Throughout Jewish history, there have been many women who made an impact on Jewish scholarship. This list is just a sampling of these outstanding women.

1. Beruriah

Perhaps the most well-known on this list is Beruriah, wife of the Talmudic sage Rabbi Meir and daughter of Chananiah ben Teradion. The Talmud recounts many stories about Beruriah. She studied three hundred matters pertaining to halachah (Jewish law) every day, and the sages would at times ask her views regarding matters of law, especially those laws that applied to women.

Once there was a dispute between Beruriah and her brother. The rabbi who adjudicated the case declared: "Rabbi Chananiah's daughter Beruriah is a greater scholar than his son."

For more on Beruriah, see Beruriah.

2. Perl

According to tradition passed down through her descendants, Perl, wife of the Maharal of Prague, was a brilliant Talmudic scholar in her own right. She helped her husband write some of his responsa, and arrange and edit his literary works. To quote the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe’s memoirs:

Now even Perl could feel free to sit and study. Every day she had a lesson with her husband, and not only did they study Talmud and halachah together, but also ethics and metaphysics. She used to say about herself that since she was eight years old, not a day went by that she didn’t study for at least five hours. After she married the Maharal, many would send him halachic questions. It was she who would read out the questions to him and then write down his replies. She arranged and edited all of the Maharal’s literary works. It is told that in at least eight places, she found errors in her husband’s writings, errors in quotes of the sages or the commentary of Rashi . . .1

For more, see 10 Facts About the Maharal

3. Daughters of Rabbi Chaim ibn Atar (Ohr Hachaim)

One of the classic commentaries on the Torah is the Ohr Hachaim, by Rabbi Chaim ibn Atar (1696 - 1743). He is among the few to have the appellation hakadosh (“the holy”) appended to his name. His commentary is unique in that it seamlessly blends all four levels of Torah interpretation: peshat (the literal meaning of the text), remez (its allusions), derush (the homilies that can be derived from it), and sod (its mystical secrets).

Rabbi Chaim had only daughters. Every Friday night, he would teach his daughters a lesson on the weekly Torah portion, which he later transcribed. Thus, it is thanks to his daughters that we have this unique Torah classic.

Read more about Rabbi Chaim Ibn Attar

4. Sheindel (Schöndlein)

Sheindel was the wife of Rabbi Yisrael ben Petachyah Isserlein (1390–1460), author of the classic halachic work Terumat HaDeshen. Terumat HaDeshen serves as an important source of Ashkenazic practice and is one of the sources for the gloss on the Code of Jewish Law, by Rabbi Moshe Isserlis.

Sheindel was highly educated and is known to have written at least one responsum in the name of her husband, on the topic of family purity. This responsum was published in Leket Yosher, a collection of Rabbi Isserlein’s customs and rulings, by his student Rabbi Yosef ben Moshe.2

5. Bayla Falk of Lemberg

Bayla was the only daughter of a wealthy philanthropist, Rabbi Yisrael Edels, head of the Jewish community in Lemberg (Lviv), who flourished in the early 17th century.

Her sons said of her:

“She was the first to arrive at the synagogue every day . . . after the morning prayer she would not waste a moment . . . she would occupy herself with learning Torah, the weekly portion with the commentary of Rashi and other commentators.”

Bayla married Rabbi Yehoshua Falk (Katz), author of the classic halachic work Meirat Einayim,a commentary on Choshen Mishpat (which covers interpersonal laws).

Students of Rabbi Falk recount how Bayla would sit by her husband’s side, listening to pupils’ questions and occasionally offering her own answers. One of her greatest halachic contributions concerns lighting candles, and her opinion was later debated by noteworthy rabbinic figures, with the Noda B’Yehuda ruling that the halachah is like Rabbi Falk’s wife, for “was she not a woman whose heart was uplifted by wisdom?”

6. Estellina Conat

Estellina Conat was the wife of R’ Abraham ben Solomon Conat, who, in 1475, founded one of the earliest Jewish printing presses in Mantua, Italy. Between then and 1477, Estellina took a lead role in the family publishing business and is the first woman named as an editor in a printing house, Jewish or non-Jewish.

The craft of printing was then so new that her husband described their output as, “written with many pens, without the aid of a miracle.”

Seven out of eleven of the earliest Hebrew incunabula were printed in their press. In a in a colophon at the back of the work Bechinat Olam (a philosophical work by Yedidya of Béziers) she wrote:

"I, Estellina Conat, the wife the honored Master Abraham Conat … wrote this pamphlet, Bechinat Olam, with the help of the youth Jacob Levi of Provence, of Tarascon (may he live, amen)."

Although Estellina Conat may have been the first woman active in editing and publishing Jewish works, she was by no means the last. Thus, this entry isn’t just a testament to her, but to the many Jewish women who played an important role in the Jewish publishing business.

7. Rivkah of Tiktin, Author of Meineket Rivkah

Rivkah bat Meir (d.1605) was a teacher of women and the author of the Yiddish work Meineket Rivkah (“Nursemaid of Rebecca”). Rivkah would visit various communities and give lectures to women on the role of the Jewish woman. It seems that her written work is a summary of some of her lectures. The work, which includes stories from the Talmud and Midrash, focuses on the duties of a woman in various interpersonal relationships as well as a general ethical approach toward the laws of family purity and social practices.

8. Chava Bacharach

Chava Bacharach (1580–1651) was born in Prague and was a descendant of Rabbi Yehuda Lowe, the Maharal of Prague. She acquired a wide knowledge of Hebrew and rabbinic literature, to the point where she would often assist rabbis in solving textual difficulties.

It is said that after her husband passed away, no less a person than the esteemed Rabbi Yeshaya Halevi Horowitz, known as the Shaloh, asked to marry her. When she refused, he deemed himself unworthy of marrying her.

Her grandson, Rabbi Yair Chaim Bacharach (1639–1702), known by his halachic work Chavot Yair, was one of the leading halachic rabbis in the seventeenth century. One of the reasons he gives for titling his work Chavot Yair was to honor his grandmother, about whom he writes in his introduction: “She taught . . . through her comprehension and knowledge . . . and she explained in such a manner that all that heard her understood that she was correct. These things I wrote in my book in her name . . . it happened at times that the greatest of the generation were confused by various texts and she came and explained it . . .”3

9. Osnat Barzani

Osnat Barzani (1590–1670) was born into a well-known rabbinic family in Kurdistan. Her father, Rabbi Samuel Barzani, troubled by the lack of Torah knowledge among the Jews of Kurdistan, established many yeshivot in the area.

When Osnat married her cousin Rabbi Jacob Mizrahi, her father made him promise that he would let her devote her time to Torah study. After her father's death, her husband became head of the yeshivah in Mosul. He was so involved in his studies that she essentially taught the yeshivah students and provided them with rabbinic training. Later, when her husband passed away, the leadership of the yeshivah passed to her, and she eventually became known as the lead teacher.

10. Odel

Odel (c. 1720–1787) was the only daughter of Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the chassidic movement. In addition to being the mother and grandmother of many great chassidic masters, she was very active in her father’s court and the early chassidic movement. Odel would often listen and even partake in her father’s lessons. Since she was at her father’s side from the beginning of his public work, many of the Baal Shem Tov’s students would later turn to her for advice and blessings, and to clarify the traditions of her father.

She at times bested the other students of the Baal Shem Tov in learning. The first published chassidic work, the Toldot Yaakov Yosef, by Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnaah, quotes a teaching from a “woman in Mezhibuzh,” a reference to Odel.

For more, see 9 Facts about Odel.

11. Ellus of Slutsk

One of the classic works on the laws and customs of mourning is the Ma’avar Yabbok, published in 1624 by Rabbi Aaron Berechiah of Modena. This work includes many of the mystical reasons behind the laws of burial as well as a description of the passage of the soul to the next world.

Although this work was very influential, since it was written in Aramaic and Hebrew, many women at the time were unable to read the work.

Ellus, the daughter of Mordechai of Slutsk (18th century), translated sections of the Ma’avar Yabbok into Yiddish as a guide to help care for those who were dying or deceased. The fact that the Ma’avar Yabbok was available in both languages played—and continues to play—an important role in the transmission of the laws and customs of death and mourning.

12. Sarah Schenirer

Sarah Schenirer (1883–1935) was born into a chassidic family in Poland. Seeing the allure of the enlightenment movement on the one hand and the lack of quality traditional Jewish education for girls on the other, she founded a network of Torah schools for girls under the banner of Bait Yaakov (“House of Jacob”). By 1935, when cancer took her life at the age of 51, there were nearly 40,000 students studying in her rapidly expanding empire of schools. The Bait Yaakov network, together with the many Jewish schools for girls that were later modeled after it, has forever altered the course of Jewish education.

For more, see 18 Incredibly Brave Women From Jewish History