Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry Volume 18

BookPolin: Studies in Polish Jewry Volume 18

Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry Volume 18

Jewish Women in Eastern Europe

Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, 18


November 24th, 2005





'In many respects, the publication of a collection such as Jewish Women in Eastern Europe signals the emergence of a new area of research. Although scholars of east European Jewry began applying the insights of gender studies to their research relatively recently, the breadth and depth of scholarship showcased in this volume illustrates a commitment to reshaping our understanding of Jewish life in eastern Europe along gender lines. This collection, which is the first in the Polin series to be devoted to gender analysis as well as the first such compilation on east European Jewish women generally, should thus prove foundational in this developing field ... offers generally high quality articles that will prove interesting to scholars of gender history, Jewish history, and east European Jewish history as well as to advanced students working on relevant topics.'
Elana Jakel, Canadian Slavonic Papers / Revue canadienne des slavistes

Jewish women’s exclusion from the public domains of religious and civil life has been reflected in their near absence in the master narratives of the East European Jewish past. As a result, the study of Jewish women in eastern Europe is still in its infancy. The fundamental task of historians to construct women as historical subjects, ‘as a focus of inquiry, a subject of the story, an agent of the narrative’, has only recently begun. This volume is the first collection of essays devoted to the study of Jewish women’s experiences in Eastern Europe. The guest editors for this volume are Paula Hyman of Yale University, a leading figure in Jewish women’s history in the United States, and ChaeRan Freeze of Brandeis University, author of a prize-winning study on Jewish divorce in nineteenth-century Russia. Their introduction provides a much-needed historiographic survey that summarizes the major work in the field and highlights the lacunae. Their contributors, following this lead, have attempted to go beyond mere description of what women experienced to explore how gender constructed distinct experiences, identities, and meanings. Among them, Shulamit Magnus analyses perhaps the best-known memoir written by an east European Jewish woman—Pauline Wengeroff’s Memoirs of a Jewish Grandmother. Ellen Kellman explores the life of a prominent Jewish feminist whose activism was shaped by the devastating impact of the First World War. Moshe Rosman considers the question of whether Jewish women in eastern Europe had power. There are two chapters on the education of Jewish women in eastern Europe (Eliyana Adler, Carole Balin), and two on Jewish women who converted to Christianity (ChaeRan Freeze, Rachel Manekin). Tova Cohen considers how female authors writing in Hebrew encoded their gender concerns in their writing, while Ewa Plach demonstrates the concerns of cosmopolitan bourgeois and intellectual Jewish women. Her analysis of a Zionist women’s Polish-language feminist newspaper illustrates the heterogeneity of Polish Jewish womanhood and the hybrid nature of Jewish identity. In seeking to recover lost achievements and voices and place them into a broader analytical framework, this volume is an important first step in the rethinking of east European Jewish history with the aid of new insights gleaned from the research on gender. As in earlier volumes of Polin, substantial space is given, in ‘New Views’, to recent research in other areas of Polish–Jewish studies, and there is a book review section. CONTRIBUTORS: Eliyana R. Adler, postdoctoral Fellow, Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies, University of Maryland; Karen Auerbach, Brandeis University; Carole B. Balin, Associate Professor of History, Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, New York; Tova Cohen, Department of Hebrew Literature and Chair, Interdisciplinary Program in Gender Studies, Bar-Ilan University; Martin Dean, Research Scholar, Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC; ChaeRan Freeze, Associate Professor of East European Jewish History, Brandeis University; Jakub Goldberg, Professor Emeritus, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Zenon Guldon, Professor Emeritus, Akademia Swietokrzyska, Kielce; Paula Hyman, Lucy Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History, Yale University; Jack Jacobs, Professor of Political Science, Graduate Center, The City University of New York; Ellen Kellman, Lecturer in Yiddish, Assistant Professor, Brandeis University; Waldemar Kowalski, Professor, Akademia Swietokrzyska, Kielce; Sarunas Liekis, Associate Professor, Lithuanian University of Law, Vilnius; Director, Vilnius Yiddish Institute; Shulamit S. Magnus, Associate Professor, History Department, Oberlin College; Rachel Manekin, Hebrew University of Jersualem and Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, Jerusalem; Susanne Marten-Finnis, Reader in German Studies, Queen’s University of Belfast; Yohanan Petrovsky, Assistant Professor, History Department and Crown Center for Jewish Studies, Northwestern University; Fellow, Davis Center for Russian Studies, Harvard University; Eva Plach, Assistant Professor of History, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario; Moshe Rosman, Bar-Ilan University; Helene J. Sinnreich, Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Mississippi; Katarzyna Zechenter, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London.

'In recent years there has been a fair amount of research and publication on East European Jewish women. Two of the editors of this volume have taken a leading role in the field and have written path-breaking books on the topic. However, many of the studies are scattered, and not all are easily accessible. Therefore, the decision to devote a volume of Polin to the topic of Jewish women in eastern Europe was very justified. Not surprisingly, the editors were able to collect some excellent studies that make this book essential reading for both gender issues and East European Jewish history. The authors employ a variety of methodologies and use diverse sources. However, most of the studies can be characterized by a palpable excitement and enthusiasm for the topic, their readers, and most of all for the subjects of the papers ... the introduction is a very comprehensive and readable historiographical survey written by the editors of the volume. They made a real effort to integrate the topic of Jewish women in Eastern Europe into both the general literature about women in the past and the literature on the history of Jews in Eastern Europe ... This volume, like the others in the series, is distinguished by the value and originality of the contributions, the careful editing, the attractive appearance, and concern for readers. It should be noted that the volume has a detailed index that includes not only names but topics. Someone worked hard on it. All in all, this volume of Polin is a very important contribution to the field and a pleasure to read. What more could one ask for?' Shaul Stampfer, Shofar


Author Information

ChaeRan Freeze is associate professor of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. She is the author of Jewish Marriage and Divorce in Imperial Russia (2001), which received the Koret Foundation Publication Award and the Salo Baron Award for the Best First Book in Jewish Studies. She is co-editor (with Jay Harris) of Everyday Jewish Life in Imperial Russia, 1825–1914: Select Documents (forthcoming) and is working on a book Sex and the Shtetl: Gender, Family, and Jewish Sexuality in Tsarist Russia. Paula Hyman is Lucy Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History at Yale University. Among her books are Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History and The Jews of Modern France; she is co-editor of the prizewinning encyclopedia Jewish Women in America and of Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia. Antony Polonsky is Professor Emeritus of Holocaust Studies at Brandeis University and Chief Historian of the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw.