Hannah Rachel Verbermacher
Women in Judaism ~ Women in Judaism - Religious leader

Hannah Rachel Verbermacher

‘The Maid of Ludmuir’ Hannah Rachel Verbermacher was born in the early nineteenth century in Ukraine to Hasidic parents. Her father, Monesh Verbermacher, was a devotee of Rabbi Mordechai Twersky, known as the Maggid of Chernobyl, as well as a wealthy businessman. He provided an extensive education for his only daughter, which included many fields of Torah study. There is much of her life that we don’t know about and what we do know has come down to us through as significant amount of folklore.

She appears not to have been a remarkable child, but underwent a transformation in her late teens. Declining marriage, she started to fulfil all the commandments, including those not incumbent among women, and increased her Torah study. She gained fame as a scholar and holy woman with powers to perform miracles. To all intents and purposes, she was a rabbi.

As her fame grew she assumed functions generally reserved for Hasidic Rebbes, such as receiving female audiences and accepting kvitlach (prayer request notes), and to preside over a Tish (the traditional Sabbath meal in the company of one's Hasidim) at which she would offer Torah teachings and pass shirayim (leftovers from a Rebbe's meal), although many accounts say that she did so from behind a screen out of modesty.

However, she remained an anomaly and had to withstand strong opposition from the fiercely traditional Hasidic community, who were made ill at ease by this unusual woman. At some point the pressure for her to refrain from her activities grew strong, and her father asked her to consult with his Rebbe, Mordechai Twerski, the Maggid of Chernobyl, on the matter. The Maggid convinced her to discontinue her unusual behaviour, and encouraged her to marry and assume the traditional role for Hasidic women.

After the visit to the Rebbe, Hannah Rachel temporarily halted her activities as a Hasidic leader and teacher. She even married, although it is disputed how long the marriage lasted.

Later she moved to the Land of Israel and settled in Jerusalem. There she attracted a small group of followers. On Shabbat afternoons, they would come to hear her recite words of Torah, and on Rosh Chodesh she would accompany them to Rachel's Tomb for prayer. She died on 22 Tammuz, and is buried on the Mount of Olives.

A lecture on her life by Dr Henry Abramson, largely based on the best and most recent biography of her life, by Nathaniel Deutsch.

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