Sarah Schenirer and the Bais Yaakov Movement

A Revolution in the Name of Tradition

Naomi Seidman

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ISBN: 9781906764692

Publication: January 31, 2019

Series: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

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.

Naomi Seidman is the Koret Professor of Jewish Culture at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2016. Her previous books include Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation (2006) and The Marriage Plot; or, How Jews Fell in Love with Love, and with Literature (2016).


PART ONE. Reading Bais Yaakov
1. ‘In a Place Where There Are No Men’: Before Bais Yaakov
2. ‘A New Thing that Our Ancestors Never Imagined’: Beginnings (1917–1924)
3. ‘Building Bais Yaakov’: Institution and Charisma
4. ‘So Shall You Say to the House of Jacob’: Forging the Discourse of Bais Yaakov
5. ‘A New Kind of Woman’: Bais Yaakov as Traditionalist Revolution
‘Bais Yaakov, Let Us Walk in the Light of the Lord’: Destruction and Rebirth

PART TWO. Collected Writings of Sarah Schenirer
I. Pages from My Life
II. Bais Yaakov and Bnos Agudath Israel
III. The Jewish Year
IV. Jewish Women’s Lives: The Sacred Obligations of the Jewish Woman
V. Ten Letters to Jewish Children
VI. A Letter from Mrs Schenirer, May Peace Be Upon Her
VII. With Perseverance and Faith: From Kraków to New York

A. Sarah Schenirer’s Diary
B. Sarah Schenirer’s Family Tree
C. Map of Sarah Schenirer’s Kraków
D. Maps of Bais Yaakov Schools, 1935
E.  The Bnos Agudath Israel Anthem



Format: Hardback

Size: 242 × 170 mm

432 Pages

1 figure, 13 illustrations, and 3 maps

Copyright: © 2018

ISBN: 9781906764692

Publication: January 31, 2019

Series: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

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