I’ve been aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln for the past week or so and completely offline, and so I was saddened to learn that Paula Hyman passed away this past week. While a review of a book Hyman co-authored in 1976 received a not too favorable COMMENTARY review, Hyman was a pillar of Jewish life at Yale University. According to the obituary in the Yale Daily News:
Hyman came to Yale in 1986 as the Lucy Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History. She served as the chair of the Judaic Studies program for 13 years, and remained active despite her illness, advising six of 15 current graduate students. Hyman published extensively on topics including the history of Jewish women, Jewish feminism and French Jewry and served as president of the American Academy for Jewish Research.
An unavowed feminist, Hyman was particularly active in seeking to reform the place of women in Conservative Judaism in the 1980s. Looking back at my nine years at Yale, I regret not taking any of Hyman’s courses. Along with Gaddis Smith, Paul Kennedy, Jonathan Spence, the late Robin Winks and the recently deceased David Montgomery, she enjoyed a reputation among both students and faculty during my time at Yale as a truly great teacher. Alas, it was only after I finished my coursework that I came to know Hyman, and it was only during my own rare visits to Yale when we would cross paths that we would chat.
While we never discussed Yale politics, she was an important voice. As Yale’s history department has lurched ever more toward trendy theory and away from traditional research, and as Yale’s faculty more generally have become increasingly politicized, Hyman remained a voice for sanity. Her politics may have been more to the left than the right, but she was a traditional academic who valued research, reasoned argument, and had little tolerance for those who allowed their own personal politics to corrupt their research. During the Juan Cole debacle, Hyman was a voice of sanity and defended the decision—wise in hindsight given Cole’s decline—to decline him an offer.
Yale will be far worse off with her loss. May she rest in peace.