CANCELLED: "Redeeming Leah in the Zohar"

When and Where

Monday, September 27, 2021 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm
Online, Zoom


Sharon Koren



This lecture has been *CANCELLED* due to unforeseen circumstances. We apologize for the inconvenience.



Isadore and Rosalie Sharp Lecture

Sharon Koren (Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion)

"Redeeming Leah in the Zohar"

Date: Monday, September 27th at 4 PM


The Bible describes Leah as a weak-eyed and hated sister engaged in a bitter rivalry with her younger beautiful and shapely younger sister Rachel. Rabbinic midrash adds details to sanitize the biblical account, transforming the venomous rivalry into a tale of sororal devotion. The medieval Zohar, by contrast, employs a kabbalistic and hypo-literal reading to subvert the original meaning of the biblical text. Rachel is beautiful and easily seen in public because she is the Shekhinah, who functions as the portal to the heavenly sefirot. Leah, by contrast, is neither weak-eyed nor hated, but rather, difficult to see or to appreciate. She is the upper mother, the third sefirah Binah. Rachel is the “aqeret ha-bayit,” the barren woman in her home,” described in Psalms 113:9. Leah, by contrast is “the joyous mother of children.” 

Prof. Koren suggests that the Zohar’s exegetical shift reflects the historical circumstances of the Jews in medieval Castile. The Circle of the Zohar reacts to internal and external threats to the Jewish community by casting Leah in a role that satisfies the needs of the Castilian Jewish community in the late-thirteenth and early fourteenth century. In this paper Prof. Koren will throw light on new developments in Christian exegesis, monumental sculpture, and Jewish-Christian polemic, that would have been familiar to a Castilian Jewish audience and could have provoked kabbalists, either through conscious borrowing, or through unconscious acculturation to adapt the symbol of Leah to a changing theological landscape.

About the Speaker:

Sharon Faye Koren is an Associate Professor of Medieval Jewish Culture at the Hebrew Union College/Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City where she teaches courses in medieval, history, Biblical commentary, Jewish philosophy, and Jewish mysticism.  Her publications include Forsaken: the Menstruant in Medieval Jewish Mysticism and many articles on gender and medieval Kabbalah.  She is currently completing a book on the biblical heroines in the Zohar.



Isadore and Rosalie Sharp Lecture