Cover image for The maiden of Ludmir : a Jewish holy woman and her world
The maiden of Ludmir : a Jewish holy woman and her world
Deutsch, Nathaniel.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xix, 310 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Reading Level:
1560 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BM755.W395 D48 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Hannah Rochel Verbermacher, a Hasidic holy woman known as the Maiden of Ludmir, was born in early-nineteenth-century Russia and became famous as the only woman in the three-hundred-year history of Hasidism to function as a rebbe--or charismatic leader--in her own right. Nathaniel Deutsch follows the traces left by the Maiden in both history and legend to fully explore her fascinating story for the first time. The Maiden of Ludmir offers powerful insights into the Jewish mystical tradition, into the Maiden's place within it, and into the remarkable Jewish community of Ludmir. Her biography ultimately becomes a provocative meditation on the complex relationships between history and memory, Judaism and modernity.

History first finds the Maiden in the eastern European town of Ludmir, venerated by her followers as a master of the Kabbalah, teacher, and visionary, and accused by her detractors of being possessed by a dybbuk, or evil spirit. Deutsch traces the Maiden's steps from Ludmir to Ottoman Palestine, where she eventually immigrated and re-established herself as a holy woman. While the Maiden's story--including her adamant refusal to marry--recalls the lives of holy women in other traditions, it also brings to light the largely unwritten history of early-modern Jewish women. To this day, her transgressive behavior, a challenge to traditional Jewish views of gender and sexuality, continues to inspire debate and, sometimes, censorship within the Jewish community.

Author Notes

Nathaniel Deutsch is Associate Professor in the Department of Religion at Swarthmore College.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Gershon Scholem, the noted scholar of Kabbalah, remarked in Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941) that there have been no women Kabbalists, and no feminine influence, in Jewish mysticism. Yet the biographical, hagiographical, and historical data gathered by Deutsch (Swarthmore) on the life and times of "the Maiden of Ludmir," Hannah Rochel Verbermacher (born to a pious Jewish family in the Pale of Settlement in the early 19th century) suggests otherwise. Verbermacher is the only known woman in the 300-year history of Hasidism to function as rebbe (charismatic spiritual healer, leader, teacher). In his account of Verbermacher, Deutsch portrays a deeply focused but troubled religious person who sought totally providential presence by enacting female and male sacral acts of believing, doing, and living God's revealed and hidden Torah. Deutsch moves painlessly through a conglomerate of oral and written evidence, pausing to make a point or to give background material, and always returning to the subject at hand. He has produced an impressive biographical/religio-sociological study about an elusive early-modern Hasidic holy woman whose steadfast solitary life and aggressive Torah way prelude the concerns, endeavors, and empowerment of contemporary Jewish women in historical and religious perspectives. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. General readers; lower-level undergraduates through faculty/researchers. Z. Garber Los Angeles Valley College

Table of Contents

Janusz Bardach
Forewordp. ix
Prefacep. xiii
Acknowledgmentsp. xvii
Introduction: Ansky Visits Ludmirp. 1
1. A Dybbuk Trilogy, or How the Maiden of Ludmir Became a Literary Figurep. 12
2. Writing the Maidenp. 34
3. Afterlives: Remembering the Maidenp. 46
4. The Curse, the Cossacks, and the Messiah: Ludmir Before the Maidenp. 60
5. Birth and Childhoodp. 75
6. Love and Deathp. 87
7. The Maiden Possessedp. 101
8. False Male and Woman Rebbe?p. 124
9. The Witch-hunt in Ludmirp. 144
10. The Wedding and Its Aftermathp. 173
11. In the Holy Landp. 190
Conclusion: Tracing the Maidenp. 211
Afterword: Journey to Ludmirp. 227
Notesp. 241
Bibliographyp. 285
Indexp. 299