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Religious Movements

Jewish Education in the United States

Among the traditions that Jews brought to America, one may include the diligent study of the Torah and honor to those distinguished in its study. Torah study and its public recognition, however, were restricted to men and, obviously, to those among them who had the means and talent to devote themselves to it.

Fanny Binswanger Hoffman

Fanny Binswanger Hoffman belonged to a distinguished American family with roots deep in American history. Her father, Rabbi Isidor Binswanger, was head of the Maimonides School in Philadelphia, the first Jewish institution of higher learning in the United States. Hoffman followed in her father’s footsteps, dedicating her life to Jewish education for children.

Gertrude Hirschler

Not prepared to compromise her ideals by accepting work that did not meet her ideological approval, Gertrude Hirschler rejected the offer of a well-recognized publisher, who submitted a book by an Israeli leftist writer to her for translation. True to her principles, she removed her name from The Hirsch Siddur that she had translated, due to changes to the finished product that did not meet her standards. A brilliant perfectionist, Hirschler’s literary contributions as a translator, editor, and writer are highly regarded in the areas of Jewish history, accounts of the Holocaust, religious literature, and Zionism.

Adele Bluthenthal Heiman

Adele (Bluthenthal) Heiman was born on August 22, 1900, the eldest child of Adolph and Rachel (Rae Solmson) Bluthenthal. Her siblings were Henriette, Madeline, and David. Adolph Bluthenthal, born in 1865 in Germany, had come to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, as a teenager. Family members had settled there before the Civil War. Adolph established a leading men’s clothing store and was active in civic and religious life. In December 1895, he married Rae Solmson, daughter of prominent Pine Bluff settler Solomon Solmson. Rae’s mother was German-born Henrietta Berlin, whose family settled in Baltimore, Maryland, when she was fourteen.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Sidonie Matzner Gruenberg

In 1973, in her nineties, Sidonie Matzner Gruenberg declared that her eighties had been the best decade of her life. She had published the revised edition of her monumental four-volume The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Child Care and Guidance (1967) and had earned more money than in any previous decade.

Blu Greenberg

A renowned “teacher of teachers,” Greenberg’s scholarly father, Sam Genauer, who was born in Czernovitz, Austro-Hungary in 1906, was brought to the United States at the age of two. He obtained a B.A. at Yeshiva University and in 1933 was ordained at its Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Rabbinical College. His homemaker wife, Sylvia (née Gensar), whom he married in 1933, was born in the Lower East Side of New York in 1913 and attended Seward Park High School and the University of Washington. Immediately after his ordination the couple moved to Seattle, where Genauer managed his family’s clothing business. It was there that their three daughters were born: Judy (Brickman) in 1934, Blu on January 21, 1936 and Rena (Schlaff) in 1938. The family returned to New York when Blu was in the fifth grade.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Religious Movements." (Viewed on January 19, 2018) <https://jwa.org/topics/religious-movements>.

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