to make it.”
Melissa Hayden was born Mildred Herman, April 23, 1923, in Toronto, Canada. Neither of her parents, Kate Weinberg and Jacob Herman, who had immigrated from the region surrounding Kiev in Russia, had any artistic talents. Her father operated a successful wholesale fruit and vegetable business. Her sister Leola was eight years her senior; her sister Annette was three years younger. Hayden started her ballet training fairly late, at age fifteen, with Boris Volkoff, an influential Toronto teacher. After five years of study with Volkoff, for which, when she was out of high school, she paid by working as a bookkeeper, she decided it was necessary to continue her training in New York.
Ofra Haza was born on November 19, 1957 in the Hatikvah quarter of Tel Aviv to parents who had immigrated from Yemen with their eight sons and daughters. Her mother, already a singer in Yemen, would often perform at family celebrations. Haza herself sang from an early age and was a soloist in her local school choir.
Bela Hazan was born in December 1922 in the town of Rozyszcze in the Volhynia region into a family of eight children. Her father, David, who led the prayers in the local bet-midrash, died when she was six, leaving the burden of earning the family’s livelihood to her mother Esther, who owned a small grocery store. The mother sent all the children to a school of the Tarbut network, mainly so that they would gain fluency in the Hebrew language, which was spoken at home. After completing elementary school, Hazan was sent to the ORT vocational school in the city of Kowel, where she shared a room with a young woman from her hometown and supported herself by giving private Hebrew lessons.
American women have been the “perennial health care reformers.” According to Carol Weisman, professor of Health Policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health: “Activism around women’s health has tended to occur in waves and to coincide with other social reform movements, including peaks in the women’s rights movements.” At all of those pivotal moments, Jewish women have played central roles.
Since its beginnings in the 1920s, Hebrew theater has been perceived by its audiences as a “high” cultural activity, and the topics it chooses to present have often prompted public controversy and debate. However, what has generally been ignored is the fact that prior to the 1980s there was an almost total absence of women-related topics and women’s voices in Hebrew theater.
“Hebrew song” is a general term for the field of music that combines Hebrew text with music; in other words, a lyric that is sung in the Hebrew language. (This classification does not include liturgical and paraliturgical song, although the latter is also sung in Hebrew.) The term “Hebrew song” generally encompasses both shirei Erez Israel (songs of the Land of Israel) and “Israeli song,” both of which consist of Hebrew lyrics that are sung; however, the melodies in this case were composed in pre-State Palestine or, after 1948/9, in Israel.
During the early waves of immigration to the United States, Sephardi and German Jews established full-time schools in large population centers. Rabbis, clergy and predominantly European-trained male teachers provided religious instruction in private-school settings, often sponsored by and housed in synagogues.
From its beginnings early in the twentieth century, Hebrew theater was the province of men. With the exception of a few trailblazers such as Miriam Bernstein-Cohen, who translated and produced plays, it was not until the 1980s that women writers and directors began to work in the Israeli theater. Of all the theatrical professions, only actresses had truly been partners in the enterprise of reviving Hebrew culture. It is therefore appropriate to begin with several of the most important of these and to go on from there to playwrights and directors.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Encyclopedia." (Viewed on February 19, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/content/H>.