National Jewish Book
Awards 2019 Winner of the Barbara Dobkin Award for Women’s Studies and Finalist for
Education and Jewish Identity.
Sarah Schenirer is one of the unsung heroes of twentieth-century Orthodox Judaism. The Bais Yaakov schools she founded in interwar Poland had an unparalleled impact on a traditional Jewish society threatened by assimilation and modernity, educating a generation of girls to take an active part in their community. The movement grew at an astonishing pace, expanding to include high schools, teacher seminaries, summer programmes, vocational schools, and youth movements, in Poland and beyond; it continues to flourish throughout the Jewish diaspora.
Naomi Seidman explores the movement through the tensions that characterized it, capturing its complexity as a revolution in the name of tradition. She presents the context which led to its founding, examining the impact of socialism, feminism, Zionism, and Polish electoral politics on the process, and recounts its history, from its foundation in interwar Kraków to its near-destruction in the Holocaust, and its role in the reconstruction of Orthodoxy in subsequent decades.
A vivid portrait of Schenirer shines through. The book includes selections from her writings published in English for the first time. Her pioneering, determined character remains the subject of debate in a culture that still regards innovation, female initiative, and women’s Torah study with suspicion.
Fascinating new book ... Seidman is one of the most interesting scholars working in Jewish studies today.'
Rokhl Kafrissen, Tablet Magazine
'Professor Seidman recounts stories, legends, and myths about Schenirer. Here is a towering figure, a revolutionary who changed Jewish Orthodoxy, but who also embodied the values that tradition associated with femininity: simplicity, humbleness, and maternal care… We have empirical proof: Bais Yaakov gave birth to many ethically engaged, Jewish-educated women, among them, Naomi Seidman, author, scholar, and feminist.'
Brian Horowitz, H-Judaic
'[Sarah Schenirer and the Bais Yaakov Movement] serves as an important first major study of a figure and a movement that marked a significant shift in the position of Orthodox women… Seidman writes with passion, scholarship, and lucid prose.'
Jackie Rosensweig, Tradition
'Seidman’s study brings women’s voices back to the centre of the history of Orthodoxy. Much of the reason that women have been overlooked in the study of Orthodoxy has been the subjects that scholars and fields of study define as worthy of attention. As Seidman’s study reveals there is an abundance of data and archives to present a full—not simply a male—history of Orthodoxy.'
Eliyahu Stern, Shofar
'By combining her thoughtful monograph with a full translation of Schenirer’s available Yiddish writings, Seidman has made these important documents widely available in English for the first time… her nuanced portrait will only encourage other scholars to delve further into the many unanswered questions surrounding a movement that she has amply and subtly shown to be “a revolution in the name of tradition.”'
Eliyana R. Adler, Shofar
'An extremely valuable aspect of the book is its broad context, which allows the reader to see Schenirer’s work against the background of the changes taking place at that time not only within Orthodox Judaism itself but also in the emergent feminist, socialist, Zionist, and Yiddishist movements.'
Joanna Lisek, Shofar
'Sarah Schenirer and the Bais Yaakov Movement, which so many have been waiting for, does not disappoint. Only after seeing how significant Sarah Schenirer was can we both wonder why it took so long for a rigorous study of Bais Yaakov to appear, and realise how appreciative we have to be to Seidman for removing the veil of hagiography from this subject.'
Marc B. Shapiro, Shofar
'Naomi Seidman’s book fills a void in the study of modern Jewish history… This book is a building block in the future research of Orthodoxy and opens new frontiers for scholarship.'
Ilan Fuchs, The Lehrhaus