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.

Read more at Tablet

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


Israel’s Covert War on Iran’s Nuclear Program Is Impressive. But Is It Successful?

Sept. 26 2023

The Mossad’s heist of a vast Iranian nuclear archive in 2018 provided abundant evidence that Tehran was not adhering to its commitments; it also provided an enormous amount of actionable intelligence. Two years later, Israel responded to international inspectors’ condemnation of the Islamic Republic’s violations by using this intelligence to launch a spectacular campaign of sabotage—a campaign that is the subject of Target Tehran, by Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ilan Evyatar. David Adesnik writes:

The question that remains open at the conclusion of Target Tehran is whether the Mossad’s tactical wizardry adds up to strategic success in the shadow war with Iran. The authors give a very respectful hearing to skeptics—such as the former Mossad director Tamir Pardo—who believe the country should have embraced the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Bob and Evyatar reject that position, arguing that covert action has proven itself the best way to slow down the nuclear program. They acknowledge, however, that the clerical regime remains fully determined to reach the nuclear threshold. “The Mossad’s secret war, in other words, is not over. Indeed, it may never end,” they write.

Which brings us back to Joe Biden. The clerical regime was headed over a financial cliff when Biden took office, thanks to the reimposition of sanctions after Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal. The billions flowing into Iran on Biden’s watch have made it that much easier for the regime to rebuild whatever Mossad destroys in addition to weathering nationwide protests on behalf of women, life, and freedom. Until Washington and Jerusalem get on the same page—and stay there—Tehran’s nuclear ambitions will remain an affordable luxury for a dictatorship at war with its citizens.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, Mossad, U.S. Foreign policy