By Judie Jacobson ~
NEW HAVEN — Paula Hyman, a professor of modern Jewish history at Yale University for more than two decades and a pioneer in the field of Jewish gender studies, died on Thursday, Dec. 15 in New Haven. She was 65. The cause was cancer.
Hailed as one of “the most respected contemporary historians of the Jewish experience” by the Jewish Women’s Archives (JWA), Hyman was an early Jewish feminist who helped to found Ezrat Nashim, an influential American Jewish feminist organization.
Her accomplishments included three collaborative projects that, according to JWA, “redefined the horizons of knowledge of Jewish women’s history.” They included the 1976 publication of “The Jewish Woman in America;” the 1997 publication of the two-volume “Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia,” published with the support of the American Jewish Historical Society; and, most recently, the JWA-sponsored CD-ROM, “Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia.”
“It was our passion as feminists that led us into this scholarship,” Hyman said of “The Jewish Woman in America” in an interview with Karla Goldman for JWA. “When I and my two colleagues [Sonya Michel and Charlotte Baum] decided to write a book on American Jewish women, it was just simply something that we felt had to be done…it was clearly a book with a mission…we felt it was going to tell a story that hadn’t been widely recognized.”
Born in Boston, Mass., Hyman was the eldest of three daughters born to Sydney and Ida Hyman. A graduate of Radcliffe College, she earned a Bachelors of Jewish Education at Hebrew Teacher’s College and a Doctorate in history at Columbia University, where she began her career. She also served as the dean of the Seminary College of Jewish studies at the Jewish Theological seminary of America, before becoming the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History at Yale in 1986.
The author or editor of ten books and numerous scholarly articles on modern Jewish history, Hyman was also the recipient of several distinguished prizes and awards, including honorary degrees from Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Hyman’s academic scholarship was matched by her active involvement in Jewish communal affairs, much of it in leadership roles. Over the years, she served on the board and several committees of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, and was a generous supporter of Ezra Academy in Woodbridge and other local Jewish agencies.
“Beyond being a world-class scholar and leading Jewish feminist activist on the global stage, Paula was a wonderfully involved and great supporter of her local synagogue and community,” said Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel in New Haven where Hyman had served on the board of directors, as well as on several committees pertaining to ritual, education and development. “For many years, she was a regular gabbai, directing the Torah service, and she read Torah expertly almost weekly since setting the precedent for women reading Torah in this congregation.”
In addition, said Tilsen, Hyman often read haftara and presented divrei Torah on Shabbat mornings, taught classes and spoke on numerous panels. Along with her husband, Dr. Stanley Rosenbaum, she provided the seed money that launched the synagogue’s renovation and capital campaign.
“When she believed in a cause or course of action, she devoted her time and financial resources to it,” said Tilsen. “Paula was a creative thinker who gave special attention to the mitzvah of ‘kiruv,’ of making the community and its institutions inclusive and embracing. Paula’s committed and observant lifestyle, projecting ethical values and communal service, inspired members of this congregation.”
In addition to her husband and mother, Hyman is survived by her two daughters, Dr. Judith Rosenbaum and her husband Rabbi Or Rose, and Adina Rosenbaum, her twin grandchildren, Ma’ayan and Aviv Rosenbaum, and her two sisters, Toby and Merle Hyman.