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Identity, Heroism and Religion in the Lives of Contemporary Jewish Women

Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz

What makes us what we are? How does our gender affect our identity? Who are our heroes and heroines and how do they mould the decisions we make and the way we live our lives? In what ways does our connection – or lack there of – to our birth religion shape our adult selves? These are just some of the questions which Identity, Heroism and Religion in the Lives of Contemporary Jewish Women addresses. In examining the lives and deaths of various Jewish women during the 20 th and 21 st centuries this study focuses on the dynamic by which they formed their identities at times of crisis, whether in pre-State Israel, during and after the Holocaust in liberated Europe, or throughout Israel’s formative years. As refugees, survivors, new immigrants or veteran citizens of a country these women’s lives are probed and analyzed in terms of their relationship to each other, to their surroundings, their past, their future, their ideologies, and their geographic and virtual communities, presenting us with a mosaic of contemporary Jewish women’s lives.

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Introduction 11

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11 Introduction A woman of valor who shall find? Her price is far above that of rubies […] grace is deceitful, beauty is vain, but a woman who feareth the Lord, she shall be praised, give her the fruit of her hands and let her works praise her in the gates. These are the opening and closing words of “Eishet Chayil”, the poem found in the last chapter of Proverbs describing “A Woman of Valor” according to Jewish belief. Traditionally sung by Jewish husbands to their wives on Friday night, the poem succinctly summarizes the ele- ments which the author of Proverbs believed should typify the “Woman of Valor”: capable, industrious, wise, kind, charitable, faithful, fear- less, heroic and G-d-fearing. This was the guide that the virtuous Jew- ish woman was supposed to use as an example for her behavior; the template that should mold her female identity. This was the pattern from which she was to replicate her actions and beliefs, a straightfor- ward design that combined daily examples of heroism in her never- ending household tasks, the pillars of her female identity at that time, with an unwavering religious belief, the pillar of her spiritual identity, as noted by the poem’s author. The concepts behind and the connections between these various pillars is the starting point in our journey through the elements which compose the framework for this book: identity, heroism and religion. Our study opens with three chapters that focus on various aspects of Jewish women’s identity at...

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