Sarah Schenir­er and the Bais Yaakov Movement

Nao­mi Seidman

  • From the Publisher
January 1, 2013

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.

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