Remembering Paula Hyman: Pioneering Historian and Feminist

By Deborah Dash Moore
The Forward, December 15, 2011

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 Feminist in Poland,” it could stand as an apt characterization of Paula 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. And in doing so, Paula, who died of cancer December 15 at age 65, found a way to marry her two passions: Jewish history and feminism.

Paula 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 brought gender analysis into the mainstream of Jewish historical scholarship. For example, Paula invited serious consideration of Jewish women’s organizations such as Hadassah, long scorned by male historians and skewered by comedians.

The Hebrew translation of Paula’s 1995 book, “Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History: The Roles and Representation of Women,” helped coin a new Hebrew word for “gender”: migdar. In 1997, Paula and I co-edited the two-volume “Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia,” which inspired plentiful scholarship on hundreds of American Jewish women in arts, politics, society and religion.

Born in Boston on September 30, 1946, the eldest of Sydney and Ida Tatelman Hyman’s three daughters, Paula went to public schools and supplementary Hebrew schools. She earned undergraduate degrees at Radcliffe College and Boston’s Hebrew Teachers College. She went on to Columbia University, where she studied under such scholars as Gerson Cohen and Ismar Schorsch, and where she received her master’s degree and doctorate in Jewish history.

Her years in New York, during the 1970s and ’80s, proved formative. She joined the New York Havurah, an experimental Jewish religious community, and she helped found Ezrat Nashim, a Jewish women’s consciousness-raising group that advocated for women’s equality in American Jewish life. Paula also pressed the Conservative movement to count women in a minyan and ordain women as rabbis.

Her activism did not derail her pursuits of a sustained scholarly career and a rich family life. In 1969 she married Stanley H. Rosenbaum, then a medical student, and the couple had two daughters, Judith and Adina.

In 1974, Paula accepted a position on the history faculty at Columbia University. She went on to adapt her doctoral dissertation into the 1979 book “From Dreyfus to Vichy: The Remaking of French Jewry, 1906–1939,” which established her as a rising star in Jewish history. She then embarked on a micro-history of small Jewish communities in Alsace, France, publishing in 1991 “The Emancipation of the Jews of Alsace: Acculturation and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century.”

She also deployed her historical acumen to bring immigrant Jewish women’s history into the consciousness of American Jews. A 1982 article on the 1902 New York kosher meat boycott led by immigrant Jewish housewives became her most anthologized work.

Paula pursued such path-breaking activities even as she faced multiple bouts of cancer, over the course of more than 30 years. She battled illness courageously, refusing to slacken her pace. When her daughter Judith became a bat mitzvah, Paula read Torah despite having undergone an operation to remove a brain tumor six days earlier. But living with an acute consciousness of her mortality toughened her, making her impatient with tokenism involving women.

Paula nourished several generations of students at Columbia, the Jewish Theological Seminary and Yale University. In 1981 she became first woman to serve as dean of the seminary’s Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies, and in 1986 she joined the faculty of Yale, becoming Lucy Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History. Three years after coming to Yale, she was appointed director of the Jewish studies department, becoming the first woman to lead a major university’s Jewish studies program; she held that position for more than a decade.

Selected as a fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research in 1995, she became the society’s first female president in 2004.

Paula and I co-edited the Modern Jewish Experience series at Indiana University Press for almost 30 years, publishing a steady stream of books that helped to launch aspiring Jewish historians. Until October, she was a member of the Forward Association’s board of directors and chair of the association’s publications committee.

Paula Hyman leaves behind an extraordinary legacy — a body of scholarship that radically altered modern Jewish studies, a large cohort of students and colleagues profoundly influenced by her insights, and a transformed American Jewish community that recognizes the principle and even necessity of women’s equality — as well as deep friendships, a loving husband and two accomplished daughters.

Deborah Dash Moore is the Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of History and director of the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan.

Her Story is Over: Paula Hyman
By Renee Levine Melammed
Jerusalem Post, December 23, 2011

On December 15, one of the most eminent historians of modern Jewish history, Paula E. Hyman, died. Within a few short hours, numerous eulogies appeared on Judaic studies and women’s studies forums. Although it would be impossible to list and describe the numerous impressive accomplishments of this amazing woman in this short column, an attempt to highlight her life will be made.

Paula was an outstanding scholar, beginning her studies (simultaneously) at Radcliffe and Hebrew College and continuing her graduate studies at Columbia University, where she specialized in modern French Jewish history. Even before she completed and published completing and publishing her dissertation, “From Dreyfus to Vichy,” she and her colleagues produced “Jewish Women in America” (1976). Her feminist sensitivity often stunned male colleagues in the early years (Paula was justifiably outraged when she read Solomon Schechter’s assessment of Glikl of Hameln as a “simple housewife”), but in retrospect it is clear that she was shocking them with ideas that are taken for granted today.

Paula was a nurturer, an enabler and an activist. Her life was a juggling act; she wore innumerable hats. It is impossible to comprehend how she balanced everything while maintaining such high standards. She was inspired by her study of Eastern European immigrant women who reached America’s shores. (See “Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History” lectures presented at the University of Washington). She co-edited comprehensive encyclopedias concerning Jewish women; she had been working on a reader containing translations of modern women’s writings, particularly in Yiddish, which were not previously available in English.

Prof. Hyman was a devoted and enthusiastic teacher and administrator. She taught at Columbia University and served as dean of the Seminar College of Jewish Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary (1981-1986). She was named the Lucy Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History at Yale University, where she chaired the program of Judaic Studies for 10 years. She was always available to her students and was an inspiration to students and colleagues alike.

Paula was endlessly being asked to serve in any of numerous capacities: boards of directors of associations, advisory councils, executive boards, as series editor for publishing houses and academic presses and on editorial boards of almost all the significant journals of Jewish history, Jewish studies and women’s studies. She reviewed hundreds of books for publishers and advanced projects in women’s history time and again. She was on the scene and behind the scenes, helping young scholars and colleagues alike. I gained insight into this aspect of her life while on sabbatical at Yale in 2006; until then, our meetings had been limited to her visits to Israel and to conferences abroad. Spending a year in Paula’s department with an office around the corner from her was an incredible treat, enabling us to share ideas, to attend lectures and share meals together and allowing me to see the wide gamut of her intellectual pursuits and contributions.

Fortunately, her efforts were recognized as she garnered awards and grants, honorary degrees, travel funds and recognition. Paula traveled a great deal, coming to Israel as often as possible, lecturing in fluent Hebrew. Precisely one year ago she was presented with a jubilee volume in her honor at a moving celebration in Boston (Gender and Jewish History, Indiana University Press).

She was also incredibly active as a Conservative Jew, as one of the founders of the Ezrat Nashim movement (1971) and as a devoted member and Torah reader in her synagogue in Westville, Connecticut. Paula was a fighter, having survived numerous bouts of cancer, defying all odds; she survived so many times that we all considered her to be invincible. There is no doubt in my mind that Paula’s story touched the lives of students and colleagues alike. Paula inspired so many of us, from near and afar, and helped create a “world of our mothers.” Her beloved family, husband Dr. Stanley Rosenbaum and daughters Judith and Adina, should be comforted in knowing that Paula’s story touched so many lives.

Renée Levine Melammed is a professor of Jewish history and dean at the Schechter Institute as well as academic editor of the journal Nashim. She has published books and articles on Sephardi and Oriental Jewry and on Jewish women.

Paul Hyman, 1946-2011
Encyclopedia of Jewish Women

by Richard Cohen

Scholarship, feminism, dedication, perseverance and integrity immediately come to mind when Paula Hyman’s name is mentioned. Those who know her well would add family and friendship to the list. Though she has ostensibly moved only from Boston, where she was born on September 30, 1946, to her present residence in New Haven, Connecticut, Hyman has traveled wide and far, spiritually, intellectually and physically. Hyman remains steadfast in her dedication to Jewish and humanitarian commitments and to her professional and personal concerns.

The oldest of three sisters, Paula was educated in a home where Jewish culture was an essential aspect of her upbringing, and so it has remained throughout her own career. Her mother, Ida (Tatelman), the daughter of impoverished Russian immigrants, transferred her aspirations for education to her daughters while managing the household and working as a bookkeeper. Her father Sydney, the son of Lithuanian immigrants, worked as an office manager to support his family. Upon graduating from high school, Hyman studied at Radcliffe College, where she received her B.A. (summa cum laude) in 1968, having studied with a wide range of scholars in the Humanities, including two renowned mentors in Jewish history, Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi and Isadore Twersky. She acquired her knowledge of Hebrew and of classic Jewish texts from the Hebrew Teachers College of Boston (now Hebrew College), which she attended ten to thirteen hours a week in addition to regular high school and college. In 1966 she gained her B. J. Ed. there.

Hyman went on to Columbia University to do post-graduate work in history and completed her Ph.D. in 1975, after studying with distinguished medievalists, Gerson D. Cohen and Zvi Ankori, and prominent modern historians, Robert O. Paxton and Ismar Schorsch. Hyman‘s dissertation on the Jews in France after the Dreyfus Affair appeared with Columbia University Press under the title From Dreyfus to Vichy: The Remaking of French Jewry, 1906–1939 (1979), a work that immediately asserted her place among modern Jewish historians. Widely acclaimed and one of the finalists for the annual National Jewish Book Award in history, From Dreyfus to Vichy treated carefully and judiciously the different strands of French Jewry, granting special attention to the inter-war period and the dramatic transformation of the Jewish community, by virtue of the extensive immigration of Eastern European Jews.

While still a graduate student, Hyman joined with two colleagues, Charlotte Baum and Sonya Michel, to publish a pioneering work on The Jewish Woman in America (1976), that gave pride of place to Hyman’s growing involvement in Jewish feminism, both on a scholarly and a personal level. In 1971 she had been one of the founders of Ezrat Nashim, a small feminist activist group that lobbied vigorously for the ordaining of women as Conservative rabbis and for equality of women in Jewish religious and communal life.

Indeed, French Jewry and Jewish feminism were to remain at the center of her intellectual and communal attention during the following decades. Her work on French Jewry in the modern period entered into new directions with the publication of The Emancipation of the Jews of Alsace. Acculturation and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century (1991). Forever interested, academically and personally, in the ways in which Jews construct different forms of identity in a non-traditional society, Hyman inquired into the ways in which modernization impacted upon Jews in the Alsatian cities and countryside following emancipation. Sensitively employing the tools of a social historian, she looked at a wide range of sources to understand the behavioral patterns of “simple Jews” (e. g. peddlers, shopkeepers, cattle dealers). She concluded that they showed a greater ability to withstand the pressures of modernization than previously maintained with regard to city Jews. In this study she was also concerned with identifying how the process of modernization impacted on the experience of Jewish women, and she successfully illuminated aspects of their ritual observance and economic involvement. Hyman’s move from the ideological problems that dominated her interest in the first book to social ones in this study attested to her ability to address a wide-range of social and cultural issues in equally professional quality. Her synthetic volume The Jews of Modern France (1998) was thus a natural outgrowth of these different interests and a product of her full command of the scholarship in modern French history and modern French Jewish history. Indeed, her perspective in this volume is grounded in her belief that French Jewish history highlights the evolution of French history while attesting to the struggle of a minority group to sustain itself in a highly centralized state system.

While pursuing these works, Hyman continued her engagement in the history of Jewish women and her efforts to integrate their experience into the Jewish historical narrative. She taught and lectured on Jewish women and after publishing Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History: The Roles and Representation of Women (1995), a book on the process of acculturation of women in America and Europe that developed from the Stroum Lectures, she undertook with Deborah Dash Moore the editing of a two-volume historical encyclopedia Jewish Women in America (1997). The latter work, which generated much enthusiasm among scholars and received several distinguished awards, could not have come to fruition without the tremendous dedication of the editors. Following that effort, Hyman published the memoirs of Puah Rakovsky (My Life as a Radical Jewish Woman. Memoirs of a Zionist Feminist in Poland, 2002), whose life story as a committed feminist and Zionist was very close to her heart. Indeed, like Puah, Hyman could not live a life without total engagement in these areas, as in others.

Hyman was always involved and active in academic and communal affairs while she pursued her career. After serving as assistant professor of history at Columbia (1974–1981), she became dean of the Seminary College of Jewish Studies, the first woman to hold the position, and associate professor of History at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (1981–1986). In 1986 she became the Lucy Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History at Yale University, where she served for over a decade as chair of Jewish Studies. Deeply committed to the advancement of Jewish studies, she has directed a large number of doctoral dissertations and has given herself unstintingly to a wide range of professional associations, bringing to all of them unfailing energy, exceptional insight and unique dedication. In recognition of her contribution to Jewish scholarship and her leadership role, in 2004 she received the Lifetime Achievement Award in Historical Studies from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture and was elected President of the American Academy for Jewish Research. She has served as an active member of various editorial boards of leading research journals (e. g. YIVO Annual, Jewish Social Studies, AJS Review, Journal for the Feminist Study of Religion) and, with Deborah Dash Moore, has for over two decades edited Indiana University Press’s series on The Modern Jewish Experience. She has been awarded many distinguished prizes and awards, including honorary degrees from the Hebrew Union College (2002) and The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (2000). Her most recent work has been as co-editor, with Dalia Ofer, of Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

A role model for many Jewish women, Hyman has shared her dedication to and vision of Judaism with her husband Dr. Stanley Rosenbaum and their two daughters, Judith (b. 1973) and Adina (b. 1976). Her profound involvement in the professional world was matched only by her commitment to family and Jewish communal affairs. A Zionist, Hyman regularly spends time in Israel, lecturing in Hebrew as well as English at the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University. She has been involved in liberal political causes both in the Jewish community and in the larger American society. Never one to be stymied by adversity and difficulty, Hyman was forthright and accomplished in all that she set out to do and has made her impact in all her fields of endeavor, both personal and public.



The Jewish Woman in America, co-authored with Charlotte Baum and Sonya Michel. New York: 1976; From Dreyfus to Vichy: The Remaking of French Jewry, 1906–1939. New York: 1979; The Jewish Family: Myths and Reality, edited with Steven M. Cohen. New York: 1986; The Emancipation of the Jews of Alsace: Acculturation and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century. New Haven: 1991; Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History: The Roles and Representation of Women. Seattle: 1995; Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, co-edited with Deborah Dash Moore, 2 vols. New York: 1997; The Jews of Modern France. Berkeley and Los Angeles: 1998; My Life as a Radical Jewish Woman: Memoirs of a Zionist Feminist in Poland, by Puah Rakovsky, edited with an introduction and notes. Bloomington: 2001; Jewish Women in Eastern Europe, co-edited with ChaeRan Freeze and Antony Polonsky. Polin, Volume 18, 2005.


“Immigrant Women and Consumer Protest: The New York Kosher Meat Boycott of 1902.” American Jewish History (1980); 91–105; “From City to Suburb: Temple Mishkan Tefila of Boston.” In The American Synagogue: A Sanctuary Transformed, edited by Jack Wertheimer, 85–105. Cambridge and New York: 1987; “The Modern Jewish Family: Image and Reality.” In The Jewish Family: Metaphor and Memory, edited by David Kraemer. New York and Oxford: 1989; 179–193; “The Ideological Transformation of Modern Jewish Historiography.” In The State of Jewish Studies, edited by Shaye J. D. Cohen and Edward L. Greenstein, 143–157, Detroit: 1990; “The Dynamics of Social History.” Studies in Contemporary Jewry 10 (1994): 93–111; “The Jewish Body Politic: Gendered Politics in the Early Twentieth Century.” Nashim 2 (1999): 37–51; “National Contexts, East European Immigrants, and Jewish Identity: A Comparative Analysis.” In National Variations in Modern Jewish Identity, edited by Steven M. Cohen and Gabriel Horenczyk, 109–123. Albany: 1999; “The Transnational Experience of Jewish Women in Western and Central Europe after World War I.” In European Jews and Jewish Europeans between the Two World Wars, edited by Raya Cohen, 21–33 (Michael, vol. 16, 2004); “Interpretive Contest: Art Critics and Jewish Historians.” In Text and Context: Essays in Modern Jewish History and Historiography in Honor of Ismar Schorsch, edited by Eli Lederhendler and Jack Wertheimer, 74–94. New York: 2005.

Richard Cohen holds the Paulette and Claude Kelman Chair in French Jewry Studies, Department of Jewish History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.



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