Four Cen­turies of Jew­ish Wom­en’s Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty: A Sourcebook

Ellen M. Uman­sky & Dianne Ash­ton, eds. and intro.
  • Review
By – January 16, 2012

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, the edi­tors of Four Cen­turies of Jew­ish Women’s Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty: A Source­book, 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. The read­ings are divid­ed into four sec­tions: 1355 – 1523: Ear­li­er Voic­es,” 1560 – 1865: Tra­di­tion­al Voic­es,” 1842 – 1934: Inno­v­a­tive Voic­es,” and 1935 – 1989: Urgent Voic­es.” Each sec­tion is pre­ced­ed by com­pre­hen­sive overviews writ­ten by Uman­sky and Ash­ton tai­lored to high­light the time peri­od. The read­ings are intro­duced by sit­u­at­ing them in their socio-his­tor­i­cal and reli­gious con­text. The read­ings include Ashke­nazi, Sephardic, Ortho­dox, Reform, Con­ser­v­a­tive, and Recon­struc­tion­ist sources and reflect the inter­na­tion­al dimen­sions of Judaism by includ­ing a wide array of writ­ings from Jew­ish women in Europe, North and South Amer­i­ca, Israel, Aus­tralia, North Africa, and even Cochin, India. The read­ings include excerpts from arti­cles, mem­oirs, prayers, poems, and books. 

This revised 2009 edi­tion of the anthol­o­gy has updat­ed intro­duc­tions and a new sec­tion, 1355 – 1523: Ear­li­er Voic­es,” which includes an infor­mal peti­tion by an Egypt­ian Jew­ish wife in Cairo to the head of the Egypt­ian Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty seek­ing their help bring­ing her hus­band home after he joined a Sufi com­mu­ni­ty in the desert. A par­tic­u­lar gem in the new 2009 edi­tion is Umansky’s wide-rang­ing intro­duc­tion enti­tled Piety, Per­sua­sion, & Friend­ship: A His­to­ry of Women’s Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty,” which sheds light on the tra­di­tion­al and chang­ing roles of Jew­ish women in the syn­a­gogue, home, and community. 

Ellen M. Uman­sky is the Carl and Dorothy Ben­nett pro­fes­sor of Juda­ic Stud­ies, at Fair­field Uni­ver­si­ty. Dianne Ash­ton is pro­fes­sor of reli­gion and direc­tor of the Amer­i­can Stud­ies Pro­gram at Rowan Uni­ver­si­ty. Detailed source acknowl­edge­ments, index, photographs.

Car­ol Poll, Ph.D., is the retired Chair of the Social Sci­ences Depart­ment and Pro­fes­sor of Soci­ol­o­gy at the Fash­ion Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy of the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. Her areas of inter­est include the soci­ol­o­gy of race and eth­nic rela­tions, the soci­ol­o­gy of mar­riage, fam­i­ly and gen­der roles and the soci­ol­o­gy of Jews.

Discussion Questions