Abstract: The paper offers a feminist-gendered reading of a Hasidic story about R. Yisroel of Ruzhin, who intervenes in the case of a pregnant woman experiencing difficulty in labor. R. Yisroel of Ruzhin chooses storytelling as the means to help the woman, reciting a known Christian tradition about a female pope and her birth experience. A critical-gendered reading could view this story within the broader cultural phenomenon of labor being expropriated by men. The paper in addition suggests a subversive reading, which sees the story as a unique, disguised attempt at creating an appropriate place for birth within the greater culture. Focusing on the use of the strange papal story as a way of affecting salvation, the paper proposes a sephirotic-symbolic reading of the internal story: R. Yisroel of Ruzhin identified sparks of hesed in the story of the female pope and elevated them through the telling of the story, realizing the Hasidic mission of "raising the sparks". This Hasidic activity of "raising the sparks", the paper suggests, could also function as an interpretive methodology offering new perspectives on a patriarchal world and a patriarchal text, including the present story and the Hasidic tradition in general. The paper shows how through gender sensitivity and with the aid of the appropriate theoretical tools, a Hasidic text unfolds to reveal answers to new questions, and questions to new answers, opening a rich interpretive space while at the same time opening the door to tikun 'olam, repair of the world.
Jewish Quarterly Review – University of Pennsylvania Press
Published: Aug 13, 2011