Paula Hyman, pioneering Jewish feminist historian, dies at 65
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Paula Hyman, pioneering Jewish feminist historian, dies at 65

Paula Hyman, a professor of Jewish history at Yale and known for her feminist scholarship, died Dec. 15 at 65.

According to the Jewish Women’s Archive, while still a graduate student in 1976, Hyman and two colleagues, Charlotte Baum and Sonya Michel, published a "pioneering work, "The Jewish Woman in America," which "gave pride of place to Hyman’s growing involvement in Jewish feminism, both on a scholarly and a personal level."

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Five years earlier, she was one of the founders of Ezrat Nashim, which lobbied for ordaining women as Conservative rabbis and for equality of women in Jewish religious and communal life. The 1997 two-volume, "Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia," done with Deborah Dash Moore, was an additional pioneering work.

The Women’s Archive Website described Hyman’s work this way:

If you want to trace the progress of Jewish women’s history, you couldn’t do much better than to follow the career of Yale University’s Lucy Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History, Paula Hyman. Among the most respected contemporary historians of Jewish experience, Hyman has deepened and broadened understandings of modern Jewish history , through her studies of French Jews and her application of gendered analysis to Jewish experience. 

Beyond her individual scholarship, however, Professor Hyman’s accomplishments have been accented by three ambitious collaborative projects that have progressively redefined the horizons of knowledge of Jewish women’s history.

The Archive quoted Hyman:

"It was our passion as feminists that led us into this scholarship. When I and my two colleagues [Sonya Michel and Charlotte Baum] decided to write a book on American Jewish women. It was just simply something that we felt had to be done." Hyman is careful to note that The Jewish Woman in America was not the first book on the subject, but it was the first to approach it from a feminist orientation. As Hyman says, "it was clearly a book with a mission … we felt it was going to tell a story that hadn’t been widely recognized." Taking on such a broad and weighty subject might have been daunting for two young graduate students and an older woman returning to school for her BA, but they were empowered by feminism: "We said: ‘well we can do this’ and began to work." The Jewish Woman in America, Hyman notes, "is the only book for which I received fan letters, often from housewives who said ‘I get up early to read this book, it’s been so important to me, and thank you for writing it.’"

Hyman was born in Boston. She received a BA at Radcliffe College, studied Hebrew and classic Jewish texts at Hebrew Teachers College of Boston (now Hebrew College),and received her Ph.D. at Columbia University. Her page on the Yale website lists her many accomplishments, titles, awards, and publications.

The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org.