Cover image for The receiving : reclaiming Jewish women's wisdom
The receiving : reclaiming Jewish women's wisdom
Firestone, Tirzah.
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Publication Information:
San Francisco : HarperSanFrancisco, [2003]

Physical Description:
280 pages ; 23 cm
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BM729.W6 F57 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The Receiving is the literal translation of the word Kabbalah, the body of Jewish Mysticism that has been passed down from men to men for centuries. Ironically, the art of receiving, that is, opening to the divine spirit as it manifests in the here and now, is one of the undocumented triumphs of women's spirituality. Now, re-spected rabbi and Jungian therapist Tirzah Firestone sets out to correct the enormous error of history that has omitted the contributions of Jewish women mystics, sages, and holy women from the Jewish annals. In what might be called an act of spiritual archaeology, Firestone searches for the traces of the divine feminine in the Jewish tradition in order to answer the question, "What is a woman's way to God?" Drawing on the remarkable stories of seven historical holy women -- who, despite all the obstacles, found ways to embrace the sacred feminine in their lives -- Firestone teaches us the mysteries of Jewish Kabbalah from a woman's vantage point.

This groundbreaking book finally empowers women to reclaim their rightful -- and historic -- connection to the mystical lineage within Judaism. This is a provocative work of scholarship and passion that restores the forgotten voices of Jewish women mystics, using their remarkable journeys as a spring-board into the feminine mysteries that have been hidden from women's use for millennia. In The Receiving, these ancient teachings have finally been made available in a relevant, accessible, and life-enriching manner for women -- and men -- of all spiritual persuasions.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Deploring the fact that Jewish history books and encyclopedias largely ignore the role of women, Rabbi Firestone challenges this inequity. The word receiving is the literal translation of the Hebrew word kabbalah, and Firestone focuses on the universal and psychological teaching within Jewish mysticism. The author has selected seven historical holy women whose chronology ranges from the second to the twentieth century. Each represents a different aspect of feminine wisdom, and each "guides us from across the ages by means of her own life story, to help modern women connect with crucial aspects of feminine spirituality." It is the author's intention to reconstruct the feminine legacy she believes has been lost. No prior knowledge of Jewish mysticism or of Jewish tradition is necessary to benefit from Firestone's incisive and thought-provoking work. --George Cohen

Publisher's Weekly Review

The astonishing stories of seven remarkable but almost unknown Jewish women form the centerpiece of this treatise on feminine spirituality. Mystics, sages, prayer leaders and miracle workers, the women lived in the second to 20th centuries, in countries from Germany to Kurdistan. Their recorded legacies survived precisely because they bypassed feminine norms. Firestone, a rabbi and psychotherapist, chose the women based on their abilities to bring life into balance, uniting opposites (practical/spiritual; purpose/action) to achieve wholeness. Each woman's story serves further as a springboard for exploring an aspect of Kabbalah, which literally means "the receiving." Wholeness, says Firestone, is "alive" in this mystical Jewish path that "not only acknowledges the feminine aspects of life, but also the fact that neither the human world nor God can be whole without the marriage of its masculine and feminine parts." To help contemporary women apply the mystical approach to their lives today, she includes practical teachings and techniques. Firestone argues for being connected to "one's fire and sensual wisdom," claiming that the subordination of the body to the spirit has created an "unhealed schism" and a disparagement of women. She admits beginning the book in anger at the ways women have been "devalued and omitted," but as she immersed herself in the women's lives, she says, she found their "determination and positive attitude contagious." Though Firestone's plea for wholeness can become repetitious, she writes convincingly of the power of the feminine to enrich and uplift the world. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In presenting the lives of seven little-known Jewish women, Firestone (With Roots in Heaven: One Woman's Passionate Journey into the Heart of Her Faith), a psychotherapist and founding rabbi of the Jewish Renewal Congregation of Boulder, CO, explores the "feminine path" of Jewish spirituality. In her view, the subjects of these short spiritual biographies-mystics, sages, and miracle workers who include the second-century Beruriah, the 12th-century Dulcie of Worms, the 20th-century Leah Shar'abi-each represent different components of feminine wisdom. All display an approach to spirituality that, in contrast to Jewish men's concentration on study and prayer, "sees every aspect of life as an opportunity for holiness." This attempt to help women "reclaim the rich mystical legacy that is rightfully theirs" is a step in that direction. Despite the broad background and wealth of knowledge she brings to the task, Firestone demonstrates that there are no easy answers for female spiritual seekers in the Jewish tradition. Recommended for Judaica and women's studies collections.-Marcia Welsh, Dartmouth Coll., Hanover, NH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Receiving Reclaiming Jewish Women's Wisdom Chapter One Tenacity in Exile Hannah Rachel of Ludomir (1815-1905) For over two thousand years, feminine wisdom has run through Jewish history like an underground stream. Submerged by a dominant ethic that did not know how to tap its riches, it was left to meander, discovering its own subterranean path to the ocean. In its long exile, unseen and unlauded, the stream has wended its way beneath desert and temple, glory and wreckage. Intermittently surfacing to the light, laughing out loud at human folly, it always returned to its hidden route, quietly nourishing the earth from below. But in our time, the underground current of women's wisdom is rising to the surface for good, ready to pour forth its treasures, never to be pushed down again. Hannah Rachel of Ludomir was one woman mystic who exemplifies this persistent current of feminine wisdom. Literally pushed out of the Jewish community by its male leaders, Hannah Rachel was humiliated and debased because she violated their narrow view of femininity. Nevertheless, this brilliant and tenacious woman succeeded in becoming a testimony to the enduring power of women. Living in enforced isolation in a tiny green hut, Hannah Rachel had a profound relationship with divine forces, which gave her the strength to withstand the external condemnation she received while she studied, prayed, and made meaning of Judaism's deepest truths. Hannah Rachel's tenacity reminds us that we each must discover our own relationship to God and reclaim and make new meaning of our ancient heritage. Hannah Rachel's story begins at the turn of the nineteenth century, in a village called Ludomir, on the Lug River in the Ukraine. Her father, a simple Jewish shopkeeper named Monisch Werbermacher, had been counseled by his local rabbi to divorce his barren wife, as Jewish law suggests when a couple have been childless for ten years or more. This would allow him to find a more fertile woman to provide him with children. But Monisch loved his wife, Leah, and Leah loved him. He could not bring himself to follow such advice. Instead, Monisch journeyed to another rabbi, a sage and miracle worker known as the "Seer of Lublin" (Rabbi Jacob Isaac HaLevi Horovitz) to ask that, if Heaven would allow it, he bless his wife and himself with a child. Monisch stood trembling as the holy man closed his eyes. For a time it was as if he were absent from the room. Finally he said, "Go home. Your wife will soon conceive a child. A holy soul this one is." On his journey home, overflowing with gratitude and awe, Monisch vowed to raise his unborn child to become the learned sage he was meant to become. No effort would be spared. The following year, Leah bore a daughter. Monisch reeled with shock. "A daughter?" he cried. How could a female become a rabbi or sage? What could the Seer have been seeing? Everyone knew that only male children could take their formal place in the faith. It was not even customary to educate girls in the sacred texts. Letters enough to read Yiddish, yes, and perhaps a little Russian to get along, but nothing more. Nevertheless, Monisch resolved to fulfill his vow to raise a sage. Against the misgivings of his wife and the Seer of Lublin himself, when the girl, named Hannah Rachel, turned five, she was sent to take instruction in the finest schoolhouse in the area. There she began her career in sacred Hebrew and Aramaic texts, all the while sitting behind a screen to keep her apart from her male schoolmates. Hannah Rachel took to her studies with aplomb. By the time she was eight years old, she had distinguished herself as a scholar, stunning everyone with her ability to memorize, understand, and penetrate the essence of the texts. But there was something amiss and even her father sensed it. Hannah Rachel was too precocious, too solemn; indeed, she seemed not a child at all. Disinterested in playing or socializing, she would withdraw to her room after classes and continue to pore over her tomes. Soon she began to ignore her parents too, speaking only when spoken to. Her mother, weakened from her pregnancy late in life and distressed over her daughter's long silences, grew sick and died. By then Hannah Rachel was nine. Monisch, now a widower, questioned the wisdom of his bold experiment in raising a daughter to be a scholar. Finally he went to a Jewish court to have his vow annulled and pulled Hannah Rachel out of school. But this only served to aggravate the situation. Hannah Rachel refused to tear herself away from her studies. For days at a time she would not talk; instead, she stood swaying over her large volumes, intoning passages from them in ancient liturgical chant. As happens in small, tightly knit, communities, the neighbors began to gossip, spreading malicious rumors about Hannah Rachel. Surely she was possessed, some whispered. She was queer and sexless, said others, neither woman nor man. Hannah Rachel was twelve by then and of marriageable age. But when her worried father broached the subject, she replied that she had no inclination whatsoever to be "as other females." What was Monisch to do? He was a plainspoken man, and his adolescent daughter was getting to be too articulate a scholar for him to fight with. The Seer of Lublin had died the same year his wife had passed away. So he decided to consult the celebrated Hassidic rebbe Mordechai of Chernobyl. Reluctantly, Hannah Rachel accompanied her father to Chernobyl to see the great preacher. In her presence, the rabbi reprimanded Monisch for having subjected the girl to the holy books. Hannah Rachel herself interrupted the rabbi and began debating on Talmudic grounds why it is indeed permissible for women to study the sacred texts. "On the very same page of Tractate Sota that you are quoting is the counterargument, Rabbi." "I see you know the text. But daughter, no one has the right to interfere with the tradition, which is God's intention for women. A woman's fate is marriage and children." The Receiving Reclaiming Jewish Women's Wisdom . Copyright © by Tirzah Firestone. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from The Receiving: Reclaiming Jewish Women's Wisdom by Tirzah Firestone All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.