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Women’s History 101, and Beyond

Two new reference texts appeared this year in the area of Jewish women’s history: The JPS Guide to Jewish Women: 600 BCE – 1900 CE, by Emily Taitz, Sondra Henry & Cheryl Tallan (Jewish Publication Society, $25); and American Jewish Women’s History: A Reader, edited by Pamela S. Nadell, (NYU Press, $24).

The JPS Guide covers much of the same material as Written Out of History, Taitz and Henry’s 1988 volume. Both books discuss, for example, the Talmudist Beruriah of the Second Century, with evidence of her wisdom and wit as found in textual sources. The new Guide also names several other women from the period, although some of them rate little more than a paragraph. The advantage to the new volume comes at the beginning and end of each chapter, with more in-depth exploration and commentary about the historic periods and regions covered, and the roles of women in general and Jewish women in particular in that time and place.

Pamela S. Nadell’s American Jewish Women s History is an anthology of essays ranging from Jewish women’s organizations and involvement in labor and civil rights movements to cultural identities and the emergence of modern feminism. Nadell does not give biographical entries as The JPS Guide or the 1998 two-volume encyclopedia Jewish Women in America do. Rather, the essays focus primarily on 19th- and early-to-mid-20th-century struggles, offering insight into the role of Jewish women in the small moments of history that might go unnoticed.

The entries, though tantalizing, are sometimes dismayingly brief Both Nadell’s own essay. Women Who Would Be Rabbis, and Paula Hyman’s essay detailing the convergence of and conflict between the women’s movement and Jewish feminism only graze major issues.

Rebecca Schwartz is the editor of All the Women Followed Her: A Collection of Writings on Miriam the Prophet and the Women of Exodus (2001). She teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area.