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Rachel Mordecai Lazarus

Proud of her Jewish heritage but conflicted about her faith, Rachel Mordecai Lazarus was torn between publicly fighting anti–Semitism and privately questioning Judaism’s ideals. In 1809 Lazarus became head instructor and general directress of her father’s newly opened girls’ boarding school. She focused on new teaching methods that encouraged students’ curiosity and experimentation over rote memorization. In 1815 she wrote a thoughtful letter to her favorite author, Maria Edgeworth, questioning why her latest novel used a stereotypical Jew as a stock villain. Edgeworth not only responded but made the heroine of her next novel, Harrington, Jewish. The two women began a lifelong correspondence. In 1821 she married Aaron Lazarus, a widower. She began studying Judaism to better educate her step–children, but found the prayers numbing and synagogue culture uninspiring—a serious problem for a woman who had always taught through lived experience and exploration. After Christian evangelical friends nursed her through a near–fatal childbirth experience in 1828, her faith was further shaken. In 1835, after further emotional and physical trials, she announced her intention to convert, causing her husband to threaten that he would take their children away. She continued as a Jew, but became an Episcopalian on her deathbed.

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Date of Birth
July 1, 1788
Place of Birth
Goochland County, Virginia
Date of Death
June 23, 1838
Occupations

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Rachel Mordecai Lazarus." (Viewed on December 15, 2017) <https://jwa.org/people/lazarus-rachel>.

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