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Solomon Schechter, Rivka Lipa
and Jewish Women’s Studies

Jewish Education
Responsa by David Golinkin

Insight Israel

Vol. 6, No. 4

December 2005

In memory of

Solomon Schechter

on his 90th yahrzeit

12 Kislev 5766.

 

On December 15, 2005, the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies held its first annual “Sarah Becker Frank Conference on the Status of Women in Israel” on the topic of “Forming a New Social Order: Women and Womanhood Shaping Yishuv Society”.  The following is an English translation of Prof. Golinkin’s opening remarks.

 1)  Introduction

I would like to begin by thanking those who made this conference possible: Mr. Sidney Frank made a generous donation in memory of his mother Sarah Becker Frank z”l; our Board member Ms. Atara Ciechanover arranged for this gift; and Prof. Renee Levine Melammed and Dr. Bat Sheva Margalit Stern planned the conference.

This conference is part of an array of academic activities which have made the Schechter Institute one of the main centers of Jewish Women’s Studies in the State of Israel. These activities have taken four forms:

In the past, we hosted two academic conferences on Jewish Women’s Studies, and the proceedings of one were published in book form.1

In 1994, the Schechter Institute started an M.A. track in Jewish Women’s Studies, and since then, dozens of students have specialized in this field while hundreds of others have participated in these courses. This year we are offering fifteen M.A. courses in Jewish Women’s Studies.

In 1997, we began to publish Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies and Gender Issues together with the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute.2 It is now co-published twice a year with Indiana University Press as the third partner and the tenth issue just appeared.

Finally, the Schechter Institute founded the Center for Women in Jewish Law in 1999, and since then, the Center has published a series of books and pamphlets on the Agunah crisis and on women in the synagogue.3

2) Solomon Schechter and Jewish Women’s Studies

December 13th, the 12th of Kislev, was the 90th yahrzeit of Solomon Schechter for whom this institution is named. Schechter was at home in all areas of Wissenschaft des Judentums (the Science of Judaism) or Jewish Studies. Indeed, he stated in his Inaugural Address as President of the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1902 that

We all agree that the office of a Jewish minister is to teach Judaism; he should accordingly receive such a training as to enable him to say: “Judaeici nihil a me alienum puto –  I regard nothing Jewish as foreign to me”. He should know everything Jewish – Bible, Talmud, Midrash, Liturgy, Jewish ethics and Jewish philosophy; Jewish history and Jewish mysticism and even Jewish folklore. None of these subjects, with its various ramifications, should be entirely strange to him.4

 A perusal of a bibliography of Schechter’s writings shows that he was na’eh doresh v’ na’eh mekayeim – he practiced what he preached. He published articles and books on Bible, Apocrypha, Talmud, Theology, History, Literature, the Genizah and much more.5

Therefore, it is not surprising that he published a number of articles related to Jewish women in his classic Studies in Judaism. The First Series contains “Women in Temple and Synagogue” from 1891, a very good historical survey of the participation of Jewish women in public prayer from the bible until the nineteenth century, which remains relevant until today.6

 The Second Series contains his detailed review of David Kaufmann’s Judeo-German edition of the Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln.7   In this review, Schechter introduced Gluckel to the English-speaking world, where she has remained a subject of serious study until today.8

Schechter showed an interest in the history of Jewish women even when studying other topics. In his survey of the Hebrew collection of the British Museum, he writes:

But even when the whole of Jewish literature lies before the student in the best of texts, there will still remain a great charm about manuscripts. Printed books, like the great mass of the modern society for which they are prepared, are devoid of any originality. They interest us only as classes, and it is very seldom that they have a story of their own to tell. It is quite different with manuscripts, where the fact of their having been produced by a living being invests them with a certain kind of individuality. This is specially the case with Hebrew MSS., which were not copied by men shut up in cloisters, but by sociable people living in the world and sharing its joys and sorrows. Even women were employed in this art, and I remember to have read in some MS. or catalogue a postscript by the lady copyist, which, if I remember rightly, ran as follows: “I beseech the reader not to judge me very harshly when he finds that mistakes have crept into this work; for, when I was engaged in copying it, God blessed me with a son and thus I could not attend to my business properly”.9

 I believe that Schechter was paraphrasing the following passage from Rabbi Ya’akov Sapir’s Even Sapir, which quotes in turn from the colophon at the end of a 15th century Yemenite humash:

Do not find fault with me if you find mistakes [in this book], because I am a nursing mother. Miriam bat Benaya the Scribe.10

Furthermore, Schechter was an advocate of advanced Jewish learning for women, which is why he allowed Henrietta Szold to study in rabbinical school courses at the Jewish Theological Seminary from 1903 to 1906.11

3) The Ethical Will of Rivka Lipa Anikshter

Therefore, in the footsteps of Schechter and in honor of this conference about women in the Yishuv, I want to introduce an important and neglected text written by an elderly woman from the Old Yishuv in Jerusalem in the nineteenth century.12

Jews began to write ethical wills to their children in the 11th or 12th century. In an ethical will, the writer bequeaths to his children his basic beliefs and spiritual possessions, as opposed to his material goods. Schechter himself, as well as his friend Israel Abrahams, and Jack Riemer and Nathaniel Stampfer in our day, have emphasized the importance of ethical wills for Jewish literature and history.13 Almost all of the published wills were written by men; only a handful were written by women.14

Zekher Olam, an ethical will by Rivka Lipa Anikshter, was written in Yiddish in Jerusalem in 1882. The first edition appeared in 1882 and the second expanded edition in 1884. The third expanded edition appeared in 1891 and was republished posthumously in 1911 by her daughter Rachel Anikshter. We consulted the latter edition. The text is bi-lingual – the original Yiddish at the bottom of every page with a Hebrew translation at the top of every page. As is usually the case in such bi-lingual editions, the Hebrew translation is more concise than the Yiddish original.

This booklet of 34 pages actually serves at least six different functions:

First of all, it is part of the tradition of ethical wills. Rivka Lipa was both learned and pious.  She quotes twenty sources from the Bible and Talmud,15 which she probably knew from reading Tzenah U’renah and other religious works written in Yiddish. She made aliyah for religious reasons; her first activity after arriving in Jerusalem was to visit the Kotel, Rachel’s Tomb and Hebron (see below). Indeed, she expresses the hope that “we merit to see the Messiah” sixteen time in 34 pages! Rivka Lipa also expresses an opinion about ethical issues such as tzedakah and modesty, but for her, ethical acts are mitzvot just like ritual mitzvot.16 She repeatedly expresses thanks to God who did acts of mercy and truth for her during her entire life.17 She also believed firmly in zekhut avot, in the merit of her pious forefathers.18

Its second purpose was to raise money from her relatives abroad in order to publish her father’s and brothers’ learned works which were still in manuscript. She emphasizes this subject in all three editions.19

Rivka Lipa also requests tzedakah for herself and for all the needy of Jerusalem and concludes “how great is the joy which every person who comes to Jerusalem with his bundle of money must rejoice”.20

Zekher Olam also serves as a means of correspondence with Rivka Lipa’s relatives in Europe. She thanks them for their letters and urges them to write more letters with news of her native shtetl of Krakinova.21 She also intends it as a missive to her relatives in America “since I don’t know how to write to you” i.e. she did not know their addresses.22

It was also intended as a biography of Rivka Lipa’s family and an autobiography as well. We learn from Zekher Olam about her family in Krakinova where she ran a store; her business “was in the thousands” which she bought on credit in the city of Kaidan.23 Her father R. Moshe Meshel Luria, a descendant of the Ari, was rabbi there for fifty years. Her father and mother Chaya were buried in Krakinova along with seven of her children. She also describes her five brothers, three of whom were learned rabbis.24

After they made aliyah in 1862, her husband Rabbi Meir Anikshter was appointed head of the Vilna and Zamut Kolel and other charities. He died on Rosh Hodesh Tamuz 5645 (1885).25

Finally, Zekher Olam contains a travelogue of Rivka Lipa’s visit to the holy cities and the graves of the Tannaim in 1862 and 1867. It appears to be one of the only such travelogues written by a pious Jewish woman in the 19th century.26 Here are a few excerpts:27

Rivka Lipa says that her journey to Jerusalem was as difficult as the binding of Isaac. She traveled from Krakinova to Slonim to Ruzhin to Karlin to Odessa, where she set sail for Eretz Yisrael. They landed in Jaffa and then traveled to Jerusalem “in joy” where they went immediately to the Kotel. On the morrow, they went to the Mount of Olives and Rachel’s Tomb and Hebron, where they visited the Cave of Machpela three times.

Five years later, in 1867, she traveled to Safed to visit the grave of “our relative the Holy Rabbi Yitzhak Luria z”l” and his son Moshe z”l and the Bet Yosef (R. Yosef Karo) and more and more Prophets and Tannaim, including R. Pinchass ben Yair, R. Shimon bar Yochai, Shammai, Hillel, R. Yohanan Hasandler, R. Yossi Haglili, R. Ilay and more.

And then we returned to Safed since I was sick again, and the Jewish doctors there said that if a weak person, such as me, can ride on a donkey over all the mountains, then all the dead can, God willing, live again, and they told me to travel to Tiberias to bathe in the hot springs…28

 *          *          *

Jewish women’s studies have come a long way since the days of Solomon Schechter. But many texts, such as Rivka Lipa’s ethical will, remain unknown and unused. It is our task at this and future conferences, in our M.A. program, and in our publications to continue to study and teach this new and exciting field of Jewish women’s studies.

Notes

  • Renee Levine Melammed, ed., “Lift Up Your Voice”: Women’s Voices and Feminist Interpretation in Jewish Studies (Hebrew), Tel Aviv, 2001.
  • The journal was founded at the suggestion of Deborah Greniman, who is the Managing Editor; Renee Levine Melammed has served as Academic Editor since issue No. 5. It can be ordered online at iupjournals.org.
  • David Golinkin, Monique Susskind Goldberg, Diana Villa and others have written The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa; The Jewish Law Watch, 1-7; To Learn and To Teach, Nos. 1-3; Solutions to the Modern Agunah Dilemma (in press). All of these books can be ordered from www.schechter.edu.
  • Solomon Schechter, Seminary Addresses and other Papers, New York, 1959, p. 19.
  • See Adolph S. Oko, Solomon Schechter: A Bibliography, Cambridge, 1938, which lists 240 items. For a survey of his writings, see Norman Bentwich, Solomon Schechter: A Biography, Philadelphia, 1938, Chapter X.
  • Solomon Schechter, Studies in Judaism, First Series, London, 1896, pp. 313-325.
  • Ibid., Second Series, Philadelphia, 1908, pp. 126-147.
  • See, for example, The Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln, translated by Marvin Lowenthal, New York, 1932; The Life of Gluckel of Hameln…, translated by Beth-Zion Abrahams, London, 1962; Natalie Zemon Davis, Women on the Margins…, Cambridge, Mass., 1995.
  • Schechter, Studies, First Series, p. 264.
  • Ya’akov Sapir, Even Sapir, Vol. 1, Lyck, 1866, fol. 102a, which is also quoted by A. M. Haberman, “Nashim Ma’atikot”, Kiryat Sefer 13 (5696-5697), p. 116.
  • See, for example, Baila Round Shargel, Lost Love: The Untold Story of Henrietta Szold, Philadelphia, 1997, p. 8.
  • I discovered this booklet in 1975 when I wrote a paper for a course with Dr. Yoram Yakovson at Hebrew University in which we studied “Ethical Wills”.
  • Solomon Schechter, “The Wills of Rabbi Judah Son of the Rosh and his Brother Rabbi Ya’akov Ba’al Haturim”, (Hebrew), Bet Talmud 4 (1885), pp. 340-346, 372-379 (also appeared as a pamphlet, Pressburg, 1885); Israel Abrahams, Hebrew Ethical Wills, Philadelphia, 1926 and reprints; Jack Riemer and Nathaniel Stampfer, Ethical Wills: A Modern Jewish Treasury, New York, 1983: idem, So that Your Values Live On: Ethical Wills and How to Prepare Them, Woodstock, Vermont, 1992.
  • Bernard Wachstein, Isaac Rifkind and Avraham Ya’ari listed 268 ethical wills in a series of articles in Kiryat Sefer 11, 12, 13, 34. Only eleven of them were written by women and, if one does not count four from the Shoah period, only seven were written by women.
  • See, for example, folios 1b, 2a, 4a, 4b, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 11b, 12a, 13b, 14a, 14b.

16) See folios 4a, 8a, 8b.

17) See folios 1b, 2a, 3a, 3b-4a, 4b.

18) See folios 1b, 5a, 8b, 11b, 12a, 14a, 14b, 16b, 17b.

19) See folios 1b-2a, 3b, 10a-10b, 17a.

20) See folios 2a, 3a-3b, 4b, 7a. The quotation is from the Hebrew version on folio 8a.

21) See folios 3a, 13b. Krakinova was north of Kovno and southwest of Ponivezh – see Chester Cohen, Shtetl Finder, Los Angeles, 1980, p. 42.

22) See folios 16a-16b.

23) See folio 5a.

24) See folios 1a-1b, 10a, 16b-17b.

25) See folio 2a. He is mentioned briefly by Frumkin and Rivlin in Toledot Hakhmei Yerushalayim, Part 3, Jerusalem, 5689, p. 269.

26) Avraham Ya’ari, Mas’ot Eretz Yisrael, Tel Aviv, 1946 contains only one 19th century travelogue by a woman, that of Judith Montefiore, on pp. 545-578.

27) See folios 13b-16a.

28) The quotation is from folio 15b in the Yiddish version.


All four volumes of Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin’s Responsa In A Moment – Halakhic Responses to Contemporary Issues as well as other books by the author are available for purchase from the Schocken-JTS Press Bookstore.

David Golinkin is President of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. and President Emeritus of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. For twenty years he served as Chair of the Va’ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly which gives halakhic guidance to the Masorti Movement in Israel. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Applied Halakhah at Schechter and also directs the Center for Women in Jewish Law. Rabbi Professor Golinkin made aliyah in 1972, earning a BA in Jewish History and two teaching certificates from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received an MA in Rabbinics and a PhD in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was also ordained as Rabbi. For a complete bio click here.

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