Remembering Paula Hyman, Pioneering Historian and Feminist

Appreciation

By Deborah Dash Moore

Published December 15, 2011, issue of December 30, 2011.
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Her activism did not derail her pursuits of a sustained scholarly career and a rich family life. In 1969 she married Stanley H. Rosenbaum, then a medical student, and the couple had two daughters, Judith and Adina.

In 1974, Paula accepted a position on the history faculty at Columbia University. She went on to adapt her doctoral dissertation into the 1979 book “From Dreyfus to Vichy: The Remaking of French Jewry, 1906–1939,” which established her as a rising star in Jewish history. She then embarked on a micro-history of small Jewish communities in Alsace, France, publishing in 1991 “The Emancipation of the Jews of Alsace: Acculturation and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century.”

She also deployed her historical acumen to bring immigrant Jewish women’s history into the consciousness of American Jews. A 1982 article on the 1902 New York kosher meat boycott led by immigrant Jewish housewives became her most anthologized work.

Paula pursued such path-breaking activities even as she faced multiple bouts of cancer, over the course of more than 30 years. She battled illness courageously, refusing to slacken her pace. When her daughter Judith became a bat mitzvah, Paula read Torah despite having undergone an operation to remove a brain tumor six days earlier. But living with an acute consciousness of her mortality toughened her, making her impatient with tokenism involving women.

Paula nourished several generations of students at Columbia, the Jewish Theological Seminary and Yale University. In 1981 she became first woman to serve as dean of the seminary’s Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies, and in 1986 she joined the faculty of Yale, becoming Lucy Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History. Three years after coming to Yale, she was appointed director of the Jewish studies department, becoming the first woman to lead a major university’s Jewish studies program; she held that position for more than a decade.

Selected as a fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research in 1995, she became the society’s first female president in 2004.

Paula and I co-edited the Modern Jewish Experience series at Indiana University Press for almost 30 years, publishing a steady stream of books that helped to launch aspiring Jewish historians. Until October, she was a member of the Forward Association’s board of directors and chair of the association’s publications committee.

Paula Hyman leaves behind an extraordinary legacy — a body of scholarship that radically altered modern Jewish studies, a large cohort of students and colleagues profoundly influenced by her insights, and a transformed American Jewish community that recognizes the principle and even necessity of women’s equality — as well as deep friendships, a loving husband and two accomplished daughters.

Deborah Dash Moore is the Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of History and director of the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan.


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