In Memoriam: Chana Safrai (1946–2008), Friend And Colleague
Naomi G. Cohen
Chana Safrai (1946–2008) was a friend, a colleague and a kindred soul. At a time when it was a matter of consensus that feminism, by any name, was politically incorrect in the Orthodox world, we stood together. Though our stance on several important issues differed, what made us kindred souls was our firm conviction that the realm of serious Torah scholarship is sine qua non—the foundation upon which our world, feminist and otherwise, would stand. Chana had a rich life, and she made significant contributions to society in many spheres. She was an educator, an academician, an interfaith activist, a family person and a good friend to many people—but, first and foremost, she was a feminist. Chana once said, "Behind every feminist of my generation is a feminist father." It was her father, Shmuel Safrai, Professor of Talmud and Second Temple Judaism at the Hebrew University, who taught Chana to swim in the "Sea of the Talmud." He encouraged her in her intellectual endeavors, particularly in the traditional Jewish curricula normally reserved for boys: Talmud and Midrash. She and her brother, Prof. Ze'ev Safrai of Bar-Ilan University and Kevutzat Yavne, were both imbued with an unquenchable thirst for the study of rabbinic literature, in which father, son and daughter all were/have been immersed for a significant part of their professional lives.
Chana was born and raised in the Haredi neighborhood of Etz–Hayyim, in a Jerusalem that no longer exists, though its flavor lingers in my recollection. Her family had its roots, on her father's side, in the rich Jewish soil of Eastern Europe, and on her mother's in German Jewry. Hence, her parents took the natural step of sending her to the Horeb School, whose founders were suffused with the values of "Torah with derekh Eretz," the humanistic religious doctrine espoused by R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, the nineteenth-century leader of German Jewish Orthodoxy. After high school, Chana did a form of National Service when this was still in its infancy, before it became an institutionalized alternative to military service for religious girls. She went on to study at the Hebrew University, majoring in classics and Jewish history and eventually branching out into Jewish philosophy. She taught at the Hebrew University for several years while working on her doctorate, but left when she was asked to organize the Judith Lieberman Institute for the study of Talmud—the first school for women to place Talmud study at the center of its curriculum.
As with so many "firsts," there is an interesting story behind this appointment. The renowned Talmud scholar Prof. Saul Lieberman wished to create a memorial to his beloved and esteemed wife, Judith Lieberman. He and his good friend R. Ya'akov Vainstein, head of the Ramot Shapira educational compound in the Jerusalem hills, called a meeting to discuss his proposal for a school for the education of women. Several women, including myself, were invited. After various possibilities had been put forward, I had the temerity to suggest: If Prof. Lieberman really wanted to do something pioneering, how about establishing an institution where women could seriously study Talmud? Prof. Lieberman lit up at the idea. It fell to me, as the author of the proposal, to look for someone appropriate to create and head the novel institution. At the time, Chana Safrai was one of the very few women in Jerusalem—or anywhere else, for that matter—who could study Talmud independently, and had some experience in the field of education. I turned to her and convinced her to accept the challenge. She then received a formal invitation from Rabbi Vainstein, and the rest is history. Later, Chana became the Acting Principal of the Pelech high school for girls in Jerusalem, under the aegis of Prof. Alice Shalvi, founder of the Israel Women's Network. In view of her manifold other activities, Alice gave Chana a free rein in running the school.
From: Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues, Number 15, Spring 5769/2008, pp. 197-201 | 10.1353/nsh.0.0004 http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/nashim/v017/17.gellman.pdf
Women Out—Women In: The Place of Women in Midrash (review)
Several years ago, I participated in a seminar at the Shalom Hartman Institute, led by the late Dr. Chana Safrai, on how women are treated in the midreshei halakhah—midrashic texts that expound the commandments by exploring their scriptural derivations. Safrai focused on a type of legal derivation that, roughly, takes the form, “We know that men are included in the law, but how do we know that women are also included?” The purpose was to investigate the dynamics of exclusion and inclusion of women in the application of Jewish law. Safrai was unwavering in her willingness to critique the texts she presented to us, and at the same time she was uncompromising in her loyalty to Orthodox Judaism. Subsequently, Safrai began a study partnership with Avital Campbell-Hochstein, who had also participated in the seminar and had become convinced of the importance of the subject for women’s place in Jewish law. I would often pass by Safrai’s open door at the Institute and see the two study partners not only examining intensely the texts before them, but also scrutinizing their own hearts for their reactions to those texts. Chana passed away before her time, and I miss her critical mind and the conversations we used to have about the direction of Orthodoxy and women’s issues. Now, in this Hebrew volume, we receive the fruits of the seminar and study partnership between her and Campbell-Hochstein. And a most important volume it is. I am familiar with a host of feminist critiques concerning the exclusion of women from the application of Jewish laws, and other androcentric forces in Jewish law. I recall, for example, Paula Hyman’s early study about the exclusion of the “other half” from Jewish law;1 a scathing article by Judith Romney Wegner on women’s rights in the Mishnah, later expanded into a book;2 and Rachel Adler’s agenda for a new Jewish law.3 These and most others deal with Jewish law only as already derived, not with the detailed manner in which laws were derived. As a result, concern over androcentrism in Jewish law is mostly restricted to women’s exclusion from a law’s application or their otherwise being treated differently from men. This volume goes further by focusing entirely on androcentric forces at work in the very innards of the halakhic process, even when women are ultimately included in a legal application. The authors advance the thesis that even then, women are still on the outside in relation to men: “Even after their inclusion, women remain a foreign appendage whose inclusion is to be dealt with again and again for each case separately” (p. 152, my translation). It is men who weigh whether women should be included, have reasons for excluding them, and in the end may consent to allow them in. The thesis: Even when women are in, women are out. The volume analyzes 77 rabbinic texts, mostly tannaitic, 67 of which include women in a legal application and 10 of which include them as participants in sacred historical events. Safrai and Campbell-Hochstein systematically analyze each text to discern the hava amina, the initial presumption, for excluding women; what the rabbis saw in the scriptural passages they cited to make them conclude that women are in; and the implications of women’s inclusion in the particular law. Here is an example of how the authors analyze a text pertaining to historical events, in the chapter “The Historical Story as the Story of Men.” It pertains to the days immediately prior to
the revelation of the Ten Commandments, when everyone, “beast or man,” was forbidden to approach Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19:13): [It says] “or man.” So I have it that a man [is included in the prohibition]. How do I know a woman [is included]? For it says, “or man.” From: Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues, Number 17, Spring 5769/2009, pp. 198-204 | 10.1353/nsh.0.0045 http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/nashim/v017/17.gellman.html See also: http://www.amazon.com/dp/9657108004 http://www.amazon.com/dp/B003IMH55K http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/author/safrai-chana http://www.antjeschrupp.de/chana-safrai http://layda.org/about/ http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chana_Safrai http://www.jerusalemperspective.com/author/chana-safrai/