For most of history, well-known documents in Jewish languages were penned by men. At various points, however, Jewish women have recorded their voices in writing and in song. This initiative highlights and honors these voices across time and across the Jewish Diaspora through an online exhibit and event series, coordinated by the HUC-JIR Jewish Language Project.
The items shared in this exhibit span over a millennium and 20 different languages (some with multiple dialects). Jewish women have written in many genres, including letters, literature, translations of religious texts, memoirs, songs, and dictionaries. The exhibit also includes works authored by men intended for women’s use, such as prayer books translated into vernacular languages so that women, sometimes literate but not proficient in Hebrew, might understand the meaning. You’ll also find songs composed by women and traditional women’s songs, which are just as prevalent across many Jewish cultures. Oral traditions are often overlooked in favor of written work, but they represent an important literary form that women pass from generation to generation.
The materials presented here are only a selection of Jewish women’s work. The older items in the exhibit are rare in their survival, and many others may have once existed. The contemporary works stem from lesser-known, underrepresented, or endangered languages, such as Yemeni Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Berber, Juhuri, and Karaim. Modern women’s literature and songs in languages like Yiddish and Modern Hebrew have not been highlighted in this exhibit because they are already substantially documented and present in modern scholarship.
Read more at this blog post on Jewish Women's Archive and Cambridge University's Genizah Fragments blog by Sarah Bunin Benor, Jewish Language Project Director, and Abby Graham, who curated this exhibit.
How to browse the exhibit
This tutorial video demonstrates how to browse the exhibit. The dots on the timeline and map, color-coded by era, represent texts and songs in the collection. Click on a dot and expand the box on the right to read about an item and access images and audio and video recordings.
You can also read an accessible version of the exhibit's item descriptions in the spreadsheet below. You can search by keyword in the search box at the top, scroll through the rows using the bars on the right and bottom, and sort the columns using the arrows in the top row.
May 2, 2023
The Language of Dying:
Women's Wills in the Premodern Mediterranian
Panelists and performers: Sarah Bunin Benor and Rena Lauer. Despite the popular idea that premodern Jewish women left little in writing, a significant number of Mediterranean Jewish women organized their affairs in anticipation of death by preparing wills. This talk and conversation thinks through the questions of Jewish women’s “agency” by considering the linguistic lens: what the languages and linguistic choices of the wills can tell us about the active roles played by Jewish women in the construction of their last wills and testaments.
November 13, 2022
Women’s Songs in Endangered Jewish Languages
Panelists and performers: Vanessa Paloma Elbaz, Judith Cohen, Ruth Davis, Laura Elkeslassy, Miléna Kartowski-Aïach, Sara Manasseh. To celebrate the groundbreaking online exhibit, "A Millennium of Jewish Women's Voices," this event features archival and contemporary performances of women's songs in Judeo-Arabic (Iraq and Tunisia), Judeo-Amazigh (Morocco), Ladino, and more.
October 30, 2022
Introducing an Online Exhibit of Jewish Languages
Panelists: Sarah Bunin Benor, Abby Graham, Federica Francesconi, Hilah Kohen, Laura Arnold Leibman, Renée Levine Melammed. Where can women’s voices be found in historical records? In which languages? What is the process of researching women’s texts? What is the role of the Cairo Geniza in preserving the words of women? What factors encouraged or discouraged women’s writing in various periods? In what other ways did women record their words for posterity?
Click the buttons below to jump to a specific tag, such as a particular language or genre, each with multiple events in the exhibit showcasing the voices of Jewish women.
Some items in the exhibit
The oldest item in the exhibit: a Hebrew poem by the wife of Dunash Ibn Labrat, written in 990 CE, set to music and performed by Yoni Avi Battat & Laura Elkeslassy in 2022
The most recent item in the exhibit: Asfalou, an artistic musical video created by Miléna Kartowski-Aïach, based on an old Judeo-Amazigh song from Tinghir, Morocco
Jewish Women's Voices playlist on YouTube
Visit our RedBubble store to purchase these and other products!
Some external exhibits on Jewish women's voices
Jewish Women's Wills, exhibit by Rena Lauer
"A Millennium of Jewish Women's Voices" was curated by Abby Graham and funded by a grant from HUC-JIR in honor of the 50th anniversary of Rabbi Sally Priesand's ordination. The exhibit is presented on the Jewish Cultures Mapped platform, run by the Jewish Music Research Centre. Gittel Marcus designed the banner, and Abby Graham designed the fun facts. Eden Moyal organized this page.
Special thanks to:
Judith Baskin, Judith Cohen, Alan Elbaum, Federica Francesconi, Ophira Gamliel, Evgeniya Gutova, Ofir Haim, Kathryn Hellerstein, Debra Kaplan, Miléna Kartowski-Aïach, Geoffrey Khan, Marc Kiwitt, Hilah Kohen, Lital Levy, Sara Manasseh, Alan Niku, Melonie Schmierer-Lee, Ora Schwarzwald, Edwin Serrousi, Josef Sprinzak, Anna Sulimowicz, Havva Zellner, Oded Zinger, and many other scholars of Jewish women’s history and Jewish languages. Thanks also to the Princeton Geniza Project, the Cambridge Genizah Research Unit, and Mother Tongue: The Preservation of Jewish Languages and Cultures.
An additional thanks to our co-sponsors:
ASF Institute of Jewish Experience, Cambridge University Library Genizah Research Unit, Jewish Arts Collaborative, Jewish Music Institute, Jewish Music Research Centre, JIMENA, Jewish Women's Archive, Lilith Magazine, Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, Mother Tongue, Oxford School of Rare Jewish Languages at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, Sephardic Mizrahi Q Network, Stroum Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Washington, UCBerkeley Magnes Museum, Yeshivat Maharat.
If you have questions, comments, or suggestions of items to add to the exhibit, please contact us.