Paula Hyman, a pioneering historian of modern Jews, published “My Life as a Radical Jewish Woman,” in 2001. Without its subtitle, “Memoirs of a Zionist Socialist in Poland,” it could stand as an apt characterization of Hyman herself.
The Yale University historian chose to edit the English translation of Puah Rakovsky’s Yiddish memoir because she sensed a kindred spirit whose feminism and dedication to Jewish education, Zionism, family and community paralleled her own commitments. In doing so, Hyman, who died of cancer December 15 at age 65, found a way to marry her two passions: Jewish history and feminism.
Hyman wanted to reclaim Jewish women activists of yore for contemporary Jews as part of her lifelong mission to challenge received ideas about leadership, values and ways of doing things in the United States and Israel. Her work ultimately transformed Jewish historical scholarship by bringing gender analysis into its mainstream. The Hebrew translation of Hyman’s 1995 book, “Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History: The Roles and Representation of Women,” helped coin a new Hebrew word for “gender.” And her two-volume “Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia,” published in 1997, opened up the field of Jewish women’s history.