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Midwifery

Midwife: Midrash and Aggadah

Midwifery is regarded as a profession that entails a great deal of responsibility, along with numerous risks, both to the life of the mother and to that of the newborn.

Midwife: Bible

When the matriarch Rachel is giving birth to her second son (Benjamin), she is attended by a midwife (Gen 35:17). The presence of such a health care professional, called meyalledet (“one who causes, helps birth”), was probably routine in Israelite and pre-Israelite society, and the explicit reference to her in this case is not necessarily related to the difficulty of Rachel’s labor.

Medieval Ashkenaz (1096-1348)

The Jewish communities of Northern France and of Germany who constituted Medieval Ashkenaz were situated along the trade routes of the time. These communities were well known for their prominent and accomplished scholars as well as their flourishing businesses. These Jewish communities flourished during the High and Late Middle Ages (1050–1450) as urban centers grew and thrived and centers of Jewish learning expanded.

Sarah Lishansky

As Deborah Berenstein has written: “The nurses of the Second [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:293]Aliyah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] (1904–1914) integrated among the workers to treat, care for and fill the urgent need of many young people for someone to look after them. … The nurses won “recognition and appreciation for their care of their fellow human beings.” One of these nurses was Sarah Lishansky.

Lena Kenin

Popular myth suggests that during the height of her practice, Dr. Lena Kenin delivered at least half of the Jewish babies in Portland, Oregon. This joyful responsibility was not without challenges. As was more customary in the mid-twentieth century than now, expecting a child was a private affair. Most of Kenin’s patients wanted to keep their pregnancies a secret, but risked running into a friend or an acquaintance in the waiting room. Kenin designed her office so that patients could exit through another door.

Hebrew Women in Egypt: Bible

Two references to women at the beginning of the story of the exodus focus on aspects of childbirth and lactation. Women are prominent in this narrative—as givers of life. They perhaps prefigure the “birth” of Israel in the story that follows.

Doctors: Medieval

In the medieval period, Jewish women doctors were found in most of the countries of western and central Europe, i.e., Spain, France, Provence, Italy, Sicily, and especially in Germany. Slawa of Warsaw (1435) is the only one who has so far been found from eastern Europe, but others will probably come to light when the records are examined more thoroughly. Evidence of women doctors in Egypt and Turkey comes from the beginning (ninth to twelfth centuries) of this period and from its end (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), although evidence for women healers is scattered throughout the sources.

Olga Belkind-Hankin

From her arrival in Palestine in 1886, midwife Olga Belkind-Henkin—who never had children of her own—delivered babies, while helping her husband to purchase land for Jews who wish to settle the Land of Israel.

Hannah Barnett-Trager

Hannah Trager, writer and communal activist, was born in London to Zerah (1843–1935) and Rachel Lea Barnett (1842–1924).

Midwives, Oranges, and Matzah Frisbee?!

With Passover fast approaching, now is a perfect time to think about the many roles of courageous women in historical and contemporary quests for freedom.

As a start, check out the Jewish Women's Archive's resource on Jewish midwives which highlights Shifra and Puah, two women who play a critical part in the Exodus story through their acts of resistance in sparing the lives of Hebrew male babies born in Egypt.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Midwifery." (Viewed on December 14, 2017) <https://jwa.org/topics/midwifery>.

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