Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher and Bible Scholar, by Yael Unterman, is an extremely well-documented book encompassing the varied facets of the life of Nehama Leibowitz.
She was in the forefront of women Torah teachers, and influenced not only Jewish individuals worldwide, but also those who were not Jewish. People flocked to her, and could not get enough of her teachings. Whoever wanted to learn was given the opportunity to learn. In her eyes, everyone was equal.
From the cab drivers to the janitors to Rabbis and corporate heads, Nehama endeavored to instill her scholarship to all who wanted it, through her highly popular and unique teaching methods. Her gilyonot/worksheets were the foundation of learning for thousands of individuals. She mailed them out to those who requested them. In turn, they were mailed back to her, and she would review them and return them with comments and/or corrections. Students couldn’t get enough of those gilyonot, and their popularity rose from word-of-mouth throughout the world. Her Bible courses and Torah Portion teaching methods made her famous worldwide.
Nehama became an icon of sorts, and did not like being labeled as such. But, labeled she was, and Unterman details her dedication and work through extreme detail, encompassing correspondence, documents, photographs, interviews with students and her peers, friends and family, and analysis of her environment.
Nehama was extremely intelligent, forthright, had a strong work ethic, and was dedicated to the study of Torah. This dedication not only applied to her students and others interested in Torah, but also encompassed her own ideals and dedication. Her devotion also applied to Israel, itself. She believed in the state of Israel, believed in its contributions and roles to the Jewish community as a whole.
Although she was asked to lecture and teach in universities outside of Israel, she refused every invitation. The only time she traveled outside of Israel, was when she emigrated to Israel. Israel was her home, and she saw no need to travel outside of its borders.
Nehama was a very opinionated person, and her beliefs were strong as far as taking responsibility for actions, and taking responsibility for humanity. She evokes these ideals throughout her teachings, and lends credence to them through Torah study.
She held classes in her home often, and students were in disbelief when first entering her house. It was sparse, and furniture was old and worn. This was the world she thrived in, and simplicity was everywhere within her home. She didn’t have need for material things, and her furniture was used until it literally fell apart. The same went for her clothes.
One thing I learned from this incredible book is the fact that Nehama was married. She never had to change her surname, because she married her uncle, Yedidya Lipman Leibowitz. He was old enough to be her father. They had a wonderful relationship and marriage. Each adored the other, and their adoration was apparent to others. They shared much in common, and their values and ideals were synonymous. When he died, a part of her died, also. She threw herself into her work more than she had already done (which had already taken up the majority of her daily time).
Nehama became a world-recognized Jewish force. Her personality grasped individuals in a positive manner. She was a force like no other, when it came to Torah. Her adamancy regarding issues captivated her peers and her students, alike. She was a respected scholar during a time period when men were the more highly regarded scholars.
Unterman depicts almost every facet of Nehama’s life, including teaching, her methodology, opinions, feminism, approaches to learning, Jewish identity and Zionism, and so much more. Throughout the pages, the reader not only recognizes the fact that Nehama was a scholar, but also is shown the perspective of a woman of humility and simplicity. Despite her often authoritative manners, underneath the voice was a humble woman.
I could not put the book down. The story, itself, is almost 600 pages long, and I read it at every given opportunity. For me, it was not a tedious read, but a book I wanted to read. There is so much to learn within the pages, not only about Nehama, but about Jewish life, the Jewish religion, Torah, Jewish education and the Jewish community as a whole. It is a fascinating book on many levels.
I totally enjoyed reading Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher and Bible Scholar. In my opinion, it is a brilliant masterpiece. Yael Unterman’s own devotion to depicting Nehama with extreme accuracy is evident within the pages. The book is a masterful testament to her, and honors her with dignity through exemplary writing. I applaud Yael Unterman! I highly recommend Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher and Bible Scholar to everyone.
March 11, 2013 – 29 Adar I, 5773