They Called Her Rebbe: The Maiden of Ludomir

THEY CALLED HER REBBE: THE MAIDEN OF LUDOMIR by Gershon Winkler (Judaica Press, 1991, $16.95/$12.95).

In this, his seventh book, Gershon Winkler paints an admiring feminist portrait of Ghana Rochel Werbermacher (1815- 1892), the female Chassidic rebbe, and a sympathetic picture of the milieu in which she lived.

First we meet Werbermacher’s parents: a long-childless couple bewildered by the birth of a different, self-motivated female child, who, despite loving parental discouragement, develops into a brilliant young scholar. As a betrothed young woman she struggles with the anticipated constraints of marriage and makes difficult choices, maturing into a compassionate healer, counselor and spiritualist. As an accomplished rebbe, always strictly observant of Jewish law, she responds creatively and bravely when she is threatened with excommunication by the rabbinic authorities of her time because she offers too dangerous a role model for young women. It is ironic and sad that one hundred years after her death, Winkler’s story of her life is banned from some Jewish bookstores because of the same fear.

Werbermacher was not the daughter, sister or wife of a rabbi, a relationship that sometimes gained a woman special religious and study privileges. Her unique place in Jewish women’s history is highlighted by her having been so alone and so independent in her achievements and struggles. Winkler’s version of her life is an easy-to-read, entertaining treatment, taking the reader on a somber yet soul-refreshing journey to another time and place.