A Woman's Voice: Sarah Foner, Hebrew Author of the Haskalah

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9780966625127: A Woman's Voice: Sarah Foner, Hebrew Author of the Haskalah
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Sarah Menkin Foner (1854 - 1936), wrote about the issues that were important to her in the language she cared most about; Hebrew. She published the first novel by a woman in Hebrew, Love of the Righteous, at the age of twenty-six. The main themes in the novel concerned the institution of arranged marriages and the vulnerable position of Jewish women in Eastern European society. Soon after the novel appeared, Foner married Yehoshua Mezach, a divorced Hebrew and Yiddish writer twenty years her senior. Their brief marriage ended in disaster, and Foner was left with a child and with little further appetite to wax poetic on the subject of romantic love. After a period of living at home in difficult economic circumstances, she married the Hebrew playwright Mayer Foner, a man her own age, but one who did not share her respect for traditional Jewish observance. They traveled about the Pale of Settlement working as itinerant teachers before settling in Lodz.

In the introduction to her children's book published in 1886, The Children's Path, Foner memorializes Sir Moses Montefiore and to inveighs against the lack of civility amongst the Hebrew writers of the time. Foner suffered through personal and professional slights throughout her active writing career, which extended from 1880 to 1919. Her novella, The Treachery of Traitors, was published in Warsaw in 1891, first in Hebrew and later in Yiddish. Foner wove several female characters into the story who prove themselves stronger than any of the men. The liberties she takes with the history as portrayed in the Josephon, are telling, such as having the would-be usurper torture and kill his own wife, in place of his brothers-in-law.

While living in Lodz, Foner founded the Daughters of Zion Society, for the education of Jewish girls in Hebrew and Jewish history. In 1903 she published a memoir of growing up in 1860's Latvia, From Memories of My Childhood Days. It contains strong Zionist content and harsh criticism of religious intolerance. Foner was especially critical of the Jews inability to peacefully coexist with one another, even while living under the constant threat of violence from the Russians and the Poles. She attended an early Zionist conference before leaving the European continent and her second husband permanently behind for England and America. Foner published a short Biblical fiction in Yiddish titled, The Women's Revolt, while in living in England. The last story of Foner's to appear in print was published in an American journal, Shaharut, in 1919, a charming story of how the author came to learn Hebrew as a little girl. Foner spent the final years of her life in the home of her son in Pittsburgh, PA.

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About the Author:

Morris Rosenthal is a great-grandson of Sarah Foner. He divides his time between Northampton, MA and Jerusalem, where he studies Hebrew literature and traditional Jewish learning.

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