(1883–1935), founder of the Orthodox education network Beys Yankev (Bet Ya‘akov; Beth Jacob). Born in Kraków to a Belz Hasidic family, Sara Schenirer finished her studies in a government-sponsored primary school, and worked as a seamstress while educating herself intensively in Jewish philosophy and scripture. She was deeply influenced by the writings of Samson Raphael Hirsch.
Schenirer moved to Vienna in 1914 after the outbreak of World War I but returned to Kraków early the next year, where she organized a group of girls and taught them Jewish studies. She concluded that an effective struggle against secularization and acculturation among women, a task that had confronted traditional Galician Jews since the beginning of the twentieth century, must begin with educational activity among the younger age groups, and she proposed the idea of establishing Orthodox schools for girls.
Pupils of a Beys Yankev school posing with glasses of milk probably provided by a benefactor, Zborów, Poland, 1930s. The Yiddish sign reads: “Beys Yankev. Let us walk in G-d’s light.” This photograph, as is the case with many from the era, was taken outside because the photographer did not have adequate light to take a picture indoors. (YIVO)
In 1917, after receiving the blessing of Yisakhar Dov Rokeaḥ (the Hasidic rebbe of Belz), she opened a girls’ school in her apartment, calling it Beys Yankev. This institution offered a complementary Jewish education to 25 girls from Hasidic families who otherwise studied in government-sponsored schools, and it grew rapidly. Schenirer’s program was supported by a number of Orthodox activists in Kraków and was endorsed by Agudas Yisroel in 1919. After Agudas Yisroel agreed to sponsor a national network of Beys Yankev schools in 1922, Schenirer lectured in many cities, founding schools and winning the support of Agudas Yisroel members in numerous communities. In 1925, she also helped to found the educational and social organization Bnos Agudas Yisroel (Daughters of Agudas Yisroel), for graduates of Beys Yankev.
Schenirer also founded and taught at the Beys Yankev Teachers Training Seminary in Kraków. Although there were innovative aspects to her activities, Schenirer never sought to alter the position of women in Orthodox society; rather, she emphasized the importance of maintaining the centrality of traditional “feminine” values such as modesty, faith, and motherhood. In this light, the focus of traditional descriptions of her character, which acquired mythical dimensions within the circles of Agudas Yisroel, is on her “feminine” traits, while ignoring other aspects such as her organizational capabilities and leadership skills.
Schenirer published articles on education, ethics, and the Jewish religious calendar, which were collected in Gezamlte shriftn (Collected Writings; 1933). She also wrote a number of plays, among them Khane un ir zibn zin (Hannah and Her Seven Sons; 1929) and Der koyekh fun heylikn shabes (The Power of the Holy Sabbath; 1922). Some of her writings and plays were translated into Hebrew and appeared in Sefer ha-maḥazot (Book of Plays; 1954) and Em bi-Yisra’el (A Mother in Israel; 1955).
Pearl Benisch, Carry Me in Your Heart: The Life and Legacy of Sarah Schenirer (New York, 2003); Judith Grunfeld-Rosenbaum, “Sara Schenirer,” in Jewish Leaders, 1750–1940, ed. Leo Jung, pp. 407–432 (New York, 1953); Rachel Manekin, “Mashehu ḥadash le-gamre: Hitpatḥuto shel ra‘yon ha-ḥinukh ha-dati le-vanot ba-‘et ha-ḥadashah,” Masekhet 2 (2004): 63–85; Yeḥezkel Rotenberg, ed., Sefer zikaron le-Sarah Shenirer (Bene Berak, Isr., 1983/84); Deborah Weissman, “Bais Ya‘akov As an Innovation in Jewish Women’s Education: A Contribution to the Study of Education and Social Change,” Studies in Jewish Education 7 (1995): 278–299.
Translated from Hebrew by Carrie Friedman-Cohen