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.
“This well-written book successfully uses the rebbetzin as a window into larger issues: the evolution of Judaism in America, the opening of possibilities for women in the late twentieth century and the changing mores of the institution of marriage.”
“The first book to study the evolution of the role and the women who have filled it, The Rabbi’s Wife not only honors many unsung heroines but provides a significant contribution to American Jewish history. In this well-written work, the women are no longer footnotes to their husbands’ careers.”
“Schwartz adds a new and important dimension to the history of American Judaism, to the history of American women, and to the history of American religion. She has introduced a new set of actors to the historic drama of religion in America.”
-Hasia R. Diner,author of The Jews of the United States, 1654-2000
“The book overflows with interesting stories and sharp insights into the nature of American Jewish communal life and culture. The strategy of profiling individuals valuably restores these women to the historical narrative...The Rabbi’s Wife provides a model for further investigation into the role of women’s leadership in American religious life”
-Journal of American History
“[It] will certainly entertain readers with personal stories about many of the well-known rabbis’ wives (and their husbands) who have graced American Jewish history”
-Jewish Book World
“This is the definitive work on the American rebbetzin. At once well-written and well-researched, it makes a notable contribution to the history of women in American Judaism, and puts forth a highly persuasive thesis: that many rabbis' wives in America married what they wanted to be. A landmark study.”
-Jonathan D. Sarna,author of American Judaism: A History