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

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

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

Series: Psychoanalysis and Jewish Life
ISBN: 9781618115607 (hardcover), 9781644690147 (paperback)
Pages: 294 pp.
Publication Date: April 2017

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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.


Relying on a unique blend of feminist theory and psychoanalysis, Ruth Kara-Ivanov Kaniel offers a highly illuminating account of the role of mothers—from the Bible to the Zohar—within the framework of messianic configurations. An innovative and beautifully written book that invites us to consider the great relevance of gender issues to the understanding of the enigmatic interrelations between transgression and redemption.
— Ilana Pardes, Professor of Gender and Comparative Literature, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
This is a fascinating history of women’s transgressive sexuality, which features time and again in the biblical, rabbinic and kabbalistic sources, where it is construed as the crucial and most productive element of the redemptive process, giving rise to the famously irregular maternal genealogy of the Jewish Messiah in each one of his incarnations, right up to and including Jesus Christ.
— Ada Rapoport-Albert, Professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, University College London
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

Translator's Note

Part One - Messianic Mothers in the Bible
Chapter One: Feminine Genealogy and the Lineage of the House of David
Chapter Two: The Type-Scene of “The Birth of the Messianic Hero”
Part Two - The Messianic Mother in Rabbinic Literature - Sororal Love and "Ethics of Redemption"
Chapter Three: David’s Mother(s) in Yalkut ha-Makhiri
Chapter Four: Gedolah Aveirah Lishmah - From Rabbinic Literature to the Messianic Teachings of R. Moses Ḥayyim Luzzatto
Part Three - The Messianic Mother in the Zoharic Literature
Chapter Five: Lot’s Daughters and the Zoharic “Ṭiqla”
Chapter Six: The Burning Face of the Shekhinah - Tamar in Zohar Aḥrei Mot
Chapter Seven: The Shekhinah's Exile and Redemption in Ruth and Naomi's Journey
Conclusion - Gender Reversal and Redemption Poetics
Epilogue - The Messianic Mother in Judaism and Christianity