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.