Betty Friedan: Jews and American Feminism

Betty Friedan in 1960. Source: Wikipedia Commons
Betty Friedan in 1960. Source: Wikipedia Commons

A presentation on the life and work of Betty Friedan, a prominent American Jewish feminist leader. The author of the landmark The Feminine Mystique (1963), she later became the Founder of the National Organization of Women, and an important political activist for women’s rights.  The lecture was held at the Young Israel of Bal Harbour on May 29, 2013.


Excerpt from The Kabbalah of Forgiveness Now Online



An excerpt from The Kabbalah of Forgiveness: A Reader’s Guide to Rabbi Moshe Cordovero’s The Palm Tree of Devorah, a new translation and commentary on the 16th-century classic of Kabbalistic musar, is now available online.  Anticipated publication date is August 2013. 

The Palm Tree of Devorah first appeared in 1588 and became and instant classic. The author, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, was the most celebrated Kabbalist of his day, a student of Rabbi Yosef Karo (the author of the Code of Jewish Law) and the teacher of Rabbi Isaac Luria (the Arizal) among others.

The topic of this phenomenal work is imitatio Dei, or the “imitation of God,” through emulation of the 10 Kabbalistic sefirot.  The first chapter is certainly the most well known, dealing with the sefirah of Keter in the form of the 13 Attributes of Mercy. Rabbi Cordovero uses this to describe 13 distinct levels of forgiveness. As human beings learn to forgive each other, this will elicit further Divine influence through the sefirah of Keter, expanding forgiveness in the world, perfecting it through tikun olam, and hastening the Messianic redemption.

The Kabbalah of Forgiveness provides the Hebrew original, a new English translation, and commentary by Dr. Abramson, including a description of practical applications of Rabbi Cordovero’s teachings.

Click here to read the excerpt.

Stephen Samuel Wise and the Jews of America

Stephen S. Wise and son (1918). Source: Wikipedia Commons.
Stephen S. Wise and son (1918). Source: Wikipedia Commons.

A presentation on the life and work of Stephen Samuel Wise (1874-1949), an important American communal leader. The lecture will take a broader focus, looking at the history of Jewish settlement in the United States during the 19th century and the major issues facing this immigrant community through the middle of the twentieth century.  The lecture was held at Young Israel of Bal Harbour.


Notes from the Presentation:

Stephen Samuel Wise

Henry Abramson

Touro College South

Young Israel of Bal harbour

Stephen Silver Wise

Born Budapest 1874

Reform Rabbi

Major Jewish Activist

American Zionist

Controversial leadership during Holocaust

Died 1949

Haredi to Neolog

Long line of Rabbis

Grandfather Joseph Hirsch Weisz ultra-Orthodox

Father Aaron also ultra-Orthodox, immigrates to USA and becomes founding member of Jewish Theological Seminary

Stephen Samuel Wise prominent Reform leader, founder of Jewish Institute of Religion (later merges with Hebrew Union College)

The Denominational Spectrum

Immigration to the USA

Father Aaron Rabbi, social liberal

Attempts to unionize workers in father-in-law’s porcelain factory

Father-in-law buys him one-way ticket to New York

German vs Eastern European immigration

Earliest Jewish immigrants: Sefardic Jews

German Jews mid-19th century

Massive wave of Eastern European Jewry after 1881


Ordination 1893 (Adolph Jellinek of Vienna)

Columbia PhD, 1901

Dissertation: translation of Shlomo ibn Gabriol

American mid-century model of “Scholar-Rabbi”


Married Louise Waterman, 1900, took position at Temple in Portland, Oregon

Disciple of Felix Adler’s Ethical Culture movement

Translator, author, social activist

Son author, art specialist (wrote biography of mother)

Daughter author, judge, advisor to Eleanor Roosevelt

The Free pulpit

1906 turned down offer to lead Congregation Emanu-el over issue of a “free pulpit”

Returns to Oregon but comes back to NYC one year later, founds The Free Synagogue

Free pulpit, free seats

American Liberalism

Co-founder of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP, 1909)

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU, 1920)

Promoted labor causes, attacked corruption

forced resignation of New York mayor James Walker (1932)

Founded and led American Jewish Congress (more activist than American Jewish Committee)

American Zionism

Classical Reform position on Zionism

Founded New York Federation of Zionist Societies (1897)

Worked closely with Herzl

American secretary in World Zionist Congress in Basle (1898)

Involved in drafting text of the Balfour declaration

Ethnic Voting Patterns, 2008

Jewish Denominational Voting Patterns (2008)

International Politics

Close to President Wilson

Represented Zionism at Versailles Peace Conference


Multiple volumes of memoirs, speeches, sermons

Leadership During the Holocaust


How much pressure to put on Roosevelt, State Department?

Advocated strong anti-Nazi policy since 1930s, but criticized for tepid response during war

The Riegner Telegram

August 1942

Telegram addressed to Wise, but intercepted at State Department

Confirmed existence of the “Final Solution”

Wise received it from British parliament


Met with Roosevelt in 1943

30 minutes, mainly Roosevelt talking

Should Wise have invoked his fiery rhetoric and public persona?


Defining American Jewish liberalism for a century

Defining American Jewish Zionism

Mitnagdim, Hasidim, Maskilim: The Cultural Geography of Jewish Eastern Europe

Ger Hasidim (Source: Wikipedia Commons)
Ger Hasidim (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

This lecture presents a broad overview of the three main intellectual-religious trends present in 19th century Jewish Eastern Europe: the traditionalist Mitnagdim, the innovative Hasidim, and the modernizing Maskilim. Good as an overall introduction, although I go into more detail on all of these movements in other lectures on this website.  Taped on April 21, 2013 as a lecture to the Jewish Geneaological Society of Broward Country.


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Golda Meir and the Foundations of Israel

Golda Meir (1949), Photograph courtesy T. Brauner and Wikipedia Commons
Golda Meir (1949), Photograph courtesy T. Brauner and Wikipedia Commons

A presentation of the life of Golda Meir (1898-1978), spanning her immigration to Israel in 1921 through the end of her term as the fourth Prime Minister of Israel in 1974. The lecture will discuss the foundations of the Yishuv, the pre-state Jewish community, and touch on the major social and military conflicts that Israel endured during the first three decades of its existence.  The lecture was held at Young Israel of Bal Harbour.


Emanuel Ringelblum: Heroic Scholar of the Warsaw Ghetto


An examination of the life and work of Emanuel Ringelblum (1900-1944), the heroic Polish scholar who organized the underground Oneg Shabbat society in the Warsaw Ghetto. Ringelblum recognized the extreme and unprecedented nature of the Nazi onslaught early in the war, and brought together a group of highly dedicated volunteers who recorded every aspect of Jewish life in the ghetto, including a functioning underground medical school, theaters, newspapers and the like. Betrayed to the Germans, he died a martyr’s death, but not before he buried the Oneg Shabbat archives in milk cans. They were unearthed after the war, and constitute a major source for the study of the Holocaust.


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Solomon Mikhoels: Jews and Jewish Art in the USSR

Part I:


Part II:


Part III:


Solomon Mikhoels (1890-1948) was one of the most prominent actors and directors in early Soviet Russia. His career coincides with the brief flourishing of Yiddish culture under the policy of korenizatsiia, or “indiginization,” when the Communist authorities sought to develop folk culture as a means of developing loyalty to the new regime and its ideology. Performing in Shakespeare and Sholom Aleichem with equal grace, Mikhoels was a hero to Jews throughout the Soviet Union until Stalin brought the liberal policy to an abrupt end.

Shimon Dubnow: The Politics of Jewish Identity in the Modern World


Shimon Dubnow (1860-1941), a noted historian and activist whose theories of Jewish survival in the diaspora were extremely influential in the shaping Jewish identity in the modern world, from the future of Russian Jewry to the establishment of the modern Federation movement in the United States.  Dubnow’s scholarship was inextricably intertwined with the effort to establish equal rights for Jews in the Tsarist Empire during a period of phenomenal change. Martyred at the hands of the Nazis, his last words were “shrayb–un farshrayb” (write..and record), a Yiddish phrase that has motivated generations of Jewish historians.

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Moses Mendelssohn and the Haskalah Movement


Moses Mendelssohn was a hugely influential thinker in 18th-century Germany.  An unusually gifted intellect, he became the primary spokesperson for the emancipation of Jews in the 18th century, and his cause was championed by many non-Jewish liberals of the era. Heralded as the founder of the Reform movement even though Mendelssohn himself maintained an observant lifestyle, his activity spawned a wholesale abandonment of traditional Judaism. Within a century of his death, his strategy of acculturation to the modern era was widely accepted by most Jewish thinkers in western Europe, but not a single one of Mendelssohn’s descendants remained Jewish.

Please click here to view the version of this lecture edited by

Nathan of Hanover and the Ukrainian Revolution of 1648-1649


Nathan of Hanover is best known for his moving chronicle of the Khmel’nyts’kyi (Chmielnicki) Rebellion. Entitled Yeven Metsulah (“The Abyss of Despair”), it records with remarkable fairness the social, political, economic and religious background of the mid-17th century Ukrainian movement against the Poles, along with the horrible pogroms perpetrated in the context of that violent era. His analysis of the overall demographic impact of the attacks has been challenged by modern scholarship, but Hanover’s powerful treatment of the martyrdom of Ukrainian Jewry made a powerful impact on Jewish memory for centuries.

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