Four Centuries of Jewish Women's Spirituality: A Sourcebook

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Much has changed for Jewish women since the first edition of Four Centuries of Jewish Women’s Spirituality appeared in 1992. Associations of Jewish women—academic, religious, secular—have proliferated, making the women’s voices heard. In collecting material for this completely revised edition, the editors drew upon sources that express the diversity of Jewish women, mainly from 1560 to the present. They sought material by Jewish women of different ages, sexual orientations, educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, and nationalities. Reflecting a wide variety of literary genres, sources include spiritual works (sermons, addresses, ritual blessing, prayers) as well as letters, sisterhood minutes, and committee reports that also express the spiritual concerns of their authors. Writings by women rabbis and contemporary Orthodox women, along with documents from Latin America, bring the volume up to date.

Umansky and Ashton have woven together a multiplicity of international voices, revealing the great variety of spiritual paths that modern Jewish women have taken. Contributors include Rebecca Gratz, Emma Lazarus, Amy Eilberg, Marcia Falk, Blu Greenberg, Kadya Molodowsky, and Judith Plaskow, among others.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"It is a paradox of Judaism that a religion that honors such independent and active women should have evolved a code of law that sharply restricts women's independence and activity. True, as Ellen Umansky and Dianne Ashton note in the introduction to their new edition of Four Centuries of Jewish Women's Spirituality: A Sourcebook, the role of women in traditional Judaism is hardly peripheral: "Since much of Jewish religious life, including the celebration of the holidays and Shabbat, was home centered, women were undoubtedly aware of the extent to which the continuation of Jewish life depended on them." —The New Republic

"This volume . . . is a valuable window into the spiritual lives of women, past and present. Not all the extracts in the volume are by Orthodox or traditional women, and the variety, particularly in the modern period, shows the diversity of contemporary Jewish religious life and the wide range of spiritual paths being taken by Jewish women." —JOFA

"It is always exciting to read original sources, for they allow the reader to "hear" the actual words of the writer. Ellen Umansky and Dianne Ashton . . . have organized just such an anthology with brief selections from the work of almost one hundred female authors who have dramatically shaped Jewish women's spirituality over the past four hundred years."—Jewish Book World

"This book offers a mother lode of material that will interest ordinary Jewish women and spiritual seekers, as well as religious scholars. The book is a perfect choice to sit down with on an afternoon before or during the High Holiday period." —Jewish Woman

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Various works composed between 1560 and 1990 by some 100 Jewish women living in Europe, America and the stet/pk land of Israel testify to a strong, age-old female religious self-identity. Defending herself to a Catholic cleric in a 1641 pamphlet, Italian poet Sara Copia Sullam declares her belief in the immortality of the soul; 17th-century German merchant Gluckel of Hamelnsp ok urges her children to set aside time for the study of Torah and to be honest in money matters with both Jews and gentiles; and also offered here is a prayer, found in an anomymous 1648 Amsterdam collection, that women said when they put the Sabbath bread into the oven. During the 19th century, American Emma Lazarus honors, in a poem, the Touro Synagogue of Newport, R.I., and American Penina Moise composes English-language hymns for use in Reform temples. In 1916, American Zionist Henrietta Szold explains in a letter that she will defy Jewish tradition and say kaddish for her mother; and Hungarian-born WW II heroine Hannah Senesh dreams of a national homeland for the Jews. Contemporary voices create new rituals as they meditate on menstruation, sexual abuse and rape, miscarriage, conversion, feminism and nuclear arms. Umansky and Ashton are religion academics. (July)
Library Journal
This unique anthology is devoted to writings by Jewish women. While the book spans four centuries, the emphasis is on recent decades, with one-third of the material written in the past 30 years. The collection is significantly strengthened by an expansive overview entitled, ``Piety, Persuasion, Friendship'' and by insightful introductory material to each of the four sections. The term spirituality is used very broadly and includes social service and charitable activities. Selections run the gamut from prayers, poems, ethical wills, and sermons to excerpts from sisterhood minutes, women's organizational handbooks, and speeches to Jewish women's service organizations. The fascinating materials reflect the changing roles of Jewish women. An important addition to women's studies collections.-- Carol R. Glatt, VA Medical Ctr. Lib., Philadelphia
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781584657309
  • Publisher: Brandeis University Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2008
  • Series: HBI Series on Jewish Women
  • Edition description: Revised Edition.
  • Pages: 404
  • Sales rank: 1,292,040
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

ELLEN M. UMANSKY is Carl and Dorothy Bennett Professor of Judaic Studies, Department of Religious Studies, Fairfield University. DIANNE ASHTON is Professor of Religion and Director of the American Studies Program at Rowan University.

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