Remembering a Beloved Teacher of Hundreds of Jewish Girls

June 5, 2023 | Rivka Press Schwartz
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On April 9, Bruria David died in Jerusalem at the age of eighty-four, and was mourned intensely by a segment of the Orthodox world who knew and revered her as a charismatic teacher. Born in New York City to Isaac Hutner, a prominent Polish rabbinic scholar, David spent most of her career directing a seminary for young women located in Jerusalem. Rivka Press Schwartz, one of her many pupils, writes of her legacy:

If people know of Rebbetzin Bruria Hutner David, . . . but did not know her, they probably know two things: that she played an important role in the production of her father Rabbi Isaac Hutner’s masterwork, Paḥad Yitzḥak, and that she earned a PhD from Columbia University. Both of these facts of her biography have been retold often. . . . But as a way of praising her or summarizing her life’s accomplishments, [these items fail to convey] the bold undertaking in ḥaredi women’s education that was her life’s work.

From one institution based in the Matersdorf neighborhood of Jerusalem, she hoped to rearrange the mental furniture of ḥaredi women chosen for their academic ability and their willingness to have their mental furniture rearranged. Thus equipped, these women would go on to be the teachers and rebbetzins and mentors and mothers who would reshape American ḥaredi Jewry to become more formal, more dignified, more aware of the uniqueness and incomparable worth of Torah (as well as more proud of its distinctiveness), less acculturated, and less, well, American.

Rebbetzin David’s worldview emphasized the primacy of Torah—not in the reductive way of “you should marry a man [who studies in post-yeshiva religious academy],” but in the underlying philosophical way that means that whatever field of study or profession her students pursued, it would be with a deep understanding of the way that the Torah’s wisdom is incomparable to the wisdom of any discipline or academic endeavor. Whether that teaching ended up shaping her students’ or their husbands’ life choices, it would shape how they spoke, how they thought, whom they admired, and which accomplishments they most highly praised.

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