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Puah Rakovsky

RAKOVSKY, PUAH (1865–1955), feminist activist, Zionist, educator, and translator. Born in Bialystok into a middle-class religiously observant family, Rakovsky was educated by private tutors in Bible, Hebrew, and rabbinics, in addition to receiving a general education in Polish schools. Fluent in Russian, Polish, German, French, Hebrew, and Yiddish, Rakovsky made her debut as a translator at 15, when her translation of a Russian poem by Shimon Frug was published in the Hebrew journal Ha-Ẓefirah. Rakovsky had a son and a daughter in her unhappy first marriage to Shimon Machlin, arranged when she was 16. She ultimately left her husband to be trained as a teacher, and they were divorced while she was teaching Hebrew in a Jewish girls' school in Lomza, Poland. Two years later, under the auspices of Bnei Moshe, the cultural arm of the Zionist movement *Ḥibbat Zion, Rakovsky founded "Yehudiah," a Jewish school for girls in Warsaw, which was pathbreaking in the prominence given to Hebrew in its curriculum. Rakovsky married twice more; her second husband, Abraham Krislavin, died of pleurisy after six years of marriage. Rakovsky and her third husband, Mordechai Birnbaum (1875–1934), whom she married in 1901, had a daughter.

World War I drove Rakovsky to close her school and flee Warsaw. Now drawn to Socialist Zionism, Rakovsky joined the Ze'irei Zion faction, and she became well-known as a Zionist and feminist advocate. Her first pamphlet, Di Yiddishe Froy ("The Jewish Woman"), published by Bnos Tsyion ("Daughters of Zion"), called for Jewish women's greater activism in Zionist affairs. In 1920, at the age of 55, Rakovsky emigrated to Palestine, but remained there for only one year. Rakovsky attended the 1920 founding meeting of *WIZO and became the first secretary of its Palestinian branch. She also established a vocational school for girls in Jerusalem before returning to Warsaw.

Known for her mastery as a Hebrew writer, highly unusual for a Polish Jewish woman of her generation and social class, Rakovsky also strongly supported the Yiddish language; during the 1920s, she increasingly turned to Yiddish in her writing, publishing, and translations. As a leader of the Jewish Women's Association in Poland, she coedited the Froyenshtim ("Women's Voice"), a journal which gave women a forum for public commentary that the general Yiddish press denied them. In this publication, as well as in her second Yiddish pamphlet, Di moderne froyen-bavegung ("The Modern Women's Movement"), Rakovsky encouraged women to organize separately and independently for equal participation in Zionist and Jewish communal affairs.

In 1935, Rakovsky moved permanently to Palestine. Between 1940 and 1942, she wrote her memoirs, published in both Hebrew and Yiddish. In her autobiography, Rakovsky labeled herself a "Radical Jewish Woman," an appellation which accurately reflected the revolutionary nature of her break from the traditional heritage of her family, her devotion to Zionism, and her advocacy for women's equality in modern Jewish life.


Puah Rakovsky, P.E. Hyman; trans. B. Harshav (ed.), My Life as a Radical Jewish Woman: Memoirs of a Zionist Feminist in Poland, (2002).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.