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The Rabbi's Wife

The Rebbetzin in American Jewish Life

Shuly Schwartz

Publication Year: 2006

2006 National Jewish Book Award, Modern Jewish Thought

Long the object of curiosity, admiration, and gossip, rabbis' wives have rarely been viewed seriously as American Jewish religious and communal leaders. We know a great deal about the important role played by rabbis in building American Jewish life in this country, but not much about the role that their wives played. The Rabbi’s Wife redresses that imbalance by highlighting the unique contributions of rebbetzins to the development of American Jewry.

Tracing the careers of rebbetzins from the beginning of the twentieth century until the present, Shuly Rubin Schwartz chronicles the evolution of the role from a few individual rabbis' wives who emerged as leaders to a cohort who worked together on behalf of American Judaism. The Rabbi’s Wife reveals the ways these women succeeded in both building crucial leadership roles for themselves and becoming an important force in shaping Jewish life in America.

Published by: NYU Press


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p. v

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pp. vii-viii

“And what will your role be?” a member of the search committee would invariably ask me, when my rabbi husband interviewed for pulpits. For almost twenty-five years, I lived the life I have chosen to write about. Even before we married, I knew that Gershon planned to become a rabbi. Like so many of the women whose stories fill these ...

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pp. ix-xiii

... First and foremost, I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to learn from many rabbis’ wives. My first goal in interviewing was to hear directly from the rebbetzins, and I am grateful to the many women who graciously agreed to speak with me, especially: Joan Lipnick Abelson, Hadassah Carlebach, Janet Chiel, Naomi Cohen, Sylvia Geffen, Rae Goodman, Blu Greenberg, Hilda Greenberg, Zipporah ...

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pp. 1-24

What happened to Box 14? A 1978 inventory of the Jewish Theological Seminary Library’s archival holdings listed the thirteen-box collection of Herman H. Rubenovitz. But Rubenovitz, rabbi of Temple Mishkan Tefila in Boston, Massachusetts, from 1910 to 1947, served jointly with his wife, Mignon, in a two-person rabbinate. Their memoirs appeared ...

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1. The Pioneers

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pp. 25-50

Minna, Wife of the Young Rabbi recounts the adventures of a young eastern European girl, tricked by her adoptive parents into marrying a yeshiva bocher (yeshiva boy) at the age of thirteen. Abandoning him after their wedding night, Minna searches for her birth mother while raising her son in a completely secular environment. Sentenced to Siberia for nihilism, Minna falls in love ...

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2. The Power behind the Throne

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pp. 51-87

Fourteen years after Minna the yeshiva bocher’s wife appeared in fiction, Abram S. Isaacs presented American Jewish families a very different view of the rabbi’s wife. Isaacs, a rabbi, scholar, and author of several books for young people, included a story about a rabbi’s wife in his collection, Under the Sabbath Lamp: Stories of Our Time for Old and Young. Published by the Jewish Publication Society in ...

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3. “ Mr. & Mrs. God”

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pp. 88-127

Lilly Soloway Routtenberg, wife of Max Routtenberg, rabbi in Reading, Pennsylvania (1932–48), and Rockville Centre, New York (1954–72), penned the above story. She hoped to include it in a book, tentatively titled Humor from the Rebbezinate, which she began writing in retirement.3 As the “miracle” demonstrates, Routtenberg believed ...

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4. Two for the Price of One

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pp. 128-167

In 1954, the Jewish Publication Society again presented a rebbetzin as fictional protagonist. Margaret Abrams’s Awakened, written in response to a request for novels on inspirational Jewish themes, featured Ellen Rosen and her husband, Kurt. Refugees from Europe on the eve of World War II, the Rosens struggled to adjust both to their new country and to being an American rabbinic couple. Depicted as a ...

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5. “ Please [ Don’t] Call Me Rebbetzin!”

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pp. 168-208

“Hearing ‘woman of valor’ makes me want to throw up.”1 This rebbetzin’s lament resonated all too often in the mid-1970s. Though rabbis’ wives had begun to express frustration with the role in the previous generation, nothing could have prepared them for the turmoil they would undergo in this one. ...

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6. They Married What They Wanted to Be, but What Does That Mean for the Future?

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pp. 209-221

Since the mid-1980s, hundreds of women have been ordained. 1 These women have, in many ways, taken rebbetzins’ dreams of rabbinic leadership and partnership to their logical conclusion. Some serve congregations with the help of supportive husbands. Some are married to rabbis, and they both work in the Jewish community professionally in complementary ...


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pp. 223-278


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pp. 279-298


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pp. 299-311

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About the Author

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p. 312

Shuly Rubin Schwartz is the Irving Lehrman Research Associate Professor of American Jewish History and Dean of the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies at The Jewish Theological Senimary. She is the author of ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814739891
E-ISBN-10: 081473989X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814740163
Print-ISBN-10: 0814740162

Page Count: 326
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 76838987
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Rabbi's Wife

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Subject Headings

  • Rabbis' spouses -- United States -- Religious life.
  • Rabbis' spouses -- United States -- Intellectual life.
  • Rabbis' spouses -- United States -- History.
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