We’ve all been told not to judge a book by its cover, but as it happens, the cover of Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher and Bible Scholar is actually quite instructive, especially when compared with another recent book on the same subject. On the front of Yael Unterman’s English-language book is a fuzzy photograph of an elderly Leibowitz standing in front of a blackboard, her face dominated by the thick black rim of her glasses and her hair modestly concealed beneath her signature beret. By contrast, the cover of a recently published Hebrew-language biography features a crisp image of Leibowitz as a young, smiling woman, her heavenward gaze unmediated by spectacles as a breeze ruffles her unrestrained hair.
And indeed, Hayuta Deutsch’s Nehama: The Life of Nehama Leibowitz (Yedioth Ahronoth Books and Chemed Books, 2008) allows the reader to see just how the old woman the one remembered, respected and loved by the many former students quoted in Unterman’s book – went from being the young Nehama facing the wind to the venerated, yet eminently accessible, Torah scholar and role model she became.
Though Deutsch’s book does more or less gloss over Leibowitz’s role in Diaspora Judaism, it is much more of a classical biography than Unterman’s; it progresses in chronological order, and puts Leibowitz’s accomplishments squarely in the context of her family (including her outspoken and controversial philosopher-scientist brother, Yeshayahu Leibowitz) and of the events and prevailing trends in her native Europe and adopted homeland of Israel, lending an added depth to the reader’s understanding of where Leibowitz was coming from.
The first section devotes a single cursory chapter to Leibowitz’s youth, from her birth in Riga, Latvia, in 1905, all the way through to her early years in Mandatory Palestine, where she moved in 1930 with her husband – her father’s younger brother, Yedidyah Lipman Leibowitz. (Though there has been much speculation about the reasons behind Nehama Leibowitz’s marriage to an uncle three decades her senior Read the rest of this entry »