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In Her Hands

The Education of Jewish Girls in Tsarist Russia

Eliyana R. Adler

Publication Year: 2010

Though over one hundred private schools for Jewish girls thrived in the areas of Jewish settlement in the Russian empire between 1831 and 1881, their story has been largely overlooked in the scholarship of Jewish educational history. In Her Hands: The Education of Girls in Tsarist Russia restores these schools to their rightful place of prominence in training thousands of Jewish girls in secular and Judaic subjects and also paving the way for the modern schools that followed them. Through extensive archival research, author Eliyana R. Adler examines the schools’ curriculum, teachers, financing, students, and educational innovation and demonstrates how each of these aspects evolved over time. The first section of this volume follows the emergence and development of the new private schools for Jewish girls in the mid-1800s, beginning with the historical circumstances that enabled their creation, and detailing the staffing, financing, and academics in the schools. Adler dispels the myth that all education in Russia was reserved for boys by showing that a dedicated group of educators and administrators worked to provide new opportunities for a diverse group of Jewish girls. In the second section, Adler looks at the interactions between these new educational institutions and their communities, including how the schools responded to changes taking place around them and how they in turn influenced their environment. Adler consults several major archives, including those of the former Russian Ministry of Education, along with contemporary periodicals, educational materials, and personal memoirs to provide a remarkably complete picture of education for Jewish girls in Russia in the mid- to late nineteenth century. In telling the story of Russia’s private schools for Jewish girls, Adler argues that these schools were crucibles of educational experimentation that merit serious examination. Scholars of Jewish history, educational history, and womens’ studies will enjoy this pathbreaking study.

Published by: Wayne State University Press


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pp. i-ii


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p. iii-iii


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p. iv-iv


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pp. v-viii


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pp. ix-x

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xii

List of Tables

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pp. xiii-xiv


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pp. xv-xviii

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Introduction: Education and Transformation

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pp. 1-10

In the speech delivered at the opening of his private school for Jewish girls in Kherson in 1866, Abram Iakov Bruk-Brezovskii began with a paean to the history of Jewish education. “No one can rightly accuse our tribesmen of indifference to learning.”1 He then contrasted the supreme dedication of...

Part I: Education

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1. Education in an Era of Change

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pp. 13-27

In 1804, shortly after large numbers of Jews first became subjects of the Russian empire, an ambitious statute granted Jews access to all Russian educational institutions. It also offered a vague threat that Jews’ refusal to reform themselves educationally could lead to government intervention.1 Given that the highly traditional Jewish community had no interest in secular Russian...

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2. Unintended Consequences: The Emergence of Private Schools for Jewish Girls

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pp. 28-43

Shevel’ Perel’s modern private Jewish girls’ school, opened in Vilna in 1831, was not the first modern educational institution for Jews in the Pale of Settlement. By that time the Jewish community of Odessa already had a successful modern school. However, the school in Odessa served only boys. Perel’s...

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3. Enlightened Self-Interest: Teaching Jewish Girls in Tsarist Russia

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pp. 44-61

In 1872, when Y. L. (Yehuda Leib) Gordon left his government Jewish school teaching job in Tel’she (Vilna province) to take up a prestigious post as secretary to the Jewish community of St. Petersburg, he also left behind the private school for Jewish girls he had opened six years previously.1 Fortunately,...

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4. For Wisdom Is Better than Pearls: Financing Jewish Girls’ Education

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pp. 62-77

Although many educators opened private schools for Jewish girls for financial reasons, running a private school turned out to be less lucrative than many of the principals had hoped. Whereas the government-sponsored Jewish boys’ schools had a dedicated funding source, the...

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5. Educating Jewish Daughers

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pp. 78-96

While each of the private schools for Jewish girls that opened between 1831 and 1881 has its own history and unique character, based on the personality of the founding principal, the location, its time of establishment, and the makeup of the surrounding community, all the schools shared certain...

Part II: Transformation

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6. The Wisdom of Women Builds Her House: Jewish School Girls

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pp. 99-114

Here, Sholem Yankev Abramovich (better known as the Hebrew and Yiddish writer Mendele Mocher Sforim) expresses his awe at the public examinations held at a private school for Jewish girls in his home city of Berdichev in 1859.1 So great was Abramovich’s rapture in seeing Jewish school girls excel...

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7. Who Can Find a Woman of Valor? Jewish Women’s Education in Public Discourse

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pp. 115-122

As more Jewish men received a western education and became enlightened, the consequences of women’s lack of access to these same opportunities became increasingly troubling. Here D. Lazarev used vibrant language to paint a picture of the Jewish family in chaos.1 The Jewish woman, with only the...

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8. New Birds, New Wings: Educational Developments in the Jewish Community

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pp. 123-143

Writing after the cataclysm of the Second World War, in an effort to memorialize the recent past, a native of Horodets (Grodno province) chose to describe girls’ education in his city of origin not as static traditionalism, but as a dynamic process. Girls, he said, had once learned only to read Yiddish...

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Conclusion: Rediscovering Private Schools for Jewish Girls

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pp. 144-152

The school that Shevel’ Perel’ opened in 1831 still served the Jewish community of Vilna in 1881. At that time, in addition to acting as the principal of the school, Vul’f Kagan, Perel’s son-in-law, was also teaching Jewish religion in the local Russian gymnasium.1 More and more Jewish students had begun...


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pp. 153-172


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pp. 173-188


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pp. 189-196

Back Cover

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p. bc-bc

E-ISBN-13: 9780814336854
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814334928

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 11
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1
Volume Title: N/a