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Politics and Government

Hasidic Women in the United States

Hasidic women represent a unique face of American Judaism. As Hasidim—ultra-Orthodox Jews belonging to sectarian communities, worshiping and working as followers of specific rebbes—they are set apart from assimilated, mainstream American Jews. But as women in a subculture primarily defined by male religious studies, rituals, and legal obligations, they are also set apart from Hasidic men, whose recognizable styles of dress and yeshiva ingatherings have long presented a masculine standard for outsiders’ understanding of Hasidism.

Hasidism

Hasidism—a spiritual revival movement associated with the founding figure of Israel Ba’al Shem Tov (Besht, c. 1700–1760), which began in Poland in the second half of the eighteenth century and became a mass movement of Eastern European Jewry by the early decades of the nineteenth—has been celebrated as nothing less than a “feminist” revolution in early modern Judaism. The first to depict it in this light was Samuel Abba Horodezky (1871–1957) who, in his four-volume Hebrew history of Hasidism, first published in 1923, claimed that “the Jewish woman was given complete equality in the emotional, mystical, religious life of Beshtian Hasidism” (vol. 4, 68). Horodezky’s account underlies virtually every subsequent treatment of the subject, whether in the popular, belletristic and semi-scholarly literature on the history of Hasidism, or in such works, mostly apologetic and uncritical, as have set out to discover and catalogue the achievements of prominent women throughout pre-modern Judaism. Notably, until relatively recently, Hasidic scholarship has totally ignored the subject, implicitly dismissing it as either marginal or insufficiently documented to permit serious consideration.

Sylvia Hassenfeld

Sylvia Hassenfeld is one of the most important American Jewish communal leaders and philanthropists of the twentieth century. Born in Philadelphia, the only child of Sophie and Joseph Kay, Hassenfeld has been an international leader in business, philanthropy, Jewish communal service, and non-governmental organizations.

Rita Eleanor Hauser

Rita E. Hauser is a woman of many accomplishments. She was a trailblazer for women in law, politics and foreign affairs at a time when few women entered the legal profession or achieved top-level positions in business and politics. She was instrumental in persuading Yasir Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization to renounce terrorism publicly and to recognize Israel. She has been involved in Republican presidential politics since Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign, and she was invited to join a major Wall Street law firm as its first woman partner.

Zena Harman

Born and educated in London, Zena (née Stern) completed a B.Sc. Econ. in international law and relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1935. During her university years she met Abba Eban from Cambridge and her future husband, Avraham (Abe) Harman from Oxford—both ardent Zionists who tried to draw the young student from an assimilationist background into their activist circle. Although her relationship with Abe developed, Zena remained unconvinced. Upon graduation she started a career in advertising with Unilever. However, when the situation of Jews in Europe deteriorated, she decided to take up a position with the Jewish Association for the Protection of Girls, Women and Children, where she gained her first experience in social work (supplemented by studies in sociology at Morley College). Abe, in the meantime, had immigrated to Palestine and started work in the political division of the Jewish Agency, before being dispatched to South Africa as an emissary of the fledgling Zionist movement.

Janet Harris

Janet Simons Harris was a community leader and champion of women’s organizations. She was born on November 19, 1869, in Titusville, Pennsylvania. Her parents, Abraham Hirsch and Helen Esther (Katz) Simons, were wealthy Reform Jews who were well established in the American Jewish community. Janet’s brother Lester Simons was an attorney and an officer in the Spanish-American War.

Reina Hartmann

Reina Kate Goldstein, the daughter of Simon and Kate (Mayer) Goldstein, was born in Chicago on February 2, 1880, and lived in the Chicago area her entire life. She became an integral member of the community by devoting her life to organizations that served Chicago’s women.

Marion Hartog

Marion Hartog, editor of the first Jewish women’s periodical in history, was born in Portsmouth, England, the fourth of twelve children of Joseph Moss (c.1780–c.1840), profession unknown, and Amelia (c.1780–c.1850). Amelia Moss was the granddaughter of the founder of Portsmouth Jewish Congregation and the daughter of Sarah Davids, the first Jewish child born in Portsmouth.

Julia Horn Hamburger

Julia Horn was born to affluent German Jewish parents, Jacob Meyer and Hannah Horn, in New York on October 19, 1883, during the early years of the Eastern European Jewish immigration. Like many middle-class women in the Progressive Era, she was able to attain a high level of education, earning a B.A. in 1903. Also like so many women of her class, she turned to teaching. She was a New York public school teacher from 1903 to 1905, and in 1905 she became a teacher of “mental defectives.” Since teaching was a career for unmarried women, her paid career ended with her marriage to Gabriel Max Hamburger in 1910. The Hamburgers had two children, son Bernard and daughter Maxsina.

Hadassah: Yishuv to the Present Day

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America (HWZOA) (hereafter: Hadassah) has a lengthy history of activity in the [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:432]Yishuv[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] and Israel, going back to 1913, about a year after it was founded in New York, and continuing to this day, with the exception of a short period during World War I. This activity, outstanding in its scope, continuity, stability and diversity, encompasses efforts in the sphere of health and medical services, and in the welfare of children and youth through support of Youth [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:293]Aliyah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary], vocational education, vocational training and more.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Politics and Government." (Viewed on January 17, 2018) <https://jwa.org/topics/politics-and-government>.

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