Remembering Heroic Jewish Women
International Women’s Day was established by the UN in 1975, but powerful Jewish women have been on full display for thousands of years. Biblical figures and modern Jewish heroines alike have inspired us until the present, through ingenuity and dedication that has many this world a better place.
Here are just a few of the countless figures who deserve to have their stories retold!
Devorah (Deborah) – A judge and prophetess in the Pre-Monarchic era of Judges. Not only did she lead the Jewish people as the primary political and spiritual leader, but she was a competent and successful military commander.
Chana (Hannah) – The mother of Shmuel the prophet, and originator of Jewish prayer form. She argued with G-d such that he would give her a child who grew up to be one of the most famous prophets when she dedicated him for His service. Many of the laws of prayer, like the soft murmuring of the Amida, are derived from her.
Esther – Esther, the heroine of the Purim story, essentially sacrifices herself to hide her identity and marry a non-Jewish king. Everything she did was for the safety of the Jewish people, and her son King Darius, no doubt influenced by her, funded and commanded the construction of the Second Temple.
Licoricia of Winchester – A famous Jewish philanthropist and money lender to King Henry III of England among other nobles, whose estate funded the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey. Before her untimely end and Jewish expulsion from England, she also supported many Jews in need.
Qasmuna – One of the few medieval Jewish poetesses, she composed in Arabic, living in Muslim Spain. Not much is known about her personal life, but three of her poems have survived to today. Indeed whether those are poems, diaries, educational material or other tools of creative expression, writing has given a wider voice to Jewish women over the centuries.
Sarah Shenirer – Founder of modern Jewish women’s Torah learning. Before Shenirer’s efforts, Jewish women’s education was largely confined to early childhood and hardly comprehensive in either secular and religious studies. The model she created for her first classes quickly expanded. By the time of her death at only 51, she had inspired the creation of hundreds of Bais Yaakov schools with some 40,000 students.
Emma Lazarus – Poet and activist. She may be best known for The New Colossus which is partly inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, but she also helped establish multiple organizations to help train and settle Jewish immigrants.
Gertrude Elion – Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine winner. Her work has directly led to cures and treatments to many serious illnesses, including herpes, leukemia, malaria, gout, meningitis, and AIDS among numerous others. It would be difficult to assess how many lives were saved by her lifetime of hard work!
We shouldn’t forget these women’s phenomenal and noteworthy accomplishments don’t diminish those women who have led more modest lives, whether by choice or not. After all, it is often said that “more people are brought together by the rebbetzin’s cooking than the rabbi’s speech”, since there would be no Jewish people without the women who make a Jewish home and support their Jewish community.
Shop Jewish gifts for women here, and see our top 10 picks to honor the special Jewish women in your life!
Happy International Women’s Day from our team in Jerusalem!