The Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry

Princess or Prisoner? Jewish Women in Jerusalem, 1840-1914

Margalit Shilo

Cover of "Princess or Prisoner? Jewish Women in Jerusalem, 1840-1914"An in-depth look at the lives of religious Jewish women in Jerusalem at a transitional moment in its history.

This is a fascinating journey into the world of women in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of Jerusalem toward the end of Ottoman rule in the Holy Land. Until now, the story of life in the Land of Israel in this period has been told exclusively from the male viewpoint — a story of religious observance and fulfillment confined to the male world of Torah study and prayer.

Margalit Shilo sheds new light on female society of the time, a subject nearly untouched by historians. Through painstaking research, Shilo has unearthed a wealth of primary sources, including women’s memoirs, letters and the contemporary Jewish press.

The author weaves together the different threads that made up the world of ultra-Orthodox women in Jerusalem: the experience of immigration to the Land of Israel, marriage, the family unit, economic and philanthropic activities, and female scholarship. She also takes a hard look at the adversities of women’s lives, such as desertion, poverty and prostitution. By revealing the unheard, unseen female voice, Shilo paints a new and lively picture of Jewish society in Jerusalem around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

"Margalit Shilo… a leading scholar of women's studies in Israel, opens up for the reader the world of Orthodox women in Jerusalem towards the end of Ottoman rule… giv[ing] us a rich and detailed picture…Through this book, both erudite and exciting, the reader learns about the unique quality of life in Jerusalem in this period, and how Jerusalem provided women with a special arena for a life of holiness." —JOFA

"Any Jewish woman (or man) who travels to Israel nowadays should choose this book as a travel companion to familiarize herself or himself with the struggle and hardships that previous generations had to endure." —The Jewish Press

“Margalit Shilo’s book is the first attempt to recount the excluded narrative of the Jewish women in Jerusalem during the years: 1840–1914. This research is without precedence: The orthodox male establishment could not be bothered to record its women’s daily life in its reports and protocols. As for the women, almost all of them were illiterate, and those few who could tell — did not dare to write it. Shilo collected every available information, and the result is a fascinating social-historical account.” —Prof. Yaffah Berlovitz, Bar-Ilan University, Israel

“Margalit Shilo has, sensitively and evocatively, recovered the experience of women in the ‘Old Yishuv’ in Jerusalem. Drawing on an impressive array of materials, she has created a rich kaleidoscope of family life and the community, travel, immigration and pilgrimage, women’s religion, work and philanthropy and their forms of marginality, from poverty and dearth, to prostitution. The book however is more than a recovery of hidden lives: it effectively and convincingly deploys gender, to widen our understanding of the history of Eretz–Israel Palestine, during the crucial period of modernization, thus making a valuable contribution not only to Jewish women’s history, but also to that of the Yishuv.” —Billie Melman, Professor of History, Tel Aviv University

About the Author

Margalit Shilo is a professor in the Land of Israel studies department, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel. This book was first published in Hebrew by Haifa University Press.