There is a new encyclopedia that has just been published called “Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.” It sheds important light on Jewish women who have made contributions to Israel, the Jewish community, and to the various countries in which Jews have lived throughout the world and much of recent history. This project, by Prof. Paula Hyman from Yale University and Prof. Dalia Ofer from Hebrew University, is long overdue. The accolades offered to the women they have written about are also long overdue – in many cases posthumously.
My own teacher, Dr. Jacob Rader Marcus, focused his attention on American Jewish Women in a collection he called The American Jewess. (We tried to dissuade him from his title selection, but he was a man not easily dissuaded. The title remained.) Since Marcus was a documentary historian, many of his selections came to life through the writings of the women, rather than the biographical essay form that Professors Hyman and Ofer chose. In one of my own books, Reform Judaism in America (with Lance Sussman and Malcolm Stern), a biographical dictionary, we included women who made a difference in the history of the Reform movement. Fewer women were included in the companion volumes to the series: Conservative Judaism in America and Orthodox Judaism in America.
So what’s missing? Where will we find the essays on the women who are not Jewish, but who raised Jewish children, who contributed to the Jewish community? Although they chose not to convert, their commitment to strengthening Jewish life has made them an important part of our history—and our future. Some of these women are our neighbors and friends, our sisters and mothers. Will we not find a place for them in the annals of Jewish history?
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