Religion: Spirituality and Religious Life

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Paula Ackerman

Paula Ackerman

At the turn of the twentieth century, a young girl from Pensacola, Florida, named Paula Herskovitz dreamed of one day becoming a medical doctor. Believing that the medical profession was unsuitable for women, her father insisted that she abandon her dream. Yet decades later, she embarked upon a career he no doubt would have found equally unsuitable: she became a spiritual leader.

Book Cover of Frida Alexandr's Filipson

Frida Alexandr

A Brazilian-born daughter of immigrants, Frida Alexandr was the only woman writer to describe Jewish cowboys in Brazil from the viewpoint of one who lived among them. Her only published book was the novel Filipson, which chronicled the lives and episodes of the farm where she was born in 1906 and spent two decades of her life.

Sadie American

Sadie American

From 1893 to 1916, Sadie American and the National Council of Jewish Women were virtually synonymous. As one of the founders of the council, its first corresponding secretary (1893–1905), and later the paid executive secretary of the organization (1905–1914), American functioned as executive director, organizing local sections across the United States, representing the group at national and international meetings, and taking care of the routine work that building the organization required.

Nina Salaman Portrait by Solomon J. Solomon, 1918

Anglo-Jewish Writers: Twentieth Century

The particular insights of Jewish women writers and their intimate dilemmas of contemporary life throw light on how society and family have changed for this new generation of writers. The novels attract a larger readership than anyone could have predicted.

Annotated Bibliography and Guide to Archival Resources on the History of Jewish Women in America

This bibliography concentrates on books, chapters in anthologies, and periodical articles on the collective history of American Jewish women and archival resources on individuals and women’s organizations.

The "Ellis Island Missionaries"

Assimilation in the United States: Nineteenth Century

Scholars have conventionally considered the nineteenth century the German era in the American Jewish history. Between 1820 and 1880, more than two hundred thousand immigrants from German lands arrived in the United States. Besides German Jews, this transatlantic movement also included migrants from ethnically Czech, Hungarian, Polish, and Baltic territories that at that time remained under German political control or cultural influence.

The Orthodox Congregation B'nai David Sisterhood of Detroit, Michigan, circa 1950

Assimilation in the United States: Twentieth Century

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.

Esther Abrahams

Australia: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Since the beginning of British colonialization of New South Wales in 1788, when between eight and fifteen Jews were among the convicts who arrived with the First Fleet, several waves of immigration have brought the Jewish population up to its present size.

Esther Jungreis

Ba'alot Teshuvah: American Jewish Women

The Ba’alot Teshuvahs’ decision to explore Orthodox Jewish ways of life represents one possible solution to current widespread questions about women’s proper roles. The structural changes in American society in the past thirty years, in particular the changing demographics of women’s educational, occupational, marital, and childbearing patterns, have occasioned a debate in our culture about women’s nature and social roles similar to the late nineteenth-century “woman question” that followed the Industrial Revolution.

Bertha Badt-Strauss in Breslau, circa 1910

Bertha Badt-Strauss

A religious German-Jewish writer, intellectual, and ardent Zionist, Bertha Badt-Strauss was one of the first women to earn a doctoral degree in Prussia. She was a prolific writer, publishing hundreds of articles over the course of her lifetime, and was very involved in the “Jewish Renaissance” cultural movement. She was dedicated in particular to illuminating the diverse experiences of Jewish women past and present.

Baraita de-Niddah

The term niddah is used in Jewish tradition in relation to menstruation. It implies “a menstruating woman,” “menstruation,” “menstrual blood,” “bleeding period,” “menstrual impurity,” “laws related to menstruation,” etc. The root of the term is ndd or ndh, which means wandering or exclusion, related most certainly to the exclusion of the menstruant from ordinary social activities.

Sarah Bas Tovim

Sarah bas Tovim (Sore bas toyvim), daughter of Mordecai (or daughter of Isaac or Jacob, as sometimes listed on the title pages of various editions of her works), of Satanov in Podolia, in present-day Ukraine, great-granddaughter of Rabbi Mordecai of Brisk (on this, all editions agree), became the emblematic tkhine [q.v.] author, and one of her works, Shloyshe sheorim, perhaps the most beloved of all tkhines.

Annual Bat Mitzvah in Jamaica

Bat Mitzvah: American Jewish Women

The bat mitzvah ritual was introduced into American Judaism as both an ethical and a pragmatic response to gender divisions in traditional Judaism.

Portrait of the Ben Ish-Hai

Ben Ish Hai

R. Joseph Hayyim ben Elijah al-Hakam was a well-known Torah scholar and preacher who wrote many halakhic, Kabbalistic and homiletical books, but never held any public position.

Cover of French-Jewish journal L'Univers Israélite de France (volume 9, published in 1853)

Julienne Bloch

Julienne Bloch devoted her life to strengthening the commitment of French Jews both to Judaism as a religion and to their fellow Jews at home and abroad. As a journalist and an educator, she fought against the increasingly widespread assimilation, acculturation and secularization of the period following the emancipation of French Jews, and her writings paint a vivid picture of the tensions within the mid-nineteenth-century Franco-Jewish community. As one of the earliest published Jewish women writers in France she also contributed significantly to the creation of a public sphere for French Jewish women.

Ruth F. Brin

Ruth F. Brin

Ruth F. Brin helped transform modern prayer with her evocative writing, translation, and poetry. She wrote liturgical poetry, using vivid imagery from her own experience and challenging or reworking imagery of God as father or king that she found problematic as a woman and a modern American Jew.
Esther M. Broner

Esther M. Broner

A novelist, playwright, and ritualist, Esther M. Broner emerged on the literary scene in the early 1970s as a leading feminist writer. Her novels feature bitter, fearless, and funny characters. In other works, Broner has combined autobiography with feminist critique of Jewish tradition and created new rituals, such as her 1976 “Women’s Haggadah.”

Tombstone of Hannah de Leon

Caribbean Islands and the Guianas

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.

Gracia Nasi Family Tree

Conversas

After the establishment of the Inquisition in 1478, observance of crypto-Judaism became dangerous and more difficult. Women were at the center of Judaizing efforts, since the home was the only remaining institution in which one could observe Jewish law. Crypto-Jewish women most frequently observed the Sabbath and dietary laws.

Annette Daum

A deeply religious feminist, Annette Daum dedicated her life to two causes: interfaith dialogue and feminism. Among other leadership positions, she coordinated interreligious affairs at the Union of American Hebrew congregations, edited the journal Interreligious Currents, and organized various task forces focused on gender equality and Jewish-Christian feminist dialogue.

Dulcea of Worms

Dolce of Worms was the wife of Rabbi Eleazar ben Judah of Worms, a major rabbinic figure. They were part of the elite leadership class of medieval Germany Jewry. Eleazar’s account of Dolce’s murder in 1196 is an important source for the activities of medieval Jewish women.

Female Purity (Niddah)

In order to understand its development and its centrality in the rabbinic context, menstrual impurity must be seen in the context of the biblical purity system.

Female Purity (Niddah) Annotated Bibliography

Annotated bibliography of books about female purity (niddah).

Festivals and Holy Days

This essay describes in general terms central ordinances and customary practices regarding women’s observance of the festivals and holy days of the Jewish calendar as recorded in the Shulhan Arukh and other The legal corpus of Jewish laws and observances as prescribed in the Torah and interpreted by rabbinic authorities, beginning with those of the Mishnah and Talmud.halakhic sources.

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in Paris, 1923

Fiction in the United States

Literature by American Jewish women reflects historical trends in American Jewish life and indicates the changing issues facing writers who worked to position themselves as Americans, Jews, and women.

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