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

The Attempted Murder of Salman Rushdie Should Render the New Iran Deal Dead in the Water

Aug. 15 2022

On Friday, the Indian-born, Anglo-American novelist Salman Rushdie was repeatedly stabbed and severely wounded while giving a public lecture in western New York. Reports have since emerged—although as yet unverified—that the would-be assassin had been in contact with agents of Iran, whose supreme leaders have repeatedly called on Muslims to murder Rushdie. Meanwhile U.S. and European diplomats are trying to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran. Stephen Daisley comments:

Salman Rushdie’s would-be assassin might have been a lone wolf. He might have had no contact with military or intelligence figures. He might never even have set foot in Tehran. But be in no doubt: he acted, in effect, as an agent of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Under the terms of the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in February 1989, Rushdie “and all those involved in [his novel The Satanic Verses’s] publication who were aware of its content, are sentenced to death.” Khomeini urged “brave Muslims to kill them quickly wherever they find them so that no one ever again would dare to insult the sanctities of Muslims,” adding: “anyone killed while trying to execute Rushdie would, God willing, be a martyr.”

An American citizen has been the victim of an attempted assassination on American soil by, it appears, another American after decades of the Iranian supreme leader agitating for his murder. No country that is serious about its national security, to say nothing of its national self-worth, can pretend this is some everyday stabbing with no broader political implications.

Those implications relate not only to the attack on Rushdie. . . . In July, a man armed with an AK-47 was arrested outside the Brooklyn home of Masih Alinejad, an Iranian dissident who was also the intended target of an abduction plot last year orchestrated by an Iranian intelligence agent. The cumulative weight of these outrages should render the new Iran deal dead in the water.

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Read more at Spectator

More about: Freedom of Speech, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy