Agunot are women who are unable to obtain a rabbinic divorce because their husbands or husbands’ male next of kin are unable to give one, leaving them chained in marital captivity. Although many efforts have been made to address these problems, for those most part agunot in halakhically observant communities continue to face deep-seated challenges.
Jewish women assimilating into a changing American society across the twentieth century navigated often conflicting gender roles. As they strove to achieve upward social mobility, they adapted Jewish assumptions of what women, especially married women, should do to accommodate American norms for middle class women. Their collective accomplishments registered in political activism, organizational creativity, strong support for feminism, religious innovation, and educational achievement in the face of antisemitism, stereotypes, and denigration.
When Judith Kaplan Eisenstein became the first American girl to mark her bat mitzvah on March 18, 1922—two years after women were guaranteed the right to vote in the US—she recalled “shock[ing] a lot of people,” especially her disapproving grandmothers. Today, American girls across the Jewish spectrum, from secular to ultra-Orthodox, mark their coming-of-age in various forms.
Women were among the earliest settles in the Dutch and English Caribbean. Early Caribbean Jewish women, despite living in patriarchal societies, still managed to engage in public pursuits. As Caribbean Jewish communities became increasingly racially blended over time, women of color became some of the most definitive architects of distinctly Creole Caribbean Jewry.
The first American girl to publicly celebrate a bat mitzvah, Judith Kaplan Eisenstein went on to become a Jewish educator, composer, and musicologist. Her accomplishments included studying at the school that would later become Julliard, teaching at the Jewish Theological Seminary Teacher’s Institute, and writing a songbook for children.
Sally Gottesman, born 1962 in New Jersey and residing in New York, is a non-profit entrepreneur whose leadership and philanthropy have had a major impact on the Jewish feminist and justice landscape.
Since 1972, when Sally Priesand became the first woman in the world ordained by a rabbinical seminary, hundreds of women have become rabbis in the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative movements. In recent years, womenhave also entered the Orthodox rabbinate, using a variety of titles, including rabbi.
Graduating Rabbis, the Class of 2017
Back Row: Leiah Moser, Birgit Elke Klein, Diane Sarah Tracht, Kami Knapp, Michael Ethan Pollack, Hannah Michelle Spiro, Rayna Ilyza Grossman
Front Row: Marley Anne Weiner, Jamie Sara Serber, Ariel Cherly L. Tarash, Julianne Denise Benioff, Wendy Georgette Kennebrae, Alexander R. Weissman, Mimi Polin Ferraro
Bertha Singer Schoolman gave a lifetime of service to the betterment of Jewish education and the cause of Youth Aliyah, the movement to bring Jewish youth out of Germany to live in children’s villages in Israel. Schoolman risked her life under fire to help bring convoys to and from kibbutzim.