Paula Hyman discusses publication of "The Jewish Woman in America"
When Paula Hyman, Charlotte Baum, and Sonya Michel published The Jewish Woman in America in 1976, it was a groundbreaking work. This book represented one of the first efforts to offer a systematic consideration of Jewish women's history in the United States and was considered a pioneering work of Jewish feminism. Consequently, it received a great deal of attention. On April 20, 1976, Paula Hyman spoke about the book—and the topic of Jewish women's history—on New York City radio station WEVD, on the half-hour Postscripts program hosted by Katharine Balfour.
In a recent interview, Hyman recalled that The Jewish Woman in America grew out of “our passion as feminists.” It was “just simply something that we felt had to be done.” Hyman is careful to note that The Jewish Woman in America was not the first book on the subject, but it was the first to approach it from a feminist orientation. As Hyman says, “it was clearly a book with a mission... we felt it was going to tell a story that hadn’t been widely recognized.” Taking on such a broad and weighty subject might have been daunting for two young graduate students and an older woman returning to school for her BA, but they were empowered by feminism: “We said: ‘well we can do this and began to work.’” The Jewish Woman in America, Hyman notes, “is the only book for which I received fan letters, often from housewives who said ‘I get up early to read this book, it’s been so important to me, and thank you for writing it.’”
The Jewish Woman in America, published when Hyman was still a graduate student, was the first of three ambitious collaborative projects that have punctuated her career. Each of these projects has redefined the horizons of our knowledge about Jewish women’s history. In 1997, Hyman co-edited (with Deborah Dash Moore) Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, a comprehensive work which offered unprecedented access to information on a broad range of American Jewish women's achievements and contributions. This work has proven invaluable to those attempting to expand public knowledge about American Jewish women, serving as a central resource, for example, in the creation of the Jewish Women's Archive's This Week in History feature.
In 2006, Alice and Moshe Shalvi of Shalvi Publishing Ltd. released the CD-ROM version of Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia, co-edited by Hyman and Hebrew University historian Dalia Ofer and sponsored by the Jewish Women’s Archive. Three years later, in March 2009, the Jewish Women’s Archive launched the online version of Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia equivalent to a four-volume printed work. Drawing on Jewish Studies scholars from around the world, the new encyclopedia, with its coverage of as many regions and eras of Jewish history as was possible, has once again reframed our knowledge of Jewish and Jewish women’s history.
Hyman’s individual scholarly work focused on both Jewish women’s history and the history of French Jews. Among her books are The Emancipation of the Jews of Alsace: Acculturation and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century (1991), and Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History: The Roles and Representations of Women (1995). In 2002, she edited My Life as a Radical Jewish Woman: Memoirs of a Zionist Feminist in Poland, a memoir by Puah Rakovska. Hyman taught at Yale University, where she was the Lucy Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History, a position she held from 1986 until 2011. Paula Hyman passed away on December 15, 2011.
Sources: New York Times, April 20, 1976; www.yale.edu/religiousstudies/facultypages/cvph.html; JWA interview, February 8, 2007.
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Paula Hyman discusses publication of "The Jewish Woman in America"." (Viewed on December 9, 2023) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/apr/20/1976/paula-hyman>.