September 21, 2009

Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg

Reading Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, in my experience, requires an investment of time and attention but is very worthwhile.

For starters, her comments on any one portion will run 25-30 pages or more, and I have never felt like I got all she had to say on one reading. (Skimming is not a good option.) Her main points are developed through reference to many sources: rabbinic and medieval midrash as well as Hassidic commentaries; Shakespeare and other literary sources; and the literature of psychoanalysis. It therefore can take a while to grasp what she’s teaching. It is also important to note that, for better or worse, she takes Freud and followers as “gospel”; her main point can often not be understood without assuming that worldview.

One benefit of her style is that reading Zornberg provides a great introduction to a variety of sources. She is precise and thorough in her references, which means that the reader can follow up to learn more — or just to see the original — if desired. (Lots of great endnotes.) But she also conveys a familiarity with the sources that gives the reader a sense that they, too, “know” these sources — almost as though you’ve been adopted by a large family and have inherited their stories.

Equally important, in my opinion, Zornberg’s sense that the text and our lives inform one another also conveys with her work.

On-line, Audio, Video

Here is a brief biography and a short conversation regarding her concept of the “biblical unconscious.” Another biography is offered at Torah In Motion.

Torah in Motion also offers (for a fee) some of Zornberg’s extensive lectures. Some people find that she is easier to follow as an oral teacher. “J insider” offers a free series of short, very accessible videos called “Uncertain Times.”

Print

The Beginnings of Desire: Reflections on Genesis. NY: Doubleday, 1996.
The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus. NY: Doubleday, 2001.
The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious. NY: Schocken, 2009.
—“Cries and Whispers: The Death of Sarah” IN Beginning Anew: A Woman’s Companion to the High Holidays. Gail Twersky Reimer and Judith A. Kates, editors. Simon and Schuster, 1997.
—“The Concealed Alternative” IN Reading Ruth: Contemporary Women Reclaim a Sacred Resource. Judith A. Kates and Gail Twersky Reimer, eds. NY: Ballantine, 1994.

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Hasidism, midrash, on-line learning

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