Shabbos Chanukah And The Birth Of The Bais Yaakov Movement


Shamshon_Raphael_HirschBy Moshe Pogrow

One hundred years ago, on Shabbos Chanukah 1915, a single young woman, Sarah Schneirer, attended a Shabbos afternoon women’s shiur given by Rabbiner Flesch, a dayan of the Schiffshul, the main kehillah of Vienna, and he quoted some of Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch’s ideas. Rav Hirsch’s words so impressed her that she began reading his writings, diligently studying Horeb and The Nineteen Letters. Feeling a need to carry the teachings of Rav Hirsch even further, she opened her school in Krakow in 1917, teaching her pupils Chumash with Rav Hirsch’s commentary and giving courses on The Nineteen Letters. In order for the girls to understand his writings without translation, she required them to learn the German language.

Dr. Leo Deutschlander wrote about the “inner development of this unique woman”: “No spiritual and intellectual force compared to the influence of the writings of Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch in the self education and inner development of the personality of Sarah Schneirer. Hundreds of essays from the collected writings were copied again and again and distributed in stencil form among the Bais Yaakov girls. No other books in the Bais Yaakov library were used so often, or showed such signs of wear and tear, as the Hirsch seforim. Up to the very last month of her life, she lectured to her students on Hirsch’s Nineteen Letters of Ben Uziel, which was her favorite book and which she loved to study with her pupils.”

This week is the real anniversary of the launch of the Bais Yaakov movement. Last year, we commemorated her yahrtzeit. This week is the perfect opportunity to celebrate her life – on the 100th anniversary, Shabbos Chanukah.

It is pretty safe to say that in recent history, the closest we have been to experiencing the world of the Misyavnim and the havoc they wreaked on the Jewish community in Eretz Yisroel during Bayis Sheini was the state of affairs in Germany and the surrounding countries during the 1800s through the Second World War. Perhaps the two people who best represented the Maccabim in that battle were Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch and Frau Sarah Schneirer, and it was on Shabbos Chanukah that Hashgachah Elyonah arranged for Sarah Schneirer to be introduced to the ammunition that would enable her in her single-minded battle for the hearts and minds of bnos Yisroel.

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  1. It is said that Sarah Schneirer started the Bais Yaakov movement because of the dire necessity promulgated by the Industrial Revolution which drew young women from working at home to the unwholesome environment of the factory workplace. When exposed to the heretical ideologies of that secular society, a staggering great number of young women were unfortunately drawn away from the True Path of our holy Torah. Frau Schneirer established Bais Yakov in order to provide the girls with the necessary spiritual guidance that they were no longer receiving at home and were as a result at risk of straying from the Derech HaTorah. Bais Yaakov was not intended for the daughters of Roshei Yeshiva Rabbonim or Chassidic Rebbes, for those girls were already inculcated with the Torah values of their homes from their earliest childhood. (Although it is true that nonetheless many students of Bais Yakov did come come Torah based homes, because their fathers felt it would be helpful for their children to receive spiritual reinforcement in a social setting.)

    What is most ironic is that today that very same institution that was designed to keep those girls at risk from straying from the true path is refusing to accept those who are the ones most in need of Bais Yakov’s original purpose; they are rejected for the very reason that they come from such homes that lack the instruction that Bais Yakov was intended to provide. At the same time the daughters who are already receiving such instruction in their homes and for whom Bais Yakov education is largely superfluous, are being welcomed with open arms.

    Just sayin’.

  2. #1
    You’re mostly incorrect. Sarah Schneirer focused on the upper middle-middle class educated daughters. While she did send her students to give a smattering to thegirls in the towns and villages ,primarily It WAS actually the upper girls that she preferred to educate.

    That was Bais Yaakov’s original purpose.If you so desire you should make other systems for the other girls,