Scholar Nechama Leibowitz Is Born
Photo: David S. Levin

September 3, 1905

Scholar, teacher and biblical commentator Nechama Leibowitz is born in Riga, Latvia, where she grows up competing with her brother, future Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz, in their father’s Bible quizzes.

The family moves in 1919 to Berlin, where Leibowitz lives until she earns her doctorate. She then moves to Mandatory Palestine in 1930 to teach. In the Land of Israel, she teaches at yeshivas, seminaries and Tel Aviv University. She also engages with and tends to the young, inquisitive Jewish community by mailing her work all around the country. She becomes well known for dispatches of her “Pages,” which pose questions to her students about Torah portions and which she begins distributing in 1942. The conversations and interactions through her mailings become a staple of her teaching method, as she eventually reaches students around the globe through translations. Her dispatches on the weekly Torah portions are collected into the “Studies in the Weekly Sidra” series, one for each of the five books of the Torah.

Leibowitz’s teaching methods mark a turning point in modern Jewish biblical studies as they encourage a multidimensional, pluralistic discussion. While her methods are contested by many religious communities, she creates a model for approaching the Bible through an active, literary lens and paves the way for female Torah scholars.

She is awarded the Israel Prize in education in 1956. Until her death in 1997, Leibowitz continues to teach in Israel, despite many foreign institutions’ attempts to employ her.