Until about a decade ago, the nineteenth-century Hebrew Haskalah was considered a "male" arena, in terms of its authors, its readership and its focal subjects. This assumption lies behind analyses most both of Haskalah writings (which rested on a familiarity with the canonical Jewish texts that traditionally could be acquired only by males) and of the sociology and psychology of their authors. It is hardly surprising that Shmuel Werses' generic biography of the maskilim is entitled "The Maskil as a Young Man."

In this article I aim to describe an alternative biography—that of the female maskilah. My study is based on the Hebrew writings of about thirty maskilot collected in the anthology Voice of a Hebrew Maiden: Women's Writings of the Nineteenth-Century Haskalah Movement (2006), edited by Shemuel Feiner and myself. A study of these writings makes it possible to undertake a preliminary sketch of a female Hebrew Haskalah, encompassing the characteristics of both the women writers and their writings. My purpose in this article is to compose a biography of the typical maskilah and suggest that it might help us understand the causes for the emergence of this phenomenon.


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