Sarah Schenirer is compelled to leave school after completing the eighth grade because of her family’s financial difficulties.
July 3, 1883
Sarah Schenirer is born in Kraków to Rosalia (Roza) Lack Schenirer and Bezalel (Zalel) Schenirer, owners of a dry-goods store. She is the third of the family’s nine children.
A Rabbinical Conference, initiated by Rabbi Mendel Hacohen, Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Cairo, is held in Kraków to discuss the difficulties confronting world Orthodoxy, including the defections of girls from religion. The solution, of organizing girls’ schools, is raised and rejected.
Sarah Schenirer marries Shmuel Nussbaum, but is deeply unhappy and (after resisting pressure to remain married by Nussbaum and her parents) is divorced in the summer of 1913.
The Agudath Israel is founded in Katowice, Poland, the product of collaboration between German neo-Orthodox activists and leaders of Eastern European Orthodoxy.
With the outbreak of war, Sarah Schenirer flees to Vienna among a flood of refugees.
Sarah Schenirer hears an inspiring sermon on Judith by Rabbi Moshe David Flesch in mid-December on the Sabbath of Hanukkah in the Stumpfergasse Synagogue, which she describes as setting her on the path of teaching girls Torah. She spends the next few months attending Rabbi Flesch’s lectures, and is introduced to the thought of Samson Raphael Hirsch.
After returning to Kraków in the summer of 1915, Sarah Schenirer organizes a public meeting of Orthodox women and founds the Orthodox Girls’ Union. She stops working as a dressmaker and devotes her time to lecturing and assembling an Orthodox lending library. But she is dissatisfied with the fact that the adolescents she manages to reach are uninterested in strict observance and she decides to work with younger girls.
Sarah Schenirer consults with her brother, who advises her to speak with the Belzer Rebbe, Yissochor Dov Rokeach. She travels to Marienbad, where her brother presents a note to the Rebbe (“She wants to lead Jewish girls along a Jewish path”) and receives his response: “Blessing and success.”
With the German occupation of Poland, two neo-Orthodox activists, Dr. Emanuel Carlebach and Dr. Pinchas Cohn, initiate the modernization of Orthodox education in Poland and found a girls’ school in Warsaw, Havatzelet, which eventually becomes a small network of schools in and around Warsaw.
Dr. Leo Deutschländer, serving as a liaison between the German government and Lithuanian Jewish communities, helps found the Yavneh Orthodox school system, which includes girls’ schools.
Sarah Schenirer opens a school in her two-room apartment on św. Katarzyny 1 #7. She writes that she has at first twenty-five students, but they quickly grow to forty. Most are the daughters of former customers.
The Kraków chapter of Agudah Israel, under the leadership of Rabbis Asher Shapiro, Moshe Deutscher (later an Agudah representative in the Polish Sejm), and Meir Heitner, takes on the financial responsibility for the school, and names it Bais Yaakov, after Exodus 19:3, “So shall you say to the House of Jacob,” which is traditionally understood to refer to teaching Torah to women.
Bais Yaakov now has four schools, the one in Kraków, and others in Ostrowiec z. Radom, Przemyśl, and Tarnów.
A fifth school opens in Lutatów.
Schools open in Będzin, Kołomyja, and Włocławek. Sarah Schenirer opens a teachers’ seminary in her apartment, to train students to staff the growing system.
Eliezer Gershon Friedenson, a young Agudah activist, visits Sarah Schenirer’s seminary and decides to publish a newspaper to publicize the movement. The first, ten-page issue of the Bais Yaakov Journal appears in the autumn of 1923.
The First World Congress of the Agudath Israel is held in August, and establishes Keren Hatorah, the foundation for Jewish education, with Dr. Leo Deutschländer as director. Keren Hatorah is charged with supporting and supervising Bais Yaakov and other Orthodox educational institutions.
Dr. Deutschländer visits the Kraków seminary during an Agudah conference in the city and is both shocked at the primitive conditions he finds and impressed by the devotion of the students.
By 1924, there are 54 Bais Yaakov schools, generally founded after a visit from Sarah Schenirer. These are supplementary schools, attended by pupils after (or sometimes before) their public school classes.
The first Bais Yaakov Conference is held in February, at Havatzelet in Warsaw. Resolutions are made to professionalize the system, produce textbooks, standardize curricula, establish a central office in Warsaw, train teachers during intensive summer programs (Fortbildungskursen), and supplement Sarah Schenirer’s pedagogic role with teachers from German-speaking lands.
The first Fortsbildungskurs is held in the village of Robów, with 48 teachers in training. Teachers include (alongside Sarah Schenirer), the university-trained Judith Rosenbaum (later Grunfeld), who is recruited by the Agudah president Jacob Rosenheim in Frankfurt, and Rosalie Mannes and Betty Rothschild of Zurich.
Judith Rosenbaum becomes a major Bais Yaakov fundraiser in Central and Western Europe.
Sarah Schenirer’s seminary moves from the two-room apartment on Katarzyny 1 to an eight-room apartment on Augustiańska 30. Schenirer retains her apartment on Katarzyny but also lives on Augustiańska with the students.
The Bais Yaakov Journal begins to publish a children’s supplement, Kinder Gortn, which eventually becomes a separate publication.
At a February conference in Łódź, Eliezer Gershon Friedenson founds the Bnos Agudath Israel, the Orthodox girls’ youth movement, from a number of existing informal groups.
The second and third Fortbildungskursen are held in Jordanów, with 98 and 76 students, respectively.
Bais Yaakov reports for this school year indicate that the system had grown to 87 schools with nearly 11,000 pupils.
The cornerstone for the Kraków Seminary, designed by the Agudah artist and illustrator Uriel Birnbaum, is laid at a grand ceremony on September 13, with speeches by rabbinic luminaries and Agudah activists and choral singing.
The fourth, fifth and sixth Fortbildungskursen are held in Rabka, for between 124 and 240 participants, including teachers-in-training and already-serving teachers.
Rabbi Tobias (Tuvye) Horowitz is sent to the United States to raise $25,000 for the construction of the seminary building. He remains there for two years, working with the American Beth Jacob Committee headed by Rabbi Leo Jung and including Sue Golding, Rebekah Kohut and Frieda Warburg. Cyrus Adler, of the Joint Distribution Committee, helps secure major support.
Eliezer Gershon Friedenson founds a press in his Łódź office to publish Bais Yaakov literature; the first publication is the textbook Yahadus [Judaism], by Sarah Schenirer. Alexander Zyshe Friedman, Orthodox journalist and Secretary General of the Polish Agudah, writes the first Hebrew textbook for the movement, Ivri anokhi.
At the Second World Congress of the Agudath Israel, held in September in Vienna, the Neshei Agudath Israel, the women’s organization of the Agudah, is founded, with 150 delegates in attendance. Neshei is closely linked with both Bais Yaakov and Bnos.
Under the influence of Nathan Birnbaum, Bnos and Bais Yaakov begin to encourage the use of Yiddish. They adopt the Yiddish orthography established by Shloyme Birnbaum, establish Yiddish as the language of public Bais Yaakov events, and stop publishing Wschód, the Polish supplement of the Bais Yaakov Journal.
A teachers’ seminary opens in Vienna, under the directorship of Dr. Leo Deutschländer.
The new five-story seminary building in Kraków opens at św. Stanisłąwa 10, and Sarah Schenirer marries Rabbi Yitzhok Landau.
The Chofetz Chayim issues a letter of approbation for Bais Yaakov, defending the need for such education against local Orthodox opposition in the town of Fryšták.
Publication of Sarah Schenirer’s Gezamelte shriftn [Collected Writings].
Rabbi Yehudah Leib Orlean, a founder of Po’alei Agudath Israel and director of a Bais Yaakov in Warsaw, takes over the directorship of the Kraków seminary and the Kraków Central Office (there were four, in Vienna, Warsaw, Kraków, and Łódź).
Meir Sharansky opens the first “New” Beit Yaakov in Palestine, with seven students meeting on park benches along Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv.
The first Kibbutz Bnos Agudath Israel, from Łódź, makes Aliyah to Palestine, setting up a collective home in Tel Aviv.
Sarah Schenirer is taken to Vienna for treatment for stomach cancer. On her return, she moves into an apartment on ul. Księdza Augustyna Kordeckiego 8 to be closer to the seminary.
On March 1, 1935, Sarah Schenirer passes away. On August 8 (Tish’a be’av), Dr. Deutschländer also dies, at 47.
A teachers’ seminary opens in Czernowitz, Bukovina (now Ukraine), under the directorship of the German-trained Esther Hamburger (later Gross).
Bais Yaakov publications list numbers of schools and pupils for: Poland (225 schools, 27,119 pupils); Czechoslovakia (18 schools, 1569 pupils); Romania (18 schools, 1292 pupils); Lithuania (16 schools, 2000 pupils); Austria (11 schools, 950 pupils)
With the guidance of Bertha Pappenheim who visited Poland the previous year & consulted with Bais Yaakov leadership, Eliezer Gershon Friedenson opens Ohel Sarah in honor of Sarah Schenirer, a vocational training institute in Łódź, where students earn certificates in business, secretarial skills, hygiene, childcare, & nursing while taking classes in Jewish subjects. At its height, it has 300 students.
2000 Bnos members attend the national convention in Łódź. At its height, the Polish youth movement (which also includes Basya, a youth movement for younger girls) has around 300 groups, with 15,000 members.
Vichna (Eisen) Kaplan, a student of Sarah Schenirer’s who attended the seminary beginning in 1931, opens the first Bais Yaakov in the United States affiliated with the Polish center in her Williamsburg, Brooklyn, home.
With the outbreak of war, the seminary in Kraków closes its door. Bais Yaakov teachers continue to operate in the cities and ghettoes, often clandestinely, but sometimes officially, running soup kitchens and orphanages along with schools.