Cherchez la femme in Jewish history – Journeys


When Professor Renee Levine Melammed began her academic studies as a student of religion, she noticed that most of the history books she found were written by male historians and were focused on men. Determined to “find the women,” as she says, she wrote her PhD thesis on the women of Spanish Crypto-Judaism.

Her Ashkenazi heritage notwithstanding, she is fascinated by Sephardic culture at the scholar as well as personal level.

“I know Spanish, Ladino and Arabic and I married a Yemenite who is unbelievably tied to his heritage,” she says. A professor of Jewish history at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, her main areas of practice include the Marranos of Spain and the Spanish Inquisition.

She began her academic career in 1975, as an instructor of the Hebrew language at Brandeis University, and has since held posts as visiting professor at Harvard and Yale, as well as other universities in the United States and in Israel.

Her latest book, ‘An Ode to Salonica: The Ladino Verses of Bouena Sarfatty’ – which recently won the Canadian Jewish Book Award – explores the world of a feisty partisan heroine who in her poetry described the Jewish life before, during and after the Nazi invasion of Greece.

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