Remembering a Great Historian of Jewish Women

Last Thursday would have been the 75th birthday of the late Jewish historian Paula Hyman, who wrote a definitive study of modern French Jewry and likely did more than anyone to make women as well as men a subject of Jewish historical scholarship. Among much else, she put forth the then-novel argument that Jewish women in 19th-century Western Europe and America often sought to preserve religious practices and traditions that their husbands were eager to shed. Although an unabashed feminist who agitated for the Conservative movement to approve the ordination of female rabbis and otherwise change its attitudes toward women, Hyman sought to understand the past on its own terms rather than pass judgment on it, and her writings were free from the theoretical jargon that characterizes much feminist scholarship today. In an anthology of brief tributes to Hyman, Deborah Dash Moore writes:

I recently read this sentence about the Pletzl, the Parisian Jewish immigrant neighborhood in the early 20th century. “Its narrow streets,” Paula Hyman writes, “displayed signs in Yiddish, harbored kosher butcher shops and Jewish restaurants, and gave shelter to the petty commerce of immigrant peddlers.” I paused. . . . The imagery . . . powerfully evoked Hyman’s deep respect and affection for immigrant Jews.

Hyman chose her historical subjects with great care. Guided by profound commitments to women’s equality, she pushed Jewish historical scholarship into radically new areas. She tackled subjects, such as sexual abuse in sweatshops, ignored by labor historians, and she uncovered figures, such as Sadie American and Rebecca Kohut and especially Puah Rakovsky, who had been completely overlooked despite their significant accomplishments. Rakovsky, a revolutionary Jewish Zionist feminist, exemplified all that had been missed in the many histories of Zionism in the 20th century.

Noam Pianko, a former student, adds:

Paula’s historical scholarship was critical of the past and present without being doctrinaire or unidimensional. Paula had an empathy for the tradition and a commitment to transforming it to reflect gender equality, but favored good-faith efforts to identify a usable past that would allow Judaism to continue to thrive as a lived religious tradition. She transformed scholarship by working within the very texts, institutions, and rituals that contributed to the marginalization of women’s voices and roles.

[As an activist], her protest never led to boycotts or flat-out rejection of organizations that she insisted needed to change.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Conservative Judaism, Feminism, Jewish history, Women in Judaism

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism