Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher

An educator who changed the face of Bible study.

Print this page Print this page

Leibowitz was a deeply religious personality, but of the sort that emphasized study and law, responsibility, and ethics rather than ecstatic and mystical dimensions. In this respect she was similar to her brother, Yeshayahu, a famous and controversial Israeli philosopher and social critic.  

While she believed in equal pay for women, and that women should be able to study Torah, Leibowitz opposed many feminist ideas. She did not want to change the balance of traditionally designated gender roles in Judaism or to modify halakhot (Jewish laws) pertaining to women. She rejected the call for women to serve in communal roles such as rabbi and to take on more commandments such as laying tefillin.

Although Leibowitz refused to acknowledge that she was a revolutionary, her unique achievements ultimately opened doors for subsequent female Torah scholars.

Leibowitz had no children, and despite all her achievements, was known to confide that she would have given it all up to have children. At her funeral in 1997, her nephew announced, "All those who feel as I do, like a son to Nehama, may join in the Kaddish prayer with me." Around the room, dozens of voices rose in unison: "Yitgadal v'yitkadash shemei raba." As per her request, her gravestone reads simply, "Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher."

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Yael Unterman is a teacher, writer and life coach living in Jerusalem. She is the author of an extensive biography of Nehama Leibowitz's life and work, "Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher and Bible Scholar."