Holiness and Transgression: Mothers of the Messiah in the Jewish Myth

Holiness and Transgression: Mothers of the Messiah in the Jewish Myth


Ruth Kara-Ivanov Kaniel
Translated by Eugene D. Matanky with Ruth Kara-Ivanov Kaniel

Series: Psychoanalysis and Jewish Life
ISBN: 9781618115607 (hardcover)
Pages: approx. 380 pp.
Publication Date: March 2017


This volume deals with the female dynasty of the House of David and its influence on the Jewish Messianic Myth. It provides a missing link in the chain of research on the topic of messianism and contributes to the understanding of the connection between female transgression and redemption, from the Bible through Rabbinic literature until the Zohar. The discussion of the centrality of the mother image in Judeo-Christian culture and the parallels between the appearance of Mary in the Gospels and the Davidic Mothers in the Hebrew Bible, stresses mutual representations of "the mother of the messiah" in Christian and Jewish imaginaire. Through the prism of gender studies and by stressing questions of femininity, motherhood and sexuality, the subject appears in a new light. This research highlights the importance of intertwining Jewish literary study with comparative religion and gender theories, enabling the process of filling in the ‘mythic gaps’ in classical Jewish sources. The book won the Pines, Lakritz and Warburg awards.

Ruth Kara Ivanov Kaniel is a lecturer at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies and at the Hebrew University, and is a research fellow at the Tel-Aviv Institute for Contemporary Psychoanalysis and at the Shalom Hartman Institute. She is also the head of a Research Group at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. Her current research deals with intersections between Jewish mythology, mysticism, gender and psychoanalysis.

Advance Praise

Ruth Kara-Ivanov Kaniel’s careful handling of discussions spanning nearly two thousand years of Jewish literary output is highly original and is accomplished by excellent knowledge of the relevant texts and of the research literature, Gender Studies and Myth Theory. The overall picture that emerged from this book is an innovation within the field of Jewish Thought … a major contribution to the understanding of the Messianic idea and its development in certain branches of the Jewish world, as well as to the understanding of the importance of the role of women in the history of the Messiah.
— Moshe Idel, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Table of Contents


Part One: Messianic Mothers in the Bible

Ruth, Tamar, and Lot’s Daughters    
Chapter One: Feminine Genealogy and the Lineage of the House of David    
Two Genealogical Lists at the Conclusion of the Book of Ruth    
The Feminine Genealogical List—Exclusion or Redundancy?    
The Blessing at the Gate    
Like Rachel and Like Leah    
The Mothers of the Davidic Dynasty in Chronicles    
The Foreign Women of the House of David    
Dynasticism, Eros, and Messianism    
Feminine Dominance and Antinomianism in the “J” Source    
Chapter Two: The Type-Scene of “The Birth of the Messianic Hero”    
1.    The Background: The Appearance of the Foreign Woman    
2.    The Crisis—Human and Cosmic Traumatizing Circumstances    
3.    The Obstacle—The Sexual Prohibition: Incest, Harlotry, and Seduction    
4.    The Messianic Fathers—The Symbolism of the Father Figure    
5.    The Secret and Seductive Means—Wine, Masquerading, and Concealment    
6.    The Danger—The Men’s Unawareness and the Woman’s Endangerment Post-Seduction    
7.    The Birth—From Virginity to Motherhood    
8.    The Human Condemnation—Breaking of Ties and the Disappearance of Mother and Father Figures    
9.    The Divine Vindication—The “Providential Type-Scene” and Genealogical Seal    
The Motif of Doubleness in the Stories of the Davidic Mothers    
Sexuality and Messianism    
The Development and Tempering of the Type-Scene—What Do the Foremothers Bequeath to Their Daughters?    

Part Two: The Messianic Mother in Rabbinic Literature—Sororal Love and “Ethics of Redemption”    

Chapter Three: David’s Mother(s) in Yalkut ha-Makhiri    
Son of the Hated and Son of the Loved—The Holy Deception
The Absent Mother and the Excessive Mother
Connected Midrashim between Davidic Mothers
Chapter Four: Gedolah Aveirah Lishmah—From Rabbinic Literature to the Messianic Teachings of R. Moses Ḥayyim Luzzatto    
The Background of the Sugiyah—Ḥeruta’s Story and “The Revolution of Intention”    
Aveirah Lishmah and Devar Mitzvah    
Aveirah Lishmah according to R. Moses Ḥayyim Luzzatto    
Women as the Other: Gender, Language, and Politics    

Part Three: The Messianic Mother in the Zoharic Literature    

The Mystery of the Composition of the Zohar and its Character    
The Messianic Idea in the Zoharic Literature    
Chapter Five: Lot’s Daughters and the Zoharic “Ṭiqla”    
The Paradoxicality of Incestuous Relations in Cultural and Psychoanalytic Studies    
Incestual Relations in a Gender Perspective    
The Primal Story and “Primal Scene”    
Ammon and Moab—Split Attitudes    
The First Appearance of the Ṭiqla: Spain of the Thirteenth Century    
Zohar Parashat Va-Yera—the Story of Lot’s Daughters    
The Origins of the Ṭiqla in the Greek Water-Wheel of “Antiliya”    
Ṭiqla in the Zohar—Five Axes of Meaning    
Chapter Six: The Burning Face of the Shekhinah—Tamar in Zohar Aḥrei Mot    
The Passage’s Framework—An Opening to Supernal Mysteries    
The Burning Image—The Smoldering Shekhinah    
Petaḥ Einayim—From Rabbinic Midrash to Zoharic Exegesis    
Tamar’s story and the Motif of Fire in Zohar Aḥrei Mot—A Mirror to the World of the Kabbalists
Chapter Seven: “And She Uncovered His Feet”—The Exilic and Redemptive Journey of the Shekhinah    
The Book of Ruth and the Threshing Floor Scene—From the Bible to Second Temple Literature    
Ruth in the Zohar—“And She Uncovered His Feet”    
The Personal Stance—Ruth as the Messiah’s Mother and an Actual and Active Character in the Zohar    
Ruth and Tamar—The Shared Model    
The Allegorical Position—Zohar Ruth and Tiqqunei Zohar    
The Distant Redeemer, The Close Redeemer—Tiqqunei Zohar in Contrast to Zohar Ruth    
Naomi and Ruth as Binah and Malkhut    
An Existentialist Reading—The Shekhinah is the Soul    
The Zohar in Contrast to the Tiqqunim and Zohar Ruth—The Personalistic Model and the Allegorical Model    
Conclusion—Gender Reversal and Redemption Poetics    

Epilogue: The Messianic Mother in Judaism and Christianity    
The Mother of the Messiah in the Bible and in Early Christianity    
A Messiah by Virtue of His Mothers    
Christian Traditions and Jewish Rabbinic Literature    
A) Miraculous Conception: “A Seed That Comes from Another Place”    
B) Sexuality and Virginity: “All Those Women of the House of Rabbi Who Crushed with Their Finger”    
D) Seduction, Trauma and Relationships    
E) Late Subversion in a Medieval Midrash    
F) The Messianic Mother as a Virgin and Harlot—Influences on the Perception of the Shekhinah in the Zohar