PAULA HYMAN (1946-2011) At the Center of Change

Paula Hyman, pictured here with her daughter Judith Rosenbaum. Photo by Amy Stone.

At the time of her death in December, Paula Hyman was the Lucy Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History at Yale University. She had been the first female dean of the Albert A. List College of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the first woman president of the American Academy for Jewish Research, and co-founder of of the germinal Jewish feminist group of the 1970s, Ezrat Nashim. While still a graduate student, she authored what may have been the first social history of Jewish women, The Jewish Woman in America [1976], and then proceeded to transform the way that Jewish scholars think of such basic historical paradigms as assimilation and acculturation by viewing these phenomena through the lens of gender.

Most of the Jewish girls born in America today will take it for granted that women can be rabbis, count in a minyan, and read from the Torah. And Jewish historians being trained today are called to task when the do not take gender into account. Paula Hyman was at the forefront of the religious and intellectual struggles that generated these changes. Her influence extended both into the academy and far beyond it, affecting the lives of Jewish females in schools and congregations in ways of which many are still unaware.

The reflections that follow give some glimpses into her legacy, and the extraordinary ways in which she shaped the Jewish feminist world we live in today.

Read more in a free download from Lilith’s Spring 2012 issue.