Paula Hyman, a noted feminist and historian and former chair of the of the program in Judaic Studies, passed away Thursday morning after a battle with breast cancer. She was 65
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A founder of Ezrat Nashim, a group of Conservative Jewish women who advocate for changes in the religion’s treatment of women, Hyman was a prominent scholar of Judaism and a symbol of Jewish feminism. At Yale and in New Haven, she served as a mentor and friend to many, Rabbi James Ponet ’68 wrote in a Thursday email to affiliates of the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale.
“[Her] capacity for loyal friendship, her love of the Jewish people writ large and her passionate engagement in numerous Jewish communities provide us all with an enduring model of what makes a life worth living, and what it means to live a committed Jewish life,” Ponet said.
Throughout her illness, Hyman remained a prominent figure both on and off campus. She stayed involved with the Westville Jewish community and often spoke at community events, said Lauren Gottlieb GRD ’16, who studied with Hyman.
Born in Boston in September 1946 to Sydney and Ida Tatelman, Hyman was the oldest of three sisters. After attending both Radcliffe College and the Hebrew Teachers College of Boston, Hyman went on to receive a doctorate from Columbia University.
During her time in New York, she emerged as a leader in the Jewish-American feminist movement, breaking glass ceilings in the field of Judaic Studies and advocating for women’s rights within Conservative Judaism. In 1971, she helped found Ezrat Nashim, which successfully pressured the Conservative movement to include women in the minyan (the quorum of adults required for some Jewish rituals), allow women to participate equally in prayer leadership and begin ordaining women as rabbis.
Hyman came to Yale in 1986 as the Lucy Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History. She served as the chair of the Judaic Studies program for 13 years, and remained active despite her illness, advising six of 15 current graduate students. Hyman published extensively on topics including the history of Jewish women, Jewish feminism and the French Jewry and served as president of the American Academy for Jewish Research. She was an inspiration both as a scholar and as an embodiment of the ideas she studied, Judaic Studies professor Eliyahu Stern said.
“I learned so much from her, not only about Jewish history, but also about how to move in the world as a woman scholar,” Gottlieb said. “She taught by example and allowed us to see her not only a professor, but as a proud mother and grandmother, community activist and Jewish leader.”