Jewish Women's Wills (JWW) aims to collect all extant wills and will-like dispositive documents written by and for premodern Jewish women during the premodern period. Here, premodern is defined as through 1600 CE.
Premodern Jewish women's wills--legal documents that record a person's last wishes for the dispersal of earthly goods, and that name the survivors who should deal with such dispersal--exist from across Europe, the Middle East, and the New World. They survive in many languages, including in Hebrew, Latin, Judeo-Arabic, and local vernaculars. They are held in state and local archives, tucked into rabbinic responsa literature, and are contained among the "holy trash" of the Cairo Geniza. Some wills have been edited and translated by scholars; others are still being discovered regularly by archival researchers and Geniza scholars. The collection and identification of Jewish women's wills remains an ongoing, dynamic project.
Using wills, we can gain insight into the ways in which Jewish women in the premodern world bequeathed their material goods, built and confirmed social networks, and related to their gender and religion within the confines of this legal instrument. By collecting masses of wills across the "premodern Jewish globe," we can also answer questions about the survival of these documents across time and space; consider in new ways the intersection of gender, religion, and law; and think about Jewish commonality and difference across great geographic expanses. Wills offer insight into testators' agency and individual choice, a particularly rich area of exploration when considering premodern Jewish women.
Spearheaded by Dr. Rena Lauer, associate professor of medieval history and religious studies at Oregon State University, this database is meant as a resource for students, researchers, and others who are curious about the ways we can recover the voices of Jewish women in the premodern past. Alongside metadata on the wills, a growing number of entries on the website contain a manuscript image, a transcription in the original language, and a translation into English. As such, JWW is intended to be a collective project, culling from the expertise and passion of many scholars who are already working in this area. Please get in touch if you would like to contribute to this project.
Email the project director at Rena.Lauer@oregonstate.edu with any questions.