Religion: Spirituality and Religious Life
Paula Ackerman took over leadership of her husband’s synagogue after his death in 1950, when the congregation insisted on her appointment. For the next three years, Ackerman was the first woman to serve as religious leader of a mainstream American congregation, helping to pave the way for the ordination of women rabbis twenty years later.
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.
Forceful, dedicated, and brash, Sadie American shaped the National Council of Jewish Women for more than twenty years before resigning and severing all ties with the organization. As one of the Council’s founders, American organized local sections and represented the group nationally and internationally, generally building up the organization.
Virtually no Anglo-Jewish women were published in the interwar years of the twentieth century; writing by Anglo-Jewish women only flourished after the Second World War. By the end of the twentieth century, as it became no longer necessary for writers to be Jewish at home but English on the street, there was renewed space for the literary evolution and development of Anglo-Jewish women writers’ varied voices.
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.
The first Jewish women, like the first Jewish men, arrived in Australia on the very first day of European settlement in 1788. Those convict pioneers were followed by free settlers who made Jewish communal and congregational life viable and helped to develop the vast continent. Jewish women have made significant contributions to Australia's national story.
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.
A rabbinic text about the ritual laws relating to menstruation, Baraita de-Niddah has a mysterious origin and an unknown impact on the interpretation of Jewish law about menstruation.
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.
The Ben Ish-Hai, R. Joseph Hayyim b. Elijah, was a well-known Baghdadi Torah scholar. He wrote many responsa and halakhic books, which included his rulings on women’s halakhot.
Julienne Bloch was a writer and educator who used her career to strengthen the Jewish community in nineteenth-century France by pushing back against the assimilation and secularization of her fellow French Jews, especially Jewish women.
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.”
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 devotion of the Carvajal women to forbidden Jewish practices helped their family become the most famous Hispano-Portuguese secret Jews of colonial Latin America. The determination of these conversas, or New Christians, to create a recognizable Jewish identity shows the importance of women to crypto-Judaism at a time when the Inquisition of Spain and its territories prosecuted this belief system as heresy.
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.