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Celebrate Your Jewish Mother!

Jordan Namerow

Often, what people celebrate on Mother's Day is the unpaid and under-valued labor of women as nurturers. Here at the Jewish Women's Archive, we celebrate this labor every day of the year along with the myriad ways mothers, and women at large, have touched our lives and transformed our world.

Topics: Motherhood

Women strike for peace

November 1, 1961

On November 1, 1961, Women Strike For Peace (WSP) was inaugurated with a day-long strike by an estimated 50,000 women in 60 cities, all pressing for nuclear disarmament.

Gertrude Berg makes her television debut

October 18, 1948

Gertrude Berg made her television debut as Bronx housewife Molly Goldberg on NBC's Chevrolet on Broadway in 1948.

Jewish Gender Stereotypes in the United States

Stereotypes of Jews have existed from their arrival in the New World to the present. Jews were portrayed as greedy, unscrupulous, and unrefined. However, Jews also created stereotypes about one another based on class, gender, and religion. Specifically, the Ghetto Girl, Jewish Mother, JAP, and others reflected tensions between genders about the place of Jews in the economy and culture.

Sarah/Sarai: Bible

Originally named Sarai, Sarah is the ancestress of all Israel and the wife of Abraham. Barren for most of her life, she gives birth to Isaac at 90 years old, and after securing his position as Abraham’s heir, she largely disappears from the story of Genesis.

Sarah: Midrash and Aggadah

The midrash present Sarah as a righteous woman whose actions are worthy of emulation; she converted Gentiles and drew them into the bosom of Judaism. Sarah is described as preeminent in the household. Abraham was ennobled through her and subordinated himself to her; God commanded him to heed his wife, because of her prophetic power.

Ruth: Midrash and Aggadah

Midrash views Ruth very positively, describing her as beautiful, modest, and virtuous. The Rabbis also link Ruth with other revered women, such as Sarah and Rebekah, furthering her portrayal as an exemplary biblical woman. Despite her mother-in-law’s suspicion about the circumstances of her conversion, the midrash clarifies that Ruth converted based solely on her beliefs.

Ruth: Bible

Ruth’s story centers around her relationship with her mother-in-law Naomi and her marriage to Boaz. She struggles as a Moabite immigrant in Judea and is often forced to defer to both Boaz and Naomi. Although modern analyses both criticize and celebrate her actions, she is exalted in the Bible for her devotion and as the great-grandmother of David.

Rebekah: Midrash and Aggadah

Rebekah, one of the four Matriarchs, is characterized by the Rabbis as a prophet and a righteous woman. The midrash transforms Rebekah from an individual character with a personal story into a symbol of the realization of God’s promise to Abraham.

Rachel: Midrash and Aggadah

Rachel is depicted in the Torah as Jacob’s beautiful and beloved wife. The midrash portrays Rachel as a prophetess, and her statements and the names she gave her sons contain allusions to the future. Rachel’s merit continued to aid Israel even many years after her demise.

Philanthropy in the United States

In the United States, Jewish women’s philanthropy generally occurred through three main types of organizations: autonomous women’s organizations, women’s organizations that included some men, and women’s auxiliaries of male-dominated groups. In recent decades, changes in Jewish philanthropy and in gender roles have influenced contemporary styles of Jewish women’s philanthropy.

Peninnah: Midrash and Aggadah

The narrative of Peninnah centers around her interactions with Hannah, as both women were married to Elkanah. Different midrashic traditions tell stories of how Peninnah treated Hannah, most portraying Peninnah as the antagonist. Peninnah is shown irritating Hannah, although some midrashim argue that Peninnah’s actions were a result of her feeling like the least favorite wife.

Peninnah: Bible

The second wife to Elkanah in the Hannah narrative, Peninnah is unloved—hence hated—but fertile. She represents a woman who accepts social paradigms without examining them, thus acting out the type of jealousy between co-wives known from the matriarchal texts of Genesis.

Orphanages in the United States

In the mid-nineteenth century, Jewish philanthropists founded many orphanages in cities with significant Jewish populations, aiming to provide elementary education, vocational training, and religious instruction for dependent children they feared would be raised in non-Jewish asylums. Women were often at the forefront of these institutions as founders, managers, and staff members.

National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods

Founded in 1913 as the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods and officially renamed Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) in 1993, the WRJ has for more than a century galvanized hundreds of thousands of Jewish women to support and advance Reform Judaism, the Jewish people, and Jewish values in their home communities, around the country, and around the world.

National Council of Jewish Women

In its early years, the National Council of Jewish Women concentrated on combating assimilation by educating Jewish women about Judaism. In contemporary times, the Council continues to play an important role as a bridge between traditional motherhood and political activity, between the Jewish community and other women’s organizations, between Judaism and politics, and between diverse segments of the Jewish community itself.

Naomi: Midrash and Aggadah

Midrash portrays Naomi favorably, referring to her as righteous and significant. The Rabbis emphasize her dedication to her faith and her commitment to supporting her gentile daughter-in-law, Ruth. She guides Ruth through her conversion, encourages Ruth to maintain her devotion, and raises the child to whom Ruth gives birth.

Naomi: Bible

Naomi is featured prominently in the Hebrew Bible and is portrayed as a woman who both challenges and conforms to patriarchal expectations. Analyses of Naomi from a modern feminist lens include varied interpretations of her actions, but she nevertheless dominates the stories in the Book of Ruth and effectively controls the situations of which she is a part.

Morocco: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

The Moroccan Jewish community was the largest Jewish community in North Africa during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The status of Moroccan Jewish women was affected by a variety of factors, including a patriarchal order and social changes brought about by economic development, urbanization, and contact with European countries.

Jochebed: Midrash and Aggadah

The midrash portrays Jochebed as a wise woman who was righteous and God-fearing. By merit of her good deeds, she gave birth to the three leaders of the Exodus generation: Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.

Jochebed: Bible

Jochebed, wife of Amram and mother of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, is mentioned by name only in Exod 6:20 and Num 26:59, both genealogical listings. Jochebed, whose name (Hebrew yokheved) apparently means “YHWH is glory,” is notable as the first person in the Bible to have a name with the divine element yah, a shortened form of YHWH.

Holocaust Survivors: Rescue and Resettlement in the United States

Immediately after the Holocaust, the American Jewish community assisted in the postwar rehabilitation and resettlement of survivors who arrived in the United States. Families sponsored European relatives and communal agencies organized to help survivors’ adjustment. While the contemporary media described a warm welcome by American communities and survivors’ rapid acclimation, this triumphant narrative belied the fraught reality of survivors’ early years in the United States.

Hannah: Midrash and Aggadah

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.

Hannah: Bible

Hannah, the second and barren yet preferred wife of Elkanah, promises to return her child to YHWH if he grants her a son. Her prayers are answered, and she follows through on her pledge to YHWH. Hannah’s narrative emphasizes the importance of fertility and childbirth in Israeli artistic narratives and presents a portrayal of an independent and resourceful woman.

Hagar: Midrash and Aggadah

Hagar is the subject of much interpretation by the rabbis, who portray her as a spiritual and even righteous woman. The rabbis often depict her relationship with Sarah as harmful and fractious, though some traditions identify her with Keturah, taken as a wife by Abraham in Gen. 25:1; in this interpretation, after their divorce she remarried Abraham after Sarah’s death.


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