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Book Notes: Woman's Cause: The Jewish Woman's Movement in England and the United States 1881-1933, Linda Gordon Kuzmack

Anne J. Kershen

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Woman's Cause: The Jewish Woman's Movement in England and the United States 1881-1933. Linda Gordon Kuzmack (Ohio State University Press, Columbus, 1990) xiv + 280pp. In the past twenty years there has been an explosion of 'new women's' histories. It is surprising therefore that with the exception of some pioneering essays written by Rickie Burman - not referred to in the work under review - and the Jewish Women in London Group, Jewish feminist history in England has been virtually ignored. In the book under review Linda Gordon Kuzmack attempts to go some way to redress the balance by looking at the experience of Jewish women on both sides of the Atiantic in the years between 1881 and 1933. Comparative studies are always challenging and, as the book reveals, the author might have been better advised to concentrate either on one country, undoubtedly the USA, or fewer issues. The development of an industrialized and market-based economy in the 19th century created a separation between commerce and domesticity, making the home the domain of the female. Thus, argues the author, the conditions were laid down for the emergence of a women's or, as in the USA, woman's movement. Kuzmack suggests that certain aspects of Judaism contrived to stimulate the entry of Jewish women into the feminists' world; the 'hidden and separate' role of the female in religious practice and her (not always acknowledged) role as breadwin? ner in order to enable male kinsfolk to devote themselves to the more important rigours of religious study and prayer. What was the role model for the Jewish feminist, Judith Cohen Montefiore, who devoted herself to her husband, religion and good works, or Lily Montagu, the 'New' Jewish woman, unmarried, spiritual leader and founder of the truly pro 382</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes gressive - Liberal - movement in early 20th-century Anglo-Jewry? Kuzmack covers the spectrum of types and issues in chapters that address philanthropy, the professions, labour organization, white slavery and prostitution and, of course, female suffrage. Even such a broad coverage, the author insists, necessitates certain exclusions. Jewish feminists who moved beyond their 'Jewish circle' are omitted, so we lose the opportunity to spend time with Emma Goldman. Sarah Wesker, communist, East End trade unionist and 1930s feminist if ever there was one, is passed over in one sentence. The entire women's Zionist movement is left out, as the author believes she would do the movement a disservice if it were not explored in depth. This is not to deny the service the book does for the study of Jewish feminism in England. It lays the foundations for a diversity of future works and opens up a number of topics for debate in areas such as the effects of anti Semitism on Anglo-Jewish feminists, the dilemma between socialism and femin? ism, as experienced by Dora Montefiore, and the centrality of Progressive Judaism in the development of the women's movement. The last was more apparent in America than England, at least until Lily Montagu arrived on the scene. What does weaken the work is the frequency of misinterpretations, inaccuracies and lack of background research and information on the English sections of the narrative. To mention only a few: Reform Judaism was not 'transported to Eng? land' (p. 24); Rudolf Rocker was not deported back to Germany in 1914 (p. 115); and it was not the Board of Trade's report on sweating conditions in East London that persuaded Charles Booth to begin his impressive seventeen-volume Life and Labour in Britain [sic] (p. 111). It is regrettable that the book suffers from a lack of attention to this sort of detail. From the sources quoted Kuzmack appears to have relied very heavily for the English content on the Jewish Chronicle. She has made little use of the archival collections of personal papers to be found in Israel and England. It is to be hoped that Anglo-Jewish historiographers will now follow Kuzmack's lead and provide us with more detailed accounts of Anglo-Jewish feminists both in the years referred to above and more recent decades. AnneJ. Kershen</page></plain_text>