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The Religious History of American WomenReimagining the Past$

Catherine A. Brekus

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780807831021

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: July 2014

DOI: 10.5149/9780807867990_brekus

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Engendering Dissent Women and American Judaism

Engendering Dissent Women and American Judaism

Chapter:
(p.279) 11 Engendering Dissent Women and American Judaism
Source:
The Religious History of American Women
Author(s):

Pamela S. Nadell

Publisher:
University of North Carolina Press
DOI:10.5149/9780807867990_brekus.14

Abstract and Keywords

Gender has been at the heart of many of the most important controversies in the history of Jews in America, from the ordination of female rabbis to the introduction of mixed seating in the synagogue and the innovation of bat mitzvah. Yet historians of Judaism who have written about these controversies mostly focused on male perspectives instead of treating Jewish women as historical agents. This chapter explores the place of female actors in the great controversies concerning gender in the history of American Judaism. It argues that Jewish women, long ignored by scholars, have been lively historical actors, and also demonstrates how women's stories offer important insights into the transformations that have shaped modern Jewish life.

Keywords:   women, Jews, America, female rabbis, Judaism, Jewish women, gender

Many of the most important controversies in American Jewish history—the ordination of female rabbis, the introduction of mixed seating in the synagogue, the innovation of bat mitzvah—have involved gender. Yet when historians of Judaism have written about these controversies, they have relied almost entirely on male voices. Instead of treating Jewish women as historical agents, scholars have assumed that male leaders were solely responsible for the most significant changes in Jewish belief and practice.

Who are the female actors in the great controversies concerning gender in the history of American Judaism? This is the question that has inspired much of Pamela Nadell's research on Jewish women, including her groundbreaking book, Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination, 1889–1985. In this chapter, Nadell reflects on the historical silence surrounding Jewish women—a silence that only recently has been broken. As she illustrates, Jewish women have indeed been lively historical actors, and yet, because scholars have ignored them for so long, she and other women's historians have found it both personally and professionally difficult to restore them to the historical record. Women's stories, however, offer a crucial perspective on the transformations that have shaped modern Jewish life.

In the mid-1970s, a reporter for the Jewish press announced: “With the ordination of Rabbi Sally Priesand in 1972, Judaism learned that a great religious debate over women in the pulpit had been settled before it began.”1 I opened my book, Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination, 1889–1985 (1988), with this conceit because it baldly states a trope familiar to those of us who write women's history. It repeats what many, including some among our scholarly colleagues, advanced at one time with great certainty: that there was little for us to pursue. After all, conventional wisdom taught that history was made by men. Therefore, to write the history of American religion was to study its leaders, the men who led its seminaries, who guided its churches (in my case, its synagogues), and who shaped its teachings and articulated its theologies.

(p.280) In fact, when I edited a special issue for the scholarly quarterly American Jewish History on women's history, I introduced the volume by responding to a colleague who had called to tell me that “he was thinking of venturing into American Jewish women's history, [b]ut first he wanted to make certain that everything had not already been written.”2 I responded to him then, in 1995, just as I would today: “Hardly!”

A decade before Women Who Would Be Rabbis appeared, I had, in fact, written a book, a history in the guise of a reference volume, about the men who had shaped Conservative Judaism in America.3 For that project I had researched the major institutions of the Conservative movement—its seminary, its rabbinical conclave, and its synagogue association. I had described Conservatism's theology through the prism of the movement's controversies over reinterpreting the historic body of Jewish law. I had sketched biographies of 130 significant Conservative leaders, men whose intellectual and spiritual leadership had placed them in the forefront of this American Jewish denomination and often of American Jewish life writ large. Only a single woman, Mathilde Roth Schechter, founding president of what today is called the Women's League for Conservative Judaism, merited her own biographical sketch. With the exception of references to a prominent female educator and to the first woman who became a Conservative rabbi, the other women appearing ever so briefly in this history did so because they had married prominent men, the rabbis and scholars I named.

Even as I was writing Conservative Judaism in America, I knew my approach was deeply problematic. I even hinted at this in the introduction.4 But sometimes career choices are driven by practicalities. I recall announcing, even as I signed the contract with the publisher who had asked for this book, that when I was finished, I would write what I really wanted to write, namely, a book about American Jewish women.

In retrospect, I now know I was not alone in deciding early in my career not to turn to the history of Jewish women. As Paula Hyman, the pioneering scholar in Jewish women's history, has observed trenchantly, what Jewish historians deemed significant to study was “defined by the parameters of male experience.” Even as late as 1994, she asserted that “graduate students in Judaic studies have gotten the message: if you want to succeed in this field, do not write your dissertation on a woman's topic. Wait until you have tenure.”5 And that was exactly the road I had taken.

Now, a decade later, I sense that Professor Hyman's statement is no longer true. The study of gender has finally won acceptance in most fields of Jewish studies. But I am convinced that her caveat reflected the reality of Jewish historical scholarship well into the 1990s. Not until 1991 did a volume of (p.281) scholarly articles on the history of Jewish women appear.6 When I was choosing essays for my edited book American Jewish Women's History: A Reader, which was published in 2003, I made a similar observation: all but two of the eighteen articles in this anthology were written after 1990.7

Thus, the emergence of a significant body of literature writing women into the history of the Jewish people is a project a little more than a decade old.8 Yet already that literature, to which I and so many others have substantially contributed, has propelled a more nuanced understanding of the history of the subfield of American Judaism.

In fact, that was the goal that led Brandeis University Professor Jonathan D. Sarna and me to edit the volume Women and American Judaism: Historical Perspectives (2001). Here we collected new essays, written by both senior and emerging scholars. Not surprisingly, a number of our authors were graduate students when they presented their papers at the consultation that shaped our book. The essays disclose women negotiating Judaism “in four different venues: in the home, in the synagogue, within the Jewish community, and among Christians in the larger community.” They also show how, over time, ideals of proper Jewish womanhood in each of these venues changed. Ultimately, we concluded “that from the colonial era to the close of the twentieth century, American women, committed to Judaism and to their own Jewish communities, repeatedly reshaped Judaism and helped to redefine the place of men and women within it.”9

In Women and American Judaism Sarna and I considered Ann Braude's justly celebrated article “Women's History Is American Religious History,” just as so many of the other authors in this volume have done. Despite Braude's persuasiveness, Sarna and I felt that we dare not make quite so bold a claim that women's history is also the history of American Judaism. Nevertheless, we accepted Braude's challenge to focus on “the presence of women” in American religion, and we agreed that doing so compels a major reevaluation of the themes and narratives of American religious history, in this case of American Judaism. We argued that the essays in our book affirmed that uncovering the history of women in American Judaism would revise and expand our understanding of the historical experience of American Jewish religious life and thus transform our perception of the past.10

Let me reflect then upon the ways in which both my scholarship and that of some of my colleagues, who have also cast a gendered lens upon American Judaism, have revised its history.

I will begin with my own Women Who Would Be Rabbis. Despite the myopia of the 1970s Jewish press, the question of women's ordination was hardly settled before it was raised. In fact, it was first introduced by the (p.282) Philadelphia writer Mary M. Cohen on the front page of a Jewish newspaper in 1889. Crafting a Jewish response to the nineteenth-century woman's rights movement and its demand for women's access to the professions, including the ministry, Cohen helped launch a debate that swirled for over a century in Jewish life, and which indeed would cease in a particular Jewish denomination only when women won the right to rabbinical ordination.

Women Who Would Be Rabbis follows that debate. In the 1890s, an “era of rising expectations for women's ordination” was fueled partly by the 1893 Congress of Jewish Women at the World's Columbian Exposition and by the career of Ray Frank, the “girl rabbi of the golden west.” In the 1920s and 1930s, five women spent enough time in rabbinical seminaries to force their students, faculty, and boards of trustees—and Jews more broadly—to contemplate seriously the notion of a woman in the pulpit. One of these, in Germany, ultimately received private, not seminary, ordination, but she shared the tragic fate of her people and perished at the hands of the Nazis. The others all failed to be ordained, but each came later in her life to raise the question once again.

Changes in seminary education in the 1950s and 1960s unexpectedly brought more women to rabbinical school. Ultimately, one of them, Sally Priesand, riding the crest of the new wave of American feminism, was ordained a Reform rabbi in 1972. That event and the surrounding publicity sparked a highly public and painful debate in Conservative Judaism in the 1970s and early 1980s. When that denomination, in 1983, decided too in favor of ordaining women rabbis, the Orthodox began asking, “Will there be Orthodox women rabbis?”

Others before me, including Rabbi Sally Priesand and religion scholar Ellen Umansky, had uncovered strands of the debate,11 but in Women Who Would Be Rabbis, I connected the threads. I traced its trajectory, as it had waxed and waned in American Jewish life since 1889. I analyzed the arguments advanced by both sides—by those who decried this break with tradition, as well as by those, especially the women who would have been rabbis if they could have become rabbis, who argued that women were utterly capable and worthy of taking on this role. Criticized for seeking to overturn the tradition that, as rabbis, they would be bound to uphold, these women, and those who opposed them, turned again and again to the same sources in Jewish tradition and in the history of Jewish women.

For example, they read the same classical texts of Jewish law and found no statement specifically prohibiting female rabbis. They paraded long lists of the learned Jewish women of the past, especially those who had used their sacred study and learning to teach and to rule. Arguing that these women (p.283) functioned just like rabbis, the women who would be rabbis sought to climb on their shoulders, to claim their places as rabbis, teachers, and preachers in American Judaism. Yet, because the women who would be rabbis lacked any sense of the collective history of the question, each had to discover on her own, and as if de novo, arguments to advance.

In uncovering the cycles of debate over women's rabbinic ordination, I relied upon Gerda Lerner's The Creation of Feminist Consciousness. Lerner had demonstrated the grave consequences of the failure to recount women's history. Whereas men, with their written histories, had benefited from transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next, she knew that “women were denied knowledge of their history, and thus each woman had to argue as though no woman before her had ever thought or written. Women had to use their energy to reinvent the wheel, over and over again, generation after generation.”12 I showed how this held true for the women who wanted to become rabbis and how they were unable to build upon the strategies and creativity of those who had discovered before them the very same arguments for why women should become rabbis.

Women Who Would Be Rabbis thus stands, I believe, among the “new narratives” Braude called for in “Women's History Is Religious History.”13 Because of the vagaries of publishing, the manuscript for Women Who Would Be Rabbis was in press by the time Braude's article appeared. Nevertheless, Braude and I were thinking along parallel tracks, for Women Who Would Be Rabbis revolves around the “themes of female presence and male power” that Braude argued were essential for a reconceptualization of American religious history.14 The women who sought ordination constituted the “female presence,” and they challenged the powerful men who guarded the gates to ordination.

Women's rabbinic ordination thus became another arena in which Judaism encountered modernity and forged new adaptations and syntheses, and its history expands our understanding of modern Judaism. Women Who Would Be Rabbis also points us, I think, to another theme Braude briefly raised in her seminal article, but one which she has explored in greater depth elsewhere. In “Women's History Is Religious History,” she wrote that women “have played a prominent role in religious dissent.”15 That holds true for the debate over women's rabbinic ordination. In fact, as Sarna and I argued in Women and American Judaism, “many of the central themes and controversies in American Jewish religious life have revolved around the position of women in Judaism both literally and figuratively.”16

Standard accounts of the history and sociology of American Judaism have paid only limited attention to how gender has long been a source of dissent. (p.284) Instead, American Judaism has generally been presented as the evolution of its denominations: Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, and later Reconstructionist. These older narratives take one of two approaches. Some trace the waves of Jewish immigrants, in which males continue to remain the norm, and how their impulses to reform, with both a lowercase and a capital R, reflected their acculturation. Others focus specifically upon denominational evolution, analyzing the emergence of national institutions and evolving ideologies. Women receive little mention; gender as a category of analysis is largely absent.17

But dissent is front and center. Newer immigrants rejected the syntheses of American life and Judaism crafted by those who came before in order to fashion their own synagogues, institutions, and religious ideologies. As the denominations evolved, they implicitly and explicitly asserted that the expressions of Judaism shaped by others were inauthentic. Dissenting visions within each denomination caused internal strife. Dissent is thus a paramount theme of American Jewish religious history.18

In Women and American Judaism, Sarna and I listed some of the arenas in which gender provoked dissent. Long before the question of women's ordination was raised, we knew that American Jews had argued over whether Judaism permitted men and women to sit together during worship. These men and women had debated whether their daughters should receive the same educations as their sons. They had wrestled with whether or not girls should celebrate their passage into adolescence as Jewish boys did in the bar mitzvah. They had struggled over what roles women could take on in the service. And they had agonized, and continue to agonize, over how to help the agunah, the woman chained, under Jewish law, to an untenable marriage because her husband no longer lived with her but would not grant her a divorce. Sarna and I concluded: “These questions and many others relating to the position of women within American Judaism evoked passionate debates, deep communal conflicts, and enormous anxiety as Jewish men and women renegotiated the boundaries of gender in American Jewish life.”19

Reconceptualizing the history of American Judaism requires exploring these and other topics relating to gender in greater depth. To illustrate what I mean, consider a contemporary synagogue service. In most, but by no means all, male and female congregants sit together. In many congregations, women worshippers now wear the ritual garb (head coverings and prayer shawls) traditionally worn only by men. Some female worshippers take leading roles in the service, reading from the Torah and chanting the prophetic reading known as the Haftarah. This contemporary synagogue service is dramatically and visibly transformed, not only from the synagogues of the colonial era (p.285) where women sat and gossiped or prayed in a raised gallery, but also from those of the mid-twentieth century when the only time females ascended to the bimah, the raised platform at the front of the sanctuary, was on the day of their bat mitzvah or that of their daughter. How this occurred, and where and how it caused conflict is part of the history of American Judaism.

Scholars Jonathan Sarna and Karla Goldman have both written about one of the most visible of the shifts in the religious service, the adoption of mixed seating or family seating patterns in the American synagogue. Deviating from the traditional separation of men and women during Jewish worship became, in Karla Goldman's felicitous phrase, one of the “gender frontier[s] in the synagogue.”20 In 1851, Reform rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise introduced mixed seating in Albany, New York. Although he later described this step as an important ideological reform, it was surely driven at the time by practicalities. Wise's new congregation consecrated an old church for its first synagogue, and the building had pews. Rather than reconfigure the church to separate the sexes in worship, the members decided to sit with their wives in the pews. Even if adopted as a matter of convenience, the shift, Gold-man reminds us, reflected the worldview of its Americanizing congregants.21 By the 1860s, the seating of men and women together in worship had increasingly become a hallmark of reforming synagogues in America, although not in Europe, a perceptible adaptation of American middle-class gendered norms.22

As Sarna has shown, mixed seating became a test of Judaism's embrace of modernity. Proponents believed mixed seating countered the charge of Judaism's Orientalism and backwardness. It showed modern Judaism standing for family togetherness and women's equality and keeping in step with the times for its youth. Opponents believed family pews allowed Jews to abandon tradition, violate Jewish law, and imitate Christians.23

As Conservative Judaism evolved in the twentieth century, mixed seating became the norm in its congregations too, although not in its seminary. By mid-century, mixed seating had become “the most commonly accepted yard-stick for differentiating Conservatism from Orthodoxy.”24

As a symbol of women's equality, it should not surprise us that mixed seating caused friction. Sarna describes several nineteenth- and twentieth-century synagogue disputes that landed in U.S. courts when one group of congregants sued another to prevent the adoption of mixed seating. After women were accepted as candidates for ordination at the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary, seminary leaders faced a dilemma. The seminary synagogue separated men and women in worship. Now that women were about to become rabbis, what were they to do? Seminary officials (p.286) decided to compromise by retaining the traditional prayer service and adding an egalitarian one for those who wanted it.25 Even the Orthodox who do not permit mixed seating show their sensitivity to how this violates American norms. I recall an Orthodox rabbi in the late 1980s boasting to me that when his congregation built its new synagogue, its sanctuary would offer men and women separate but completely equal seats.

What I find particularly striking about the history of the dissension over mixed seating in the American synagogue is that, contrary to the debate over women's ordination in which we can point to specific female historical actors, women are largely absent from the debate. Instead, we hear only of the men invested in this concession to women's new status in American Jewish life. For example, Sarna writes of a dispute over mixed seating in 1861 that led “several of the old members: of a Cleveland congregation, including its treasurer, to resign.” Since women did not then hold synagogue membership and since the treasurer was named Benjamin, this dispute about gender, interpreted as a harbinger of women's emancipation in the synagogue, appears decidedly androcentric. Sarna's lengthy discussion of the lawsuit, Israel J. Solomon v. the Congregation of B'nai Jeshurn, names only the men engaged in the court case. In fact, in none of his examples of strife over mixed seating are women present.26 They appear only implicitly as an anonymous and amorphous female body whose synagogue seats would change if their congregations allowed them to sit with their husbands.

But what did the women want? Were they at all invested in the debate? Did they urge their husbands, fathers, and sons, the men named, to champion this reform? Or to fight it? How did women feel the first time they changed seats to join their husbands in the pews? What did this mean to the family? What did it mean to their daughters? Unfortunately, because of an absence of sources or of the great difficulty at ferreting them out, female voices do not surface in the narrative. Thus, while the debate about mixed seating is literally about women's place in the synagogue, it is nevertheless scarcely reflective of the study of women's presence that Braude has challenged us to write.

A survey of other controversies in American Jewish religious life revolving around the position of women in Judaism demonstrates just how often women's presence is absent in controversies involving gender. In fact, I would argue that much of the historiography on how gender caused dissent in American Judaism—and I criticize here too some of my own earlier work—is marked far less by women's presence than by their absence. Therefore, scholars of American Judaism have much work yet to do before we can begin to conceptualize a history that fully incorporates gender as a category of analysis.

(p.287) For example, in Women Who Would Be Rabbis, I wrote briefly about a new role offered to Conservative Jewish women in the mid-1950s, the honor of an aliyah, of being called up to bless the Torah scrolls, a role also related to the growing acceptance of the increasingly common female rite of passage, the bat mitzvah. In 1954, Rabbi Ira Eisenstein, then president of the Conservative movement's rabbinical conclave, the Rabbinical Assembly, challenged his colleagues: “We are still operating upon the Orthodox assumption that the basic inequality of the woman must be preserved in law.” Referring specifically to the wider American “struggle to emancipate the woman from the domination of the man in political and social life,” he urged his colleagues to consider “the equalization of the status of women in Jewish law as a true expression of a Torah of justice.” A year later, two rabbis wrote legal opinions giving their colleagues permission to invite women to bless the Torah. One would allow women to do so only on special occasions, like the day of a son's bar mitzvah. The other felt females could have this synagogue honor at any time.27 Thus, Conservative rabbis came proudly to embrace aliyah for women as a new marker of their dedication to women's equality.

But, a half century ago, when the rabbis debated these responsa (legal briefs), one articulated the concern I raise now about women's absence as historical actors. About women's aliyah, Rabbi Gershon Winer asked: “Is there a crying need of privileges being denied? Are our women folk asking for these particular privileges?”28

The renowned sociologist Marshall Sklare also pointed to the complacence of Conservative Jewish women. In his classic study, Conservative Judaism, published in 1955, he wrote briefly about the position of women in both Conservative and Orthodox Judaism. He knew women's inferior position in Judaism went against Western norms, and he believed that this would become “perhaps the single most disruptive force, or strain, to American Jewish Orthodoxy.” He felt that “even though change will entail a serious violation of the religious code and the overcoming of much resistance, a status quo position would mean organizational suicide.” Yet so far the women themselves had not clamored for change: “There has been no widespread agitation for perfect equality. Conservative women have generally been satisfied with their limited status—a great advance over the age-old segregation.”29 The result was that debates over gender in the synagogue in the 1950s were about what the men thought and had to say. Once again, women's presence is not felt.

The same is largely true for accounts of the emergence of bat mitzvah. If we visit again the contemporary synagogue service discussed above, we will see how bar and bat mitzvah, the rite of passage to adolescence in American (p.288) Jewish life—but to maturity earlier in Jewish history—lie at the center of so many Sabbath morning services. Whereas the notion of bar mitzvah, the passage to adult responsibilities in the synagogue for boys, appears in rabbinic sources, bat mitzvah in America was a twentieth-century innovation.30 Nevertheless, it has become “one of the most common ceremonies in contemporary American synagogues” since 1922 when Judith Kaplan was invited to celebrate her bat mitzvah by her father, Jewish Theological Seminary professor and founder of Reconstructionist Judaism Mordecai M. Kaplan. Typically, after mentioning Judith Kaplan's bat mitzvah, the histories of the evolution of the bat mitzvah turn back to the rabbis, the men who debated and finally agreed to introduce it into their congregations.31 Once again, the historical actors are almost exclusively male.

Finally, this is also true of the writing on the thorny legal issue of the agunah, and here again I turn to my own work on the subject. Conservative rabbis, who viewed themselves as bound to uphold Jewish law, found the plight of the agunah to be “one of the most distressing and painful condi-tions” of modern Jewish life. Under Jewish law, a woman whose husband's death cannot be established with certainty or whose husband refuses to grant her a get, a Jewish divorce, is prohibited from ever remarrying. She remains bound by the Jewish laws of marriage to a husband who no longer lives with her. (Jewish law imposes no such constraint upon abandoned husbands.) The calamity of the women who become agunot remains a deeply disturbing problem in any Jewish society whose members abide by Jewish law, including those in Orthodox Jewish communities in the United States and all Jews in the state of Israel.32

As early as 1929, Conservative rabbis sought solutions to the plight of the agunah. In fact, they spent the next forty years advancing various legal proposals to resolve this particularly gendered imbalance in Jewish law.33 Yet, once again, women are absent from the history. Instead, when I wrote of this controversy involving gender, I wrote of the rabbis who crafted legal subterfuges to prevent women from becoming agunot and of the Orthodox scholars who vehemently objected to their solutions. But, on the women whose lives were affected by this law, I was silent.

Although Marshall Sklare was certainly correct in noting that at mid-century there was no “widespread agitation for perfect equality” among Conservative women, I am no longer convinced, if I ever was, that women were not historical actors in these gendered controversies in American Judaism. And I wonder if—just as I uncovered women's voices in the debate on ordination—we could find other women similarly engaged in these other controversies. I see glimmers of possibility. For example, in To the Golden (p.289) Cities, Deborah Dash Moore names a woman involved in the introduction of women's aliyot. She writes about the furor that ensued, however briefly, in the middle of synagogue services, when, in the mid-1950s, Aaron Wise, rabbi of Los Angeles's Valley Jewish Community Center, called his wife, Miriam, to bless the Torah during High Holiday services.34 In 1963, Trude Weiss-Rosmarin, author and editor of the Jewish Spectator, who has been described as one of the “other” New York Jewish intellectuals, railed against the “obsolete Jewish laws of divorce,” giving us one woman's perspective on the gendered controversy.35

In the important study The Other Feminists, historian Susan Hartmann uncovered the women she called “lively characters,” key players, who, in the decades before the second wave of American feminism, propelled their establishments to advance feminist aims. Hartmann's examination of the “sea change in attitudes, practices, and policies regarding gender roles” in organizations as diverse as the International Union of Electrical Workers, the Ford Foundation, and the National Council of Churches turned up small cohorts of central female players pushing from within to raise feminist consciousness. In the case of the American Civil Liberties Union, she found that “the ACLU began its support for women's rights primarily because of the passion and labor of one woman.”36

I would assert that in order to reconceptualize the study of American Judaism to incorporate women's presence and not just to expand our history by incorporating debates involving gender, we need to uncover a similar history of female “lively characters” in American Jewish life. I took this approach in my recent article, “An Angle of Vision: Jewish Women's Studies in the Seminaries,” in which I focused on the introduction of women's and gender studies into rabbinical schools following women's ordination in the liberal movements of American Judaism.37 But, of course, I was looking at very recent history and the sources were easy to discover. I did the same in uncovering the “lively characters”—although I did not then use that term—who shaped the Reform sisterhoods early in the twentieth century.38

Consequently, I challenge myself and my colleagues to bring women's presence forward for other aspects of the history of American Judaism. I know just how difficult this is. I spent ten years working on Women Who Would be Rabbis. Lucky for me, because of the attention of the press to any question dealing with the advance of women in society, I was successful in discovering new sources, including press reports about women in the ministry going back to the nineteenth century that helped bring women's voices forward. Furthermore, I found scrapbooks and other records from women who were pivotal actors in this debate. These did not exist in any archive. (p.290) Rather they had remained in the possession of the women or of their daughters, and I tracked them down. (I never came across sons who had held onto their mothers' scrapbooks.) Invaluable primary sources to me, these were generally deemed historically insignificant by others. In fact, for another project, when I tried to find the papers of one woman, Anita Libman Lebeson, who began writing Jewish women into history before women's history emerged as a new and leading field of study, I was told by her daughter that her mother's papers were all gone. The daughter claimed that she had tried at one time to give them to the American Jewish Historical Society, but they were declined.

I know that some, and I suspect many, of the female actors were intimately connected to the men whose names already surface in the historical records of gender engendering controversy. Therefore, their names are a good place to start. When Rabbi Aaron Wise first gave an aliyah to a woman, it was his wife, Miriam, who caused such a furor when she came up to bless the Torah. Ira Eisenstein, the rabbi who charged his Conservative colleagues to rectify the status of women in Jewish law, was married to Judith Kaplan Eisenstein, the bat mitzvah girl of 1922. For Women Who Would Be Rabbis, I interviewed Toby Fink, who had begun studying for the rabbinate as an undergraduate at the University of Cincinnati in 1957. We both knew that she was the daughter of Rabbi Joseph I. Fink, former president of the Reform movement's rabbinical conference, but only I knew that he had led a committee of rabbis that, in its “Report on the Ordination of Women,” affirmed that women could be ordained while his daughter was still in high school.39

My concern with women's presence is also reflected in my most recent work, the edited volume American Jewish Women's History: A Reader. Even as I was working on Women and American Judaism, I was rereading my way through the scholarship that has appeared on American Jewish women's history and trying to conceptualize a reader in this new literature. Influenced again by Gerda Lerner, who wrote, “My commitment to women's history came out of my life, not out of my head,”40 I used the overarching theme of agency to guide my choices for this anthology. I sought articles that showed how Jewish women had acted and exerted power to sustain and to shape Jewish life in America. These articles highlight American Jewish women in their multiple roles—“as daughters, wives, and mothers; students and teachers; workers and entrepreneurs.” I chose articles that positioned Jewish women “in their kitchens and in their synagogues, at their writing tables and behind the counters of general stores, hunched over sewing machines and dancing in front of the mirror. [The articles] consider their volunteer activities and political crusades. They examine their interior lives and the stereo-types (p.291) imposed on them. They take up their piety and the roles they played in shaping American Judaism. They show American Jewish women with their Christian neighbors and see them working to better their own lives and the lives of Jews everywhere.” In short, in this anthology, Jewish women stand front and foremost as historical actors.41

There are many fine studies that, like so much of the literature on the gendered controversies in American Judaism, including, of course, my own writing, explore the evolution of men's ideas abut Jewish women and their roles.42 But, in making my decisions about what to include in American Jewish Women's History: A Reader, I deliberately excluded those works. Instead, by emphasizing Jewish women's agency—whether it was exercised by colonial matrons or club women, turn-of-the century garment workers or late-twentieth-century feminists—women emerged as historical actors molding the contours of American Jewish life. Their presence is thus manifest. And uncovering the history of that presence is the first step to reconceptualizing a history of women in American Jewish life and American Judaism.

Notes

(1) . Pamela S. Nadell, Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination, 1889–1985 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998), ix.

(2) . Pamela S. Nadell, “Introduction,” American Jewish History 83 (1995): 147–51, 147.

(3) . Pamela S. Nadell, Conservative Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988).

(4) . I explained the decision behind my androcentric focus, in ibid., x.

(5) . Paula E. Hyman, “Feminist Studies and Modern Jewish History,” in Feminist Perspectives on Jewish Studies, ed. Lynn Davidman and Shelly Tenenbaum (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 120–39, 120, 134.

(6) . Judith R. Baskin, ed., Jewish Women in Historical Perspective (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991).

(7) . Pamela S. Nadell, ed., American Jewish Women's History: A Reader (New York: New York University Press, 2003).

(8) . Long before the acceptance of women's history in the last quarter of the twentieth century as a legitimate field of study, a few female historians tried to interject women into Jewish history. Elsewhere I have written about three twentieth-century independent female scholars, all of whom held Ph.D.s, lived in the United States, and wrote Jewish women's history. All three were marginalized both during their careers and by those who would develop the new scholarship on gender and Jewish women. Pamela S. Nadell, “Women on the Margins of Jewish Historiography,” in The Margins of Jewish History, ed. Marc Lee Raphael (Williamsburg, Va.: College of William and Mary, 2000), 102–12.

(9) . Pamela S. Nadell and Jonathan D. Sarna, “Introduction,” in Women and American (p.292) Judaism: Historical Perspectives, ed. Pamela S. Nadell and Jonathan D. Sarna (Hanover, N.H.: Brandeis University Press, 2001), 1–14, 3, 12; italics in original in the latter quotation.

(10) . Ann Braude, “Women's History Is Religious History,” in Retelling U.S. Religious History, ed. Thomas A. Tweed (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 87–107, 90, 88; Nadell and Sarna, Women and American Judaism, 1.

(11) . Sally Priesand, Judaism and the New Woman (New York: Behrman House, 1975); Ellen M. Umansky, “Women in Judaism: From the Reform Movement to Contemporary Jewish Religious Feminism,” in Women of Spirit: Female Leadership in the Jewish and Christian Traditions, ed. Rosemary Ruether and Eleanor McLaughlin (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), 339–42.

(12) . Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Feminist Consciousness: From the Middle Ages to Eighteen-Seventy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 166.

(13) . Braude, “Women's History Is Religious History,” 91.

(14) . Ibid., 107.

(15) . Ibid., 89. She explores this in Ann Braude, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Wom-en's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989).

(16) . Nadell and Sarna, Women and American Judaism, 2–3.

(17) . See, for example, Nathan Glazer, American Judaism (1957; rev. ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972); and Marc Lee Raphael, Profiles in American Judaism: The Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist Traditions in Historical Perspective (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1984). I wrote this before the publication of Jonathan D. Sarna's American Judaism: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004) and Hasia Diner's The Jews of the United States (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004). Both of these histories do incorporate new scholarship on women and gender.

(18) . Dissent is obviously a major theme of religious history. Note that my “Ordaining Women Rabbis,” in Religions of the United States in Practice, vol. 2, ed. Colleen McDannell, Princeton Readings in Religion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 389–417, appears in the section titled “Persuading: Witnessing, Controversies, and Polemics.”

(19) . Nadell and Sarna, Women and American Judaism, 2.

(20) . Karla Goldman, Beyond the Synagogue Gallery: Finding a Place for Women in American Judaism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), 93–99, 129–33, quotation, 93.

(21) . Ibid., 94.

(22) . Jonathan D. Sarna, “The Debate over Mixed Seating in the American Synagogue,” in The American Synagogue: A Sanctuary Transformed, ed. Jack Wertheimer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 363–94.

(23) . Ibid., esp. 378.

(24) . Ibid.; Sarna quotes Marshall Sklare on p. 380.

(26) . Sarna, “The Debate over Mixed Seating in the American Synagogue,” esp. 372–78.

(p.293)

(27) . Nadell, Women Who Would Be Rabbis; for references to this discussion and the following paragraphs, see 184–85 and the notes.

(28) . Quoted in ibid., 184–85.

(29) . All quoted in ibid.

(30) . Bat mitzvah has earlier origins in nineteenth-century Europe; see Norma Baumel Joseph, “Ritual Law and Praxis: Bat Mitsva Celebrations,” Modern Judaism 22, no. 3 (2002): 234–60, 256n10.

(31) . The following all focus especially on male responses to bat mitzvah: Regina Stein, “The Road to Bat Mitzvah in America,” in Nadell and Sarna, Women and American Judaism, 223–34, quotation, 223; Paula Hyman, “The Introduction of Bat Mitzvah in Conservative Judaism in Postwar America,” YIVO Annual 19 (1990): 133–46; and Joseph, “Ritual Law and Praxis: Bat Mitsva Celebrations.” One of the few to ask the question “what happens to the girl” (p. 254) is Erica S. Brown, “Bat Mitzvah in Jewish Law and Contemporary Practice,” in Jewish Legal Writings by Women, ed. Micah D. Halpern and Chana Safrai (Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 1998), 232–58. Still, the subject merits only a single paragraph in this article.

(33) . I discuss this in the introduction to Nadell, Conservative Judaism in America, 7–14.

(34) . Deborah Dash Moore, To the Golden Cities: Pursuing the American Jewish Dream in Miami and L.A. (New York: Free Press, 1994), 120–21.

(35) . Trude Weiss-Rosmarin, “Women without Legal Rights,” Jewish Spectator, October 1963; Deborah Dash Moore, “Trude Weiss-Rosmarin and the Jewish Spectator,” in The “Other” New York Jewish Intellectuals, ed. Carole S. Kessner (New York: New York University Press, 1994), 101–21.

(36) . Susan M. Hartmann, The Other Feminists: Activists in the Liberal Establishment (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 1, 174, 57.

(37) . Pamela S. Nadell, “An Angle of Vision: Jewish Women's Studies in the Seminaries,” Conservative Judaism 55, no. 1 (2002): 3–10.

(38) . Pamela S. Nadell and Rita J. Simon, “Ladies of the Sisterhood: Women in the American Reform Synagogue, 1900–1930,” in Active Voices: Women in Jewish Culture, ed. Maurie Sacks (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 63–75.

(39) . Nadell, Women Who Would Be Rabbis, 143.

(40) . Gerda Lerner, “Women among the Professors of History: The Story of a Process of Transformation,” in Voices of Women Historians: The Personal, the Political, the Professional, ed. Eileen Boris and Nupur Chaudhuri (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 1–10, quotation, 1.

(41) . Nadell, American Jewish Women's History, 2.

(42) . An important example is Karla Goldman, “The Ambivalence of Reform Judaism: Kaufmann Kohler and the Ideal Jewish Woman,” American Jewish History 79 (1990): 477–99.

Notes:

(1) . Pamela S. Nadell, Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination, 1889–1985 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998), ix.

(2) . Pamela S. Nadell, “Introduction,” American Jewish History 83 (1995): 147–51, 147.

(3) . Pamela S. Nadell, Conservative Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988).

(4) . I explained the decision behind my androcentric focus, in ibid., x.

(5) . Paula E. Hyman, “Feminist Studies and Modern Jewish History,” in Feminist Perspectives on Jewish Studies, ed. Lynn Davidman and Shelly Tenenbaum (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 120–39, 120, 134.

(6) . Judith R. Baskin, ed., Jewish Women in Historical Perspective (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991).

(7) . Pamela S. Nadell, ed., American Jewish Women's History: A Reader (New York: New York University Press, 2003).

(8) . Long before the acceptance of women's history in the last quarter of the twentieth century as a legitimate field of study, a few female historians tried to interject women into Jewish history. Elsewhere I have written about three twentieth-century independent female scholars, all of whom held Ph.D.s, lived in the United States, and wrote Jewish women's history. All three were marginalized both during their careers and by those who would develop the new scholarship on gender and Jewish women. Pamela S. Nadell, “Women on the Margins of Jewish Historiography,” in The Margins of Jewish History, ed. Marc Lee Raphael (Williamsburg, Va.: College of William and Mary, 2000), 102–12.

(9) . Pamela S. Nadell and Jonathan D. Sarna, “Introduction,” in Women and American (p.292) Judaism: Historical Perspectives, ed. Pamela S. Nadell and Jonathan D. Sarna (Hanover, N.H.: Brandeis University Press, 2001), 1–14, 3, 12; italics in original in the latter quotation.

(10) . Ann Braude, “Women's History Is Religious History,” in Retelling U.S. Religious History, ed. Thomas A. Tweed (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 87–107, 90, 88; Nadell and Sarna, Women and American Judaism, 1.

(11) . Sally Priesand, Judaism and the New Woman (New York: Behrman House, 1975); Ellen M. Umansky, “Women in Judaism: From the Reform Movement to Contemporary Jewish Religious Feminism,” in Women of Spirit: Female Leadership in the Jewish and Christian Traditions, ed. Rosemary Ruether and Eleanor McLaughlin (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), 339–42.

(12) . Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Feminist Consciousness: From the Middle Ages to Eighteen-Seventy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 166.

(13) . Braude, “Women's History Is Religious History,” 91.

(14) . Ibid., 107.

(15) . Ibid., 89. She explores this in Ann Braude, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Wom-en's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989).

(16) . Nadell and Sarna, Women and American Judaism, 2–3.

(17) . See, for example, Nathan Glazer, American Judaism (1957; rev. ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972); and Marc Lee Raphael, Profiles in American Judaism: The Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist Traditions in Historical Perspective (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1984). I wrote this before the publication of Jonathan D. Sarna's American Judaism: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004) and Hasia Diner's The Jews of the United States (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004). Both of these histories do incorporate new scholarship on women and gender.

(18) . Dissent is obviously a major theme of religious history. Note that my “Ordaining Women Rabbis,” in Religions of the United States in Practice, vol. 2, ed. Colleen McDannell, Princeton Readings in Religion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 389–417, appears in the section titled “Persuading: Witnessing, Controversies, and Polemics.”

(19) . Nadell and Sarna, Women and American Judaism, 2.

(20) . Karla Goldman, Beyond the Synagogue Gallery: Finding a Place for Women in American Judaism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), 93–99, 129–33, quotation, 93.

(21) . Ibid., 94.

(22) . Jonathan D. Sarna, “The Debate over Mixed Seating in the American Synagogue,” in The American Synagogue: A Sanctuary Transformed, ed. Jack Wertheimer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 363–94.

(23) . Ibid., esp. 378.

(24) . Ibid.; Sarna quotes Marshall Sklare on p. 380.

(26) . Sarna, “The Debate over Mixed Seating in the American Synagogue,” esp. 372–78.

(27) . Nadell, Women Who Would Be Rabbis; for references to this discussion and the following paragraphs, see 184–85 and the notes.

(28) . Quoted in ibid., 184–85.

(29) . All quoted in ibid.

(30) . Bat mitzvah has earlier origins in nineteenth-century Europe; see Norma Baumel Joseph, “Ritual Law and Praxis: Bat Mitsva Celebrations,” Modern Judaism 22, no. 3 (2002): 234–60, 256n10.

(31) . The following all focus especially on male responses to bat mitzvah: Regina Stein, “The Road to Bat Mitzvah in America,” in Nadell and Sarna, Women and American Judaism, 223–34, quotation, 223; Paula Hyman, “The Introduction of Bat Mitzvah in Conservative Judaism in Postwar America,” YIVO Annual 19 (1990): 133–46; and Joseph, “Ritual Law and Praxis: Bat Mitsva Celebrations.” One of the few to ask the question “what happens to the girl” (p. 254) is Erica S. Brown, “Bat Mitzvah in Jewish Law and Contemporary Practice,” in Jewish Legal Writings by Women, ed. Micah D. Halpern and Chana Safrai (Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 1998), 232–58. Still, the subject merits only a single paragraph in this article.

(33) . I discuss this in the introduction to Nadell, Conservative Judaism in America, 7–14.

(34) . Deborah Dash Moore, To the Golden Cities: Pursuing the American Jewish Dream in Miami and L.A. (New York: Free Press, 1994), 120–21.

(35) . Trude Weiss-Rosmarin, “Women without Legal Rights,” Jewish Spectator, October 1963; Deborah Dash Moore, “Trude Weiss-Rosmarin and the Jewish Spectator,” in The “Other” New York Jewish Intellectuals, ed. Carole S. Kessner (New York: New York University Press, 1994), 101–21.

(36) . Susan M. Hartmann, The Other Feminists: Activists in the Liberal Establishment (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 1, 174, 57.

(37) . Pamela S. Nadell, “An Angle of Vision: Jewish Women's Studies in the Seminaries,” Conservative Judaism 55, no. 1 (2002): 3–10.

(38) . Pamela S. Nadell and Rita J. Simon, “Ladies of the Sisterhood: Women in the American Reform Synagogue, 1900–1930,” in Active Voices: Women in Jewish Culture, ed. Maurie Sacks (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 63–75.

(39) . Nadell, Women Who Would Be Rabbis, 143.

(40) . Gerda Lerner, “Women among the Professors of History: The Story of a Process of Transformation,” in Voices of Women Historians: The Personal, the Political, the Professional, ed. Eileen Boris and Nupur Chaudhuri (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 1–10, quotation, 1.

(41) . Nadell, American Jewish Women's History, 2.

(42) . An important example is Karla Goldman, “The Ambivalence of Reform Judaism: Kaufmann Kohler and the Ideal Jewish Woman,” American Jewish History 79 (1990): 477–99.