Remembering Paula E. Hyman, 1946-2011

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Over at the Jewish Daily Forward, Deborah Dash Moore writes a moving remembrance of historian Paula Hyman, who died today.  Professor Hyman was the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History at Yale University and the author of The Jewish Woman In America (1976); From Dreyfus to Vichy: The Remaking of French Jewry, 1906-1939 (1979); The Emancipation of the Jews of Alsace (1991); Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History (1995); and The Jews of Modern France (1998).

Born in Boston on September 30, 1946, the oldest of Sydney and Ida Tatelman Hyman’s three daughters, Paula attended public schools and supplementary Hebrew schools. She enrolled simultaneously at Radcliffe College and Hebrew Teachers College of Boston, earning undergraduate degrees at both institutions. She went on to Columbia University, where she studied alongside such scholars as Gerson Cohen and Ismar Schorsch, and where she received her master’s degree and Ph.D. in Jewish history.

Her years in New York City, during the 1970s and 1980s, proved formative. She joined the New York Havurah, an experimental Jewish religious community, and helped found Ezrat Nashim, a Jewish consciousness-raising group that advocated for women’s equality in American Jewish life. Hyman quickly emerged as a leader of a burgeoning Jewish feminism, pressing the Conservative movement to count women in a minyan and ordain women as rabbis.

Her activism did not derail her pursuits of a sustained scholarly career and of 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, Hyman accepted a position on the history faculty at Columbia. She went on to adapt her doctoral dissertation into a book, “From Dreyfus to Vichy: The Remaking of French Jewry, 1906-1939.” Published in 1979, its breadth and innovative social history method quickly established her as a rising star in Jewish history. She then embarked on a micro-history of small Jewish communities in Alsace, publishing “The Emancipation of the Jews of Alsace: Acculturation and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century” in 1991.

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

Hyman pursued such trailblazing activities and broke numerous glass ceilings, even as she faced multiple bouts of cancer. She battled illness courageously, refusing to slacken her pace. But living with an acute consciousness of her mortality toughened her, making her impatient with tokenism involving women even as she treasured the blessings of family and friends.

Hyman nourished several generations of students at Columbia, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and Yale University. In 1981, she became first woman to serve as dean of the Seminary College of Jewish Studies, and in 1986, she joined the faculty of Yale University. At Yale she was, until her death, the Lucy G. 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 Jewish studies program; she held that position for more than a decade.

Read the full piece here.

May Professor Hyman’s memory be a blessing.

-Bridget Crawford

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