The JPS Guide to Jewish Women: 600 BCE 1900 CE

The Jewish Publication Society Philadelphia 2003
Reviewed by DOLORES SLOAN

In presenting the background and biographies of Jewish women for more than 2000 years the authors of this comprehensive sourcebook have undertaken to correct the picture usually presented in works of history Their final product The JPS Guide to Jewish Women: 600 BCE1900 can be called herstory a term the reviewer recalls being coined in the early 70’s to describe scholarly studies of the past that break free of the patriarchal bent that for so often and for so long has dominated the perspective for viewing people and events of the past With this point of view the researcher sees with a broader lens the contributions of players of both genders to the panoply of history The authors are indeed part of the process where “In the last thirty or forty years scholars and historians have searched out and analyzed literary documentary and archeological evidence that challenges the old stereotypes”

The JPS Guide to Jewish Women is organized both chronologically and geographically There are several chapters on Jewish women in Islam lands for example Chapter 3 on the Near East North Africa and Spain to 1492 and Chapter 7 on their lives in Islamic nations from 1492 to 1750 These chapters as well as Chapter 6 covering Italy until the 1800s would be particularly relevant to the studies and interests of SCJS members Readers will also find the cryptoJewish experience or its roots in the chapters covering European and New World women and events

Some of the better known women of medieval and early modern Sephardic and crypto Jewish women’s herstory walk through the pages such as Benvenida Abravanel and Gracia Nasi along with lesser known but equally accomplished individuals such as Floreta Ca Noga fourteenthcentury physician to the Queen of Aragon and Merecina of Gerona fifteenth century poet Other examples include Francesca de Carvajal sister to the sixteenthcentury Governor of the area that is now Monterrey Mexico and Grace Aguilar popular English nineteenthcentury novelist and Jewish educator Sara Copio Sullam sixteenth century Italian poet and essayist and Emma Lazarus nineteenth century poet and social activist

The book’s design intersperses biographical narrative sidebars with excerpts and quotations relating to particular individuals covered in the chapter Including poetry prose and comments by contemporaries the reviewer found the sidebars valuable in bringing personalities to life Rich in content and accessible in format The JPS Guide to Jewish Women is a useful addition to the bookshelves of those with interest in crypto Judaism and its Sephardic rootsEmily Taitz has a PhD in medieval Jewish history from the Jewish Theological Seminary is the author of The Jews of Medieval France: The Community of Champagne and coauthor of Remarkable Jewish Women: Rebels Rabbis and Other Women Historian and lawyer Sondra Hanry is coauthor with Taitz of Remarkable Jewish Women Cheryl Tallan is the author of Medieval Jewish Women in History Literature Law and Art: A Bibliography

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