Love's Spur to Greatness- A triangle of two great Jewish
Women and One Great Jewish Man
Follow this link for the Shabbat Service and discussion:
We are starting a series on great Jewish thinkers and when I
announced it, I was asked- what about some of the great Jewish women thinkers!
To be honest- while I don’t deny that there were great
Jewish women thinkers in all ages, in practical fact, women had no access to
a) huge gatherings of
admirers to record their words
b) they would have
had trouble accessing the scribes needed to copy and spread their teachings
c) they were rarely given the opportunity for higher
There were always exceptions: Deborah-war and poetry;
Huldah- prophecy; Bruriah- halakhah; the Maid of Lublin-Chasidic rule. So too
for the world at large-- for hundreds of Greek poets & philosophers, one
Sappho of Lesbos. Here and there, a Pharaoh Hatshepsut, who had a beard in all
her images, a Queen Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen, or a Golda Meir, the “ only
man in the government.”
Most powerful women, we know, preferred to be the power
behind the throne, like Esther, something we all know from the game of Chess,
where the king is merely the Queen’s ultimate pawn.
This changed, universally, as medicine over took biology,
women lived past childbirth and were worth more outside the house than inside,
a development of the past two or three centuries. So, only now, are we seeing
women dominate Jewish positions of leadership in Rabbinics and Jewish academics,
as in the larger world. ( For students of Jewish intellectual trends, in the
words of Heine, Wie Es Christelt Sich, so Juedelt Es Sich – As go the Christians,
so go the Jews).
With that, I will take a look at some intriguing figures,
who broke with the mold of the past while still being very traditionally Jewish.
My first look will be very unconventional.
II. The odd triangle
Last year in Rabbinical
school, we each gave student sermon on Shabbat to service with faculty and
fellow students. I had just come back from a year in Israel-spoke on how we
should be cultivating the equivalent of Conservative Judaism there. Nice, sort
of lecture-like, but I was honored to have Adelle Ginzburg,” Mama G” at that
time, of a ripe old age, in my crowd, and she seemed to like my talk. So, who
was Adelle Ginzberg? The answer requires first answering who was Prof. Louis
Ginzburg? What does all this have to do with Hadassah Hospital in Israel?
When I was a young student,
I enjoyed a book in my father’s library called, Legends of the Jews. It was a
recasting of the most popular of Midrashic lore and legends as if it were a
narrative, a kind of historical novel, in one volume. Now, when you here
someone say, the “midrash says”, keep in mind that it is almost always a
simplification of a highly arcane literary exercise, weaving word games into
stories, connecting seeming contradictions into one whole. This book had taken
out the intricacies and created a moving narrative of ancient Judaism from
creation into the future. I then discovered the original version of the Legends,
Four volumes of narrative, and two volumes of very tiny print footnotes, citing
sources and comparative literature from antiquity. early and late Midrashim, Philo, Josephus,
the Apocrypha, and the Church Fathers. It was considered the go-to
source on Jewish lore, that Clarence Darrow cited form it in the Scopes Monkey
Trial! So who was it that created this great work?
Professor Louis Ginzberg, the husband of the Adelle Ginzberg that I just
What was so important about him?
GINZBERG, LOUIS (1873–1953), one of the
outstanding Talmud scholars of the first half of the 20th century;
leader and the major halakhic authority of the Conservative movement in North
America. Born in Kovno, Lithuania, Ginzberg received a typical East
European Jewish education:Study at the Telz and Slobodka yeshivot, and doctorate
from the University of Heidelberg in 1898 for his study of the midrashim quoted
by the Church Fathers.He remained an observant Jew but followed the path
of Wissenschaft des Judentums, academically critical study .
Ginzberg was a brilliant polymath, "a walking
encyclopedia." He knew most of the Bible by heart at age seven and had
mastered much of rabbinic literature by age 14. His magnum opus, The
Legends of the Jews, contains 36,000 references which Ginzberg kept in
his head. In addition to rabbinics, Ginzberg was an expert in philosophy,
Kabbalah, and mathematics and he knew at least 12 languages.
This is what was expected of a “ scholar and gentleman” in
Brought to US to teach at Reform HUC, 1899, but was soon
dropped- too radical, too observant! The
Jewish Encyclopedia from 1900 to 1902, writing 400 articles!, classics
until today. In 1902, professor of Talmud at the newly re-organized *Jewish
Theological Seminary (jts), my alma mater. Taught for the
next 51 years.
Ginzberg devoted most of his academic scholarship to three
fields: Aggadah, the Jerusalem Talmud, and Geonica.
Ginzberg was a leading proponent of the
"Positive-Historical School," …the authority of Jewish law does not
derive from a one-time event of revelation at Mt. Sinai but from the fact
that Kelal Yisrael, the collective Jewish people, observed Jewish
law for thousands of years.
Ginzberg was a lifelong Zionist. Jewish nationalism without
religion is like a tree without fruit, and Jewish religion without nationalism
is like a tree without roots.
He had only one problem-
he was trained in academic German, but English was, in his early years, still a
new language for him. He needed a trained academician to help him translate his
German writing into clear , refined English.
This brings us to not to Adelle, but to Henrietta Szold, best
known for her founding of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization, and
Excerpted from Michael Brown
Henrietta Szold was a woman of many
contradictions. She was a family person who lived largely in the public arena.
Possessed of only a high school diploma, she edited and published some of the
monuments of modern Jewish scholarship and later helped to shape the
educational system in Palestine. American to the core, she devoted herself to
Zionism and lived the last quarter century of her life in Palestine. Her work
in rescuing children from the Holocaust and rehabilitating them earned her the
sobriquet “mother of the Yishuv” (the Jewish community in Palestine
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, oldest child of liberal-minded Rabbi Benjamin
Szold and his wife Sophie. At home that she learned German and Hebrew, as well
as Jewish sacred texts. In her teens, she served her father as translator, and
editor. 1880s, she assisted the
immigrants in establishing a night school in which to learn English and civics.
Went to study at the Jewish Theological
Seminary in New York, Szold assumed an unusual pedagogical assignment: teaching
English to her instructors, most of whom were recent immigrants from Europe.
In 1888, one of nine members—and the only
female—of the publications committee of the new Jewish Publication Society (JPS).
Her reputation as an editor and translator brought her to the attention of
Prof. Ginzberg, for whom she translated, edited, and indexed much of the
monumental Legends of the Jews . Please keep this in mind.
Szold was drawn to Jewish nationalism in its
earliest days. She gave a major speech on Zionism a month before the
publication of Theodor Herzl’s Der Judenstaat in 1896. 1898 she
became the only woman in the Executive committee of the Federation of American
Of her American activities, that which had the
greatest and most lasting influence was the creation of Hadassah, the
women’s Zionist organization.
In 1912, she and some friends formed the
Daughters of Zion-Hadassah Chapter, which had enlisted 122 members by the fall
of that year. Szold envisioned an independent social service organization
modeled along the lines of the women’s agencies, guided by the principles of
American progressivism: project orientation; “trained and willing forces; [and
a] ... tested organization.” (Predominantly male Zionist societies, such as the
FAZ were romantic and amateurish, not scientific and businesslike.) Hadassah
became the largest and most powerful Zionist group in the United States.
The first major project undertaken by Hadassah
was the establishment of an American-style visiting nurse system in Jerusalem
in 1913.Five years later, Hadassah organized and helped to fund the American
Zionist Medical Unit; began the reformation of medical care in the Holy Land
with the establishment of a nursing school, dental, medical, and X-ray clinics,
hospitals, a hygiene department, infant welfare stations, and the medical
sanitary expedition. It exemplified American efficiency and showcased American
technology. In the 1930s, at Szold’s behest, Hadassah assumed the support of
Youth Aliyah programs for
refugee and problem children in Palestine.
In 1920, Szold herself arrived in Palestine to
take charge of the Medical Unit, soon to be renamed the Hadassah Medical
Organization (HMO.In 1927, Szold was appointed by the World Zionist Congress to
its three-member Palestine executive, with responsibility for the health and
In fewer than three years she had made a major
impact on the Yishuv educational system .
Social work was the third area of Yishuv life :the need
to improve the lot of Palestine’s women. She proposed that American “settlement
workers” teach the women pioneers “modern housework and other domestic
1931 to1939 she held the social welfare
portfolio of the Knesset Yisrael, the
semiautonomous legislative body of the Yishuv.
1934 ,established modern social service
agencies in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Petah Tikva, as well as the Social
Service Department of the Knesset Yisrael. The next year
she opened the country’s first school of social work, which later became the
School of Social Work of the Hebrew University.
face an unprecedented wave of immigration in the 1930s. Youth Aliyah--She
understood the administrative complications and how to cut through them, and
the social and emotional problems the children would have and how to solve
them. Because of her “cabinet” position in the Yishuv administration,
she was able to ensure that the children would be properly looked after, and
she had the connections with Hadassah, which provided most of the funds.
She died in Jerusalem, at the modern medical
center that Hadassah had erected, on February 13, 1945. . She
was honored on the Five Lira note issued by the Bank of Israel between 1976 and
1984. In 2007, Szold was inducted into the American National Women's Hall of
So, where is my story about the Professor?
NY Times-A Scholar And a Mystic-Oct. 14, 1979
Yentl, Henrietta Szold (1860‐1945) was
inducted into Jewish scholarship by her father, a Hungarian born rabbi. When he
died, her mother gave her the responsibility of editing his papers, a task that
required further study. In 1903 mother and daughter moved to New York, where
“Miss Szold,” as her biographer, Joan Dash, calls her, became the first woman
to be enrolled at the new Jewish Theological Seminary.
classes with Prof Ginzberg and they became friends. For years they studied
together, talked together, walked together after synagogue along the windy
pathways of Riverside Drive: . . .For the first and only time in her life, she
fell in love. (she was 13 years his senior)
did not, for he wanted his socks darned as much as anyone. When he returned
from Europe in 1908 with the news that he had chosen another bride, Szold
collapsed, and for three years she went around New York thundering about her
rejection like a prophet.
It was only
when she was in her 50's and living a kind of second life, mainly in Palestine,
that she recovered and began to undertake the worldly work for which she is
beloved by the Jewish community today — the founding of Hadassah, the women's
arm of the American Zionist movement; the gradual building up in Palestine of a
network of social services that remain the foundation of some Israeli
institutions today; and, above all, the almost prescient initiation of the
children's settlement program later known as
Youth Aliyah ( in time for the refugees form the Shoah)
So, this unrequited love-became a springboard to building a nation by Henrietta Szold in as much a way as Ben Gurion built the political and military structure .
IV Now, this brings us to the third party of the love
story.Who was this “ Mama G” that was in the front row of my first formal
These Girl Scouts benefitted from this pioneering Jewish woman
ADELEGINZBERG 1886 – 1980 excerpted from:
Known as “Mama G.” by generations of admirers, Adele Ginzberg
was an influential figure in the Conservative Movement as wife of the famed
Louis Ginzberg, professor of Talmud at
the Jewish Theological Seminary, and was an active member of National Women’s
League. Ginzberg was a role model and inspiration to rabbinical students and
women leaders and an early supporter of equal rights for women in synagogue
Born on May 11, 1886, in Frankfurt-am-Main,( my town of birth)
Germany, Adelle Katzenstein. Ginzberg moved to Berlin at age eight after her
mother’s sudden death. She received basic schooling and then, unable to study
nursing as she wanted, she instead worked briefly in her father’s real estate
But in 1908 Louis Ginzberg visited Berlin. Looking up at the
synagogue gallery, he spied an exceptionally attractive young woman. “I, of
course, always had good eyesight,” he noted later.
He met Adele Katzenstein that day, saw her
the next, then went away for two weeks. He proposed by mail.
he finally succumbed? “It was very likely gland trouble,” he suggested.
returned from Europe, he called on Miss Szold to break the news. As Columbia
University's Prof. Eli Ginzberg, first child of the Ginzberg marriage, put it:
“Once she had absorbed her disappointment, she was able to function at a new
and higher level of service to her people.” In other words, she founded*
Hadassah. The Ginzbergs and many others who revere Henrietta Szold as mother of
Hadassah, have long considered Louis Ginzberg its father.
seminary was agog over the painful news—an exceptional woman jilted by an
exceptional man. When Mrs. Ginzburg turned up, it was easy to confirm the pristine
vision of the scholar. Ever afterward, Professor Ginzberg used to tell his
students how to stay out of trouble: “Don't look up.”
Now- the next turn- Adelle did not stay a home-body for long!
Ginzberg first became involved in community affairs with the
Liberty Bond Campaign during World War I. From 1920 on, she was closely
associated with National Women’s League, the parent organization of Sisterhood.Its
representative on several national and international organizations, she also
wrote a monthly column in its magazine, Outlook. She was
instrumental in initiating the Girl Scout project in 1946, which led to the
establishment of the Menorah Award for Jewish Girl Scouts. Ginzberg was also
devoted to aiding the blind through the Jewish Braille Institute.
Ginzberg, together with her husband… “Mr. and Mrs. Seminary.” A
fearless woman with an irreverent personality and colossal energy, Ginzberg
brought great vitality to the seminary community…. Finally, Ginzberg was one of
the few of her generation to join the struggle for equal rights for women in
synagogue ritual life.
In recognition of her varied talents and influence, Ginzberg was
honored as New York State Mother of the Year in 1966, was inducted in the
seminary’s Honorary Society of Fellows in 1976, and was awarded the Mathilde
Schechter Award posthumously in 1980. Ginzberg died in New York City on May 10,
Ginzberg exemplified those women whose status and influence
derive initially from their illustrious husbands, but who used their position
to educate and enrich Jewish life on their own terms. She conveyed the vitality
of Jewish life to generations of Conservative Jews and inspired many to adopt a
Two women, perhaps in ways as similar as different, whose lives
took very different paths because of one man, yet each made a great impact on
her own, as a result!