Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, Volume 18

Jewish Women in Eastern Europe
Edited by ChaeRan Freeze, Paula Hyman & Antony Polonsky

This is the first collection of essays devoted to the study of Jewish women's experiences in eastern Europe. It attempts to go beyond mere description of what women experienced and to explore how gender constructed distinct experiences and identities, seeking thereby to recover lost voices and place them into a broader analytical framework. It is an important first step in the rethinking of east European Jewish history with the aid of new insights gleaned from the research on gender.

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Jewish women's exclusion from the public domains of religious and civil life has been reflected in their near absence in the master narratives of the East European Jewish past. As a result, the study of Jewish women in eastern Europe is still in its infancy. The fundamental task of historians to construct women as historical subjects, 'as a focus of inquiry, a subject of the story, an agent of the narrative', has only recently begun. This volume is the first collection of essays devoted to the study of Jewish women's experiences in Eastern Europe.
The guest editors for this volume are Paula Hyman of Yale University, a leading figure in Jewish women’s history in the United States, and ChaeRan Freeze of Brandeis University, author of a prize-winning study on Jewish divorce in nineteenth-century Russia. Their introduction provides a much-needed historiographic survey that summarizes the major work in the field and highlights the lacunae. Their contributors, following this lead, have attempted to go beyond mere description of what women experienced to explore how gender constructed distinct experiences, identities, and meanings. Among them, Shulamit S. Magnus analyses perhaps the best-known memoir written by an east European Jewish woman—Pauline Wengeroff’s Memoirs of a Jewish Grandmother. Ellen Kellman explores the life of a prominent Jewish feminist whose activism was shaped by the devastating impact of the First World War. Moshe Rosman considers the question of whether Jewish women in eastern Europe had power. There are two chapters on the education of Jewish women in eastern Europe (Eliyana Adler, Carole Balin), and two on Jewish women who converted to Christianity (ChaeRan Freeze, Rachel Manekin). Tova Cohen considers how female authors writing in Hebrew encoded their gender concerns in their writing, while Ewa Plach demonstrates the concerns of cosmopolitan bourgeois and intellectual Jewish women. Her analysis of a Zionist women’s Polish-language feminist newspaper illustrates the heterogeneity of Polish Jewish womanhood and the hybrid nature of Jewish identity.

In seeking to recover lost achievements and voices and place them into a broader analytical framework, this volume is an important first step in the rethinking of east European Jewish history with the aid of new insights gleaned from the research on gender.

As in earlier volumes of Polin, substantial space is given, in ‘New Views’, to recent research in other areas of Polish–Jewish studies, and there is a book review section.


About the editors

ChaeRan Freeze is Associate Professor of East European Jewish History at Brandeis University and author of Jewish Marriage and Divorce in Imperial Russia.
Paula Hyman is Lucy Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History at Yale University. Among her books are Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History and The Jews of Modern France; she is co-editor of the prizewinning encyclopedia Jewish Women in America and of Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia.
Antony Polonsky
is Albert Abramson Professor of Holocaust Studies at Brandeis University and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Chief Historian of the Permanent Collection of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw.


Eliyana R. Adler, postdoctoral Fellow, Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies, University of Maryland
Karen Auerbach, Brandeis University
Carole B. Balin, Associate Professor of History, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York
Tova Cohen, Department of Hebrew Literature and Chair, Interdisciplinary Program in Gender Studies, Bar-Ilan University
Martin Dean, Research Scholar, Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC
ChaeRan Freeze, Associate Professor of East European Jewish History, Brandeis University
Jakub Goldberg, Professor Emeritus, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Zenon Guldon, Professor Emeritus, Akademia Swietokrzyska, Kielce
Paula Hyman, Lucy Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History, Yale University
Jack Jacobs, Professor of Political Science, Graduate Center, The City University of New York
Ellen Kellman, Lecturer in Yiddish, Assistant Professor, Brandeis University
Waldemar Kowalski, Professor, Akademia Swietokrzyska, Kielce
Sarunas Liekis, Associate Professor, Lithuanian University of Law, Vilnius; Director, Vilnius Yiddish Institute
Shulamit S. Magnus, Associate Professor, History Department, Oberlin College
Rachel Manekin, Hebrew University of Jersualem and Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, Jerusalem
Susanne Marten-Finnis, Reader in German Studies, Queen's University of Belfast
Yohanan Petrovsky, Assistant Professor, History Department and Crown Center for Jewish Studies, Northwestern University; Fellow, Davis Center for Russian Studies, Harvard University
Eva Plach, Assistant Professor of History, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario
Moshe Rosman, Bar-Ilan University
Helene J. Sinnreich, Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Mississippi
Katarzyna Zechenter, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London



Note on Place Names
Note on Transliteration

Part I Jewish Women in Eastern Europe

Introduction: An Historiographical Survey
ChaeRan Freeze and Paula Hyman

The History of Jewish Women in Early Modern Poland: An Assessment
Moshe Rosman

The Maskilot: Between Feminine and Feminist Writing?
Tova Cohen

Sins of Youth, Guilt of a Grandmother: M. L. Lilienblum, Pauline Wengeroff, and the Telling of Jewish Modernity in Eastern Europe
Shulamit S. Magnus

Women's Education in the Pages of the Russian Jewish Press
Eliyana R. Adler

The Call to Serve: Jewish Women Medical Students in Russia, 1872-1887
Carole B. Balin

When Chava Left Home: Gender, Conversion, and the Jewish Family in Tsarist Russia
ChaeRan Freeze

The Lost Generation: Education and Female Conversion in Fin-de-Siècle Kraków
Rachel Manekin

Feminism and Fiction: Khane Blankshteyn's Role in Inter-War Vilna
Ellen Kellman

Feminism and Nationalism on the Pages of Ewa: Tygodnik, 1928-1933
Eva Plach

Interview with Professor Jadwiga Maurer
Katarzyna Zechenter

Bibliography: Jewish Women in Eastern Europe
Karen Auerbach

Part II   New Views

Jewish Settlement in the Polish Commonwealth in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century
Zenon Guldon and Waldemar Kowalski

Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz on Polish Jewry
Jakub Goldberg

Translation as a Weapon for the Truth: The Bund's Policy of Multilingualism, 1902-1906
Susanne Marten-Finnis

Poles in the German Local Police in Eastern Poland and their Role in the Holocaust
Martin Dean

Part III   Reviews

review essays

Communist Questions, Jewish Answers: Polish Jewish Dissident Communists of the Inter-War Era
Jack Jacobs

On Solzhenitsyn's 'Middle Path'
Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern

Three Books on the Lódz Ghetto
Helene J. Sinnreich

BOOK Reviews
Dora Kacnelson           
Adam Penkalla

Notes on the Contributors



'In many respects, the publication of a collection such as Jewish Women in Eastern Europe signals the emergence of a new area of research. Although scholars of east European Jewry began applying the insights of gender studies to their research relatively recently, the breadth and depth of scholarship showcased in this volume illustrates a commitment to reshaping our understanding of Jewish life in eastern Europe along gender lines. This collection, which is the first in the Polin series to be devoted to gender analysis as well as the first such compilation on east European Jewish women generally, should thus prove foundational in this developing field . . . offers generally high quality articles that will prove interesting to scholars of gender history, Jewish history, and east European Jewish history as well as to advanced students working on relevant topics.'
Elana Jakel, Canadian Slavonic Papers / Revue canadienne des slavistes

‘In recent years there has been a fair amount of research and publication on East European Jewish women. Two of the editors of this volume have taken a leading role in the field and have written path-breaking books on the topic. However, many of the studies are scattered, and not all are easily accessible. Therefore, the decision to devote a volume of Polin to the topic of Jewish women in eastern Europe was very justified. Not surprisingly, the editors were able to collect some excellent studies that make this book essential reading for both gender issues and East European Jewish history. The authors employ a variety of methodologies and use diverse sources. However, most of the studies can be characterized by a palpable excitement and enthusiasm for the topic, their readers, and most of all for the subjects of the papers . . . the introduction is a very comprehensive and readable historiographical survey written by the editors of the volume. They made a real effort to integrate the topic of Jewish women in Eastern Europe into both the general literature about women in the past and the literature on the history of Jews in Eastern Europe . . . This volume, like the others in the series, is distinguished by the value and  originality of the contributions, the careful editing, the attractive appearance, and concern for readers. It should be noted that the volume has a detailed index that includes not only names but topics. Someone worked hard on it. All in all, this volume of Polin is a very important contribution to the field and a pleasure to read. What more could one ask for?’
Shaul Stampfer, Shofar