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Was Henrietta Szold Born on the 2nd Night of Chanukah?

By Susan Woodland

Henrietta Szold, left, with 3 of her sisters and their mother Sophie, center, 1893

A number of sources, beginning around the time of her centennial in 1960, equate the civil date of Henrietta’s birth, December 21st, with the Hebrew date of Kislev 25 or 26. This would mean that she was born on the 2nd or 3rd night of Chanukah.

In the days before the internet and www.hebcal.com, the conversion was manual, with a higher possibility for error.

If figured incorrectly, as if December occurred before the new year, the result is 5620 Kislev 25, or the 2nd night of Chanukah.

December 21, 1860, if figured correctly, equates to 5621 Tevet 8.

More confusing is where the date Kislev 26 came from (see quotations below). Perhaps confusion between the 2nd day and the 2nd night of Chanukah?

Hadassah publications for the past 50 years consistently mention Henrietta Szold’s birth during Chanukah, with new publications relying on earlier ones for accuracy. The first source I am aware of that uses the incorrect Hebrew date is Dr. Miriam Freund (later Rosenthal). Then past national president of Hadassah, she gave an address in honor of Henrietta Szold’s centennial at the annual meeting of the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS), held on February 21, 1960. Dr. Freund wrote, “… born in the city of Baltimore on December 21, 1860, on the Hebrew date 26th Kislev, the 2nd candle of Hanukkah.” The address was printed by AJHS in their Publication, March 1960.

Later the same year, Tamar de Sola Pool may have picked up the inaccurate date from Dr. Freund for her chapter in Great Jewish Personalities in Modern Times, “Henrietta Szold”, which was reprinted by Hadassah in 1980 to commemorate Henrietta’s 120th birthday: “The eldest of eight children (five survived to maturity) of Rabbi Benjamin and Sophie Schaar Szold, Henrietta was born in Baltimore on December 21, 1860 – Kislev 26, 5620, the second day of Hanukkah in that year.”

And in the Henrietta Szold Centennial issue of the Hadassah Newsletter, published in December 1960, national president Lola Kramarsky announced that the official centennial year would start on the 26th of Kislev, which fell that year on December 15th.

In 2010, in the season of Henrietta Szold’s 150th birthday, I will be posting information about, quotations by, and photographs of Henrietta Szold - throughout both Chanukah and the month of December; in fact, through her sesquicentennial year. We should consider the entire year one of celebration, and an opportunity to learn more about this brilliant woman.

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