Sarah Schenirer and the Bais Yaakov Movement

BookSarah Schenirer and the Bais Yaakov Movement

Sarah Schenirer and the Bais Yaakov Movement

A Revolution in the Name of Tradition

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


January 31st, 2019

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National Jewish Book Awards 2019 Winner of the Barbara Dobkin Award for Women’s Studies and Finalist for Education and Jewish Identity.

Sarah Schenirer is one of the unsung heroes of twentieth-century Orthodox Judaism. The Bais Yaakov schools she founded in interwar Poland had an unparalleled impact on a traditional Jewish society threatened by assimilation and modernity, educating a generation of girls to take an active part in their community. The movement grew at an astonishing pace, expanding to include high schools, teacher seminaries, summer programmes, vocational schools, and youth movements, in Poland and beyond; it continues to flourish throughout the Jewish diaspora.

Naomi Seidman explores the movement through the tensions that characterized it, capturing its complexity as a revolution in the name of tradition. She presents the context which led to its founding, examining the impact of socialism, feminism, Zionism, and Polish electoral politics on the process, and recounts its history, from its foundation in interwar Kraków to its near-destruction in the Holocaust, and its role in the reconstruction of Orthodoxy in subsequent decades.

A vivid portrait of Schenirer shines through. The book includes selections from her writings published in English for the first time. Her pioneering, determined character remains the subject of debate in a culture that still regards innovation, female initiative, and women’s Torah study with suspicion.

Fascinating new book ... Seidman is one of the most interesting scholars working in Jewish studies today.'
Rokhl Kafrissen, Tablet Magazine

'Professor Seidman recounts stories, legends, and myths about Schenirer. Here is a towering figure, a revolutionary who changed Jewish Orthodoxy, but who also embodied the values that tradition associated with femininity: simplicity, humbleness, and maternal care… We have empirical proof: Bais Yaakov gave birth to many ethically engaged, Jewish-educated women, among them, Naomi Seidman, author, scholar, and feminist.'
Brian Horowitz, H-Judaic

'[Sarah Schenirer and the Bais Yaakov Movement] serves as an important first major study of a figure and a movement that marked a significant shift in the position of Orthodox women… Seidman writes with passion, scholarship, and lucid prose.'
Jackie Rosensweig, Tradition

'Seidman’s study brings women’s voices back to the centre of the history of Orthodoxy. Much of the reason that women have been overlooked in the study of Orthodoxy has been the subjects that scholars and fields of study define as worthy of attention. As Seidman’s study reveals there is an abundance of data and archives to present a full—not simply a male—history of Orthodoxy.'
Eliyahu Stern, Shofar

'By combining her thoughtful monograph with a full translation of Schenirer’s available Yiddish writings, Seidman has made these important documents widely available in English for the first time… her nuanced portrait will only encourage other scholars to delve further into the many unanswered questions surrounding a movement that she has amply and subtly shown to be “a revolution in the name of tradition.”'
Eliyana R. Adler, Shofar

'An extremely valuable aspect of the book is its broad context, which allows the reader to see Schenirer’s work against the background of the changes taking place at that time not only within Orthodox Judaism itself but also in the emergent feminist, socialist, Zionist, and Yiddishist movements.'
Joanna Lisek, Shofar

'Sarah Schenirer and the Bais Yaakov Movement, which so many have been waiting for, does not disappoint. Only after seeing how significant Sarah Schenirer was can we both wonder why it took so long for a rigorous study of Bais Yaakov to appear, and realise how appreciative we have to be to Seidman for removing the veil of hagiography from this subject.'
Marc B. Shapiro, Shofar

'Naomi Seidman’s book fills a void in the study of modern Jewish history… This book is a building block in the future research of Orthodoxy and opens new frontiers for scholarship.'
Ilan Fuchs, The Lehrhaus

'Naomi Seidman is uniquely qualified to write the definitive biography of Sarah Schenirer... Seidman portrays Schenirer as a learned, charismatic educator, worthy of being taken seriously in the field of modern Jewish thought... I recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of Jewish women’s education or allied fields.'
Debbie Weissman, Nashim

Author Information

Naomi Seidman is the Chancellor Jackman Professor in the Arts at the University of Toronto. She was previously the Koret Professor of Jewish Culture at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2016. Her previous books include Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation (2006) and The Marriage Plot; or, How Jews Fell in Love with Love, and with Literature (2016).

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
List of Illustrations12
Note on Transliteration15
1. ‘In a Place Where There Are No Men’: Before Bais Yaakov32
2. ‘A New Thing that Our Ancestors Never Imagined’: Beginnings (1917–1924)66
3. ‘Building Bais Yaakov’: Institution and Charisma84
4. ‘So Shall You Say to the House of Jacob’: Forging the Discourse of Bais Yaakov123
5. ‘A New Kind of Woman’: Bais Yaakov as Traditionalist Revolution159
Epilogue: ‘Bais Yaakov, Let Us Walk in the Light of the Lord’: Destruction and Rebirth220
Translator’s Note242
Foreword to the 1955 Edition244
Foreword to the 1933 Edition249
A Letter from the Hafets Hayim251
Introduction to the 1955 Edition253
I Pages from My Life256
II Bais Yaakov and Bnos Agudath Israel268
III The Jewish Year302
IV Jewish Women’s Lives: The Sacred Obligations of the Jewish Woman343
V Ten Letters to Jewish Children352
VI A Letter from Mrs Schenirer, May She Rest in Peace371
VII With Perseverance and Faith: From Kraków to New York378
A. From the Diary384
B. Sarah Schenirer’s Family Tree396
C. Map of Sarah Schenirer’s Kraków402
D. Maps of Bais Yaakov Schools, 1935406
(1) in Poland and Lithuania408
(2) in Austria, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Hungary409
E. The Bnos Agudath Israel Anthem410
Index of Citations426
Index of Subjects430