Leila Leah Bronner is a noted author, professor, writer and community activist. Her many books and articles focus on the Hebrew Bible, other religious writings, and themes in Jewish history and culture, with an emphasis on women's issues.
Born in Czechoslovakia to Hasidic parents who fled to the United States shortly before the outbreak of World War II, Dr. Bronner grew up in New York, where she received her early education. After marrying, she and her husband, Rabbi Joseph Bronner, moved to South Africa, where she continued her academic education while raising three children and became the first woman in South Africa to receive a doctorate in Ancient Semitic Languages and History. Within the South African Jewish and academic communities, she became known for "her fearless outspokenness and vociferous convictions," as one profile stated.
Dr. Bronner served as Professor of Bible and Jewish History at the University of the Witwaterstrand in Johannesburg until her return to the United States. Settling in Los Angeles, she has served as an adjunct associate professor of Jewish history at the University of Judaism and as a visiting scholar at Harvard University, Bar Ilan University in Israel, Yeshiva University's Institute of Adult Studies in New York. In addition, Dr. Bronner has traveled the world to speak at conferences on Bible, Jewish history, and women's issues.
Dr. Bronner has been a member of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance since its earliest days in the late 1990s, participating in several of its Conferences on Feminism and Orthodoxy. She has spoken and written on Orthodox women's issues including the agunah (the "chained woman" whose husband will not grant a Jewish divorce) and the custom of hair covering, and on issues of interest to Jewish women in general, including female figures and attitudes toward women in the Hebrew Bible and rabbinic writings and how they relate to us today. She is also a strong proponent of the idea that women should have access to all Jewish texts and to higher Jewish learning, on the principle that women who study seriously are obeying the commandment to love God and to strengthen their emotional and intellectual connection to God. In South Africa, the clearest legacy of her interest in women's education is the Leila Bronner Girls High School, named in her honor.
Dr. Bronner's best-known book is From Eve to Esther: Rabbinic Reconstructions of Biblical Women (John Knox Press, 1994), for which she received a Literary Achievement Award from the B'nai Zion Western Region. In this work, she examines a number of female characters in the Hebrew Bible through the lens of the rabbis whose teachings are contained in the Mishnah and the Talmud. Among her earlier works, The Stories of Elijah and Elisha and Sects and Separatism During the Second Jewish Commonwealth are used as reference books at many universities, and her Biblical Personalities and Archaeology has been translated into Russian. In May 2004 Dr. Bronner published Stories of Biblical Mothers: Maternal Power in the Hebrew Bible (University Press of America). She recently completed a book on Jewish views of the afterlife.
A sought-after lecturer who has addressed audiences in the United States, South Africa, Europe, Australia, and Israel, Dr. Bronner has spoken at universities, academic conferences, and a wide range of membership organizations. She is also a community activist involved in many educational and philanthropic endeavors. One of her most cherished activities is her presentation of a weekly Shabbat shiur (lesson) in her community, which this year focuses on Jewish stories of all kinds and how they have reflected Jewish society and values over the centuries.