by Chaim Seymour
In 1930, the newly-married Nehama Leibowitz left Germany and emigrated to what was then Palestine. There she taught Bible in a variety of different frameworks including university, radio, school, and her own one-woman large-scale correspondence course entitled “Gilyonot.” She unobtrusively played her part in a number of revolutions. Through her work, the Bible became important and relevant. For many Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox institutions, she was the first woman teacher. She was the recipient of the Israel Prize for Education in 1956.
Two weeks ago, I was at the Herzog Teacher Training College in Alon Shvut. Every summer they have a four-day “happening.” Each day some 1,500 people come to hear lectures about the Bible. Since most people do not come for four full days, we are probably talking about 3,000 people who are willing to travel to a remote spot and sit down voluntarily to listen to lectures on the Bible. This successful institution certainly owes something to Nehama.
Nehama was the subject of Yael Unterman’s master’s thesis, which she has expanded into a book. To call this book a biography is a mistake. About 40% is devoted to Nehama’s life. The author then discusses Nehama’s beliefs, her methodology, and her brother Yeshaya Leibowitz, who was an important influence on her life. The book concludes with a discussion of future directions and developments. Nehama’s approach to teaching Bible was to start from the classical commentators and to step backwards and consider what stimulated their comments and analyses. Her approach was primarily literary, treating the text as an independent entity.
Hebrew speakers will be pleased to know that Ms. Unterman’s book was preceded by a biography in Hebrew written by Hayuta Deutsch. Ms. Unterman mentions that the Hebrew text came out as her work was in press. The two works were written independently.
I think both books succeed in presenting Nehama’s very special personality. Deutsch had an advantage in that she was in contact with the family and had access to Nehama’s papers. The Unterman work is better organized. Both authors used available sources liberally and conducted interviews with many of Nehama’s friends and admirers.
The Unterman book is highly readable. It is recommended for the so-called general reader, and is a must for educators, feminists, and Zionists. The bilingual reader has a choice of two good works with slightly different emphases.
“Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher and Bible Scholar” was a 2009 National Jewish Book Award finalist winner in the category of Modern Jewish Thought and Experience. The book includes over 50 b/w photos.
From Israel National News
The original text of the review may be found here.