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.
Leah Bergstein was the first of the choreographers in Palestine who, at the beginning of the 1930s, created festival dances at kibbutzim that depicted life in pre-state Israel and on agricultural settlements. The unique festival pageants she created, often with poet-composer Mattityahu Shelem, contributed to the development of rural Israeli festivals and holiday celebrations and the creation of the first Israeli dances.
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.
American Jewish cookbooks capture the range of Jewish religious and cultural expression in the United States. Women took advantage of the versatility and variety of cookbooks to add their voices to the growing and developing Jewish culture in the United States.
The rabbis depict the daughter of Pharaoh, who rescued the baby Moses, as a righteous figure who did not follow her father’s wicked ways but rather converted and ceased worshiping idols. She was highly praised by the Rabbis, and the midrash includes her among the devout women converts and those who entered the Garden of Eden while still alive.
The Greek Additions to the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Esther were probably written over several centuries and contradict several of the details from the Hebrew text. Generally, the Additions are more dramatic and ultimately portray Esther as stereotypically weak and helpless, even though parts of her weakness and femininity ultimately help save her people.
Esther, the main character in the book named after her, is a young Jewish woman who becomes queen of the Persian empire and risks her life by interceding for the Jewish people to save them from a pogrom. Set in the Persian diaspora, the Book of Esther depicts the struggle for Jews to survive in the face of hostility in a foreign land.
Queen Esther, the central character in the Biblical book named after her, is extensively and sympathetically portrayed in the Rabbinic sources. In their commentary on the Book of Esther, the Rabbis expand upon and add details to the Biblical narrative, relating to her lineage and history and to her relations with the other characters: Ahasuerus, Mordecai, and Haman.
Ritual behavior is one of the fundamental pillars of Judaism, and of all religions, whose concern is precisely with ultimate meaning and purpose. Since the 1970s, Jewish feminists have gained access to male-identified rituals, developed a wide variety of new rituals, and feminized core male rituals.
According to halakhah, women are responsible for obeying all of Judaism’s negative commandments and for observing most of the positive ones, including the Sabbath and all of the festivals and holy days of the Jewish year. In some instances, however, male and female obligations on these days differ.
Hannah is depicted by the Rabbis as a righteous woman who was devout in her observance of the commandments and tested by God through her infertility. Her story is the basis for much of the rabbinic conception and rules of prayer.
The Hebrew term ishah hashuvah appears in seven sugyot in the Babylonian Talmud, though its meaning is not clear. It seems to refer to a woman of some wealth or importance.
A study of the role of Jewish women in household formation, the household, and household dissolution, as well as their engagement in Jewish culture in early modern Italy, raises the question of how much of Jewish practice reflected the context of the surrounding society and how much engaged options in traditional Jewish practices, which were selected to meet their own needs. Despite the wealth of information about some well- known women and reports of the activities of many unnamed women, Jewish women, like Christian women, still functioned in the context of women and the period does not represent a Renaissance for women.
Women have been central to the development of Jewish environmentalism in the United States. They founded organizations, wrote books, educated their communities, grew food, and advocated for better policies. These women saw their environmental ideals as directly connected to their Judaism and realized that our future may depend on this work in the face of the climate crisis.
Challenging all varieties of American Judaism, feminism has been a powerful force for popular Jewish religious revival. The accomplishments of Jewish feminists have transformed American Jewish life, even as the ultimate goal of gender equity and shared power has yet to be fully realized.
Irma Rothschild Jung, a native of Randegg, Baden, Germany, was born on July 1, 1897, and until her death close to a century later, dedicated her substantial energies to pioneering Jewish communal programs in aid of the needy. Her leadership and influence were deeply felt in the broader Jewish community by the countless individuals, young and old, who benefited from her generous spirit.
Family law and personal status of women are important aspects of both the daily life and the halakhah of Karaite communities. Karaite legal sources often deal with rules pertaining to betrothal, marriage, divorce, ritual purity, and incest.
Gendered language in the Torah resulted in centuries of debate about a woman’s role with regard to commandments. The sages’ construction of a woman and her values was very negative, probably relating more to their vision of the ideal, which was male oriented, and applying its opposite to females.
Award-winning journalist and cookbook author Joan Nathan is a transformative figure in documenting and exploring the evolving Jewish experience both in America and around the globe through the powerful lens of food. A long-standing contributing writer to The New York Times and Tablet Magazine, Nathan is the author of eleven books, as well as hundreds of articles, podcasts, interviews, and public presentations about Jewish, global, and American foodways.
Born into a family deeply involved in Jewish activism and scholarship, Tamar De Sola Pool spent over a decade as both a Hadassah chapter president and later Hadassah’s national president. She wrote two books in collaboration with her husband, volunteered at displaced persons camps in Cyprus, and helped resettle Jewish children in Palestine with Hadassah.
“Our literature lacks the participation of the second half of humanity.” Thus proclaimed the Hebrew writer Hava (Eva) Shapiro (1878-1943) in her 1909 feminist manifesto, the first ever in the Hebrew language. She was the most prolific female Hebraist of her era to remain in the Diaspora and the first woman ever to have kept a diary in Hebrew.