Ludomir, Maid of

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LUDOMIR, MAID OF (1806–1888?), popular title of Hannah Rochel Werbermacher , the only woman in the history of Ḥasidism to function as a rebbe or charismatic leader in her own right. Although unusual in her following, some of Werbermacher's activities had precedents in traditional Jewish female roles, including the firzogern or zogerke (prayer leader), klogmuter (professional mourner), and vaybersher opshprecherke (traditional healer). Born in the Volhynian town of Ludomir (Russian, Vladimir Volinski), Werbermacher exhibited extreme piety and a talent for learning as a child. At 12, Hannah Rochel experienced the traumatic death of her mother and one day fell into a coma at her mother's grave. After hopes for her recovery had been abandoned, the girl suddenly awoke and announced that the heavenly court had granted her a new and higher soul. From this point on, Hannah refused to marry and became known as the Maid of Ludomir (Yiddish, Ludomirer Moid); she began to wear a tallit and tefillin and to perform healings. The Maid's father, a wealthy merchant named Monesh, died when she was 19, leaving her a sufficiently large inheritance to support herself without a husband or community aid. She built her own shtibl (small prayer house) and held gatherings like a ḥasidic rebbe. In addition to teaching Torah and leading prayers in Ludomir, the Maid also traveled to other shtetlakh (towns), where she delivered homilies to groups of women. The Maid attracted a circle of followers, primarily women and working class men, known as the "Maid of Ludomir's Ḥasidim." She also attracted opponents, who accused her of being possessed by a dybbuk (malevolent spirit). Eventually, Mordechai of Chernobyl, the most powerful ẓaddik in the region, was asked to intervene. He convinced the Maid to marry; her new husband, however, awed by her holiness, could not consummate the marriage and the couple soon divorced. Subsequently, the Maid appears to have lost much of her influence in Ludomir and may have suffered a crisis of confidence. Around 1860, she immigrated to Eretz Israel, where she reestablished herself as a holy woman, first in the Old City of Jerusalem and then in Meah She'arim. Here, too, the Maid attracted a following of ḥasidic women and men, as well as Sephardi and possibly some Muslim Arab women, and led gatherings at the Western Wall, the Tomb of Rachel, and her own besmedresh (study house). After her death, her grave on the Mount of Olives became a site of devotion. While the original tombstone was apparently destroyed under Jordanian rule, in 2004 a new tombstone was erected on her possible gravesite and people began to pray at the location. Over the years, the Maid's story has been retold in plays, novels, stories, a play within a novel (Isaac *Bashevis Singer's Shosha), as well as several radio dramas starring Mollie *Picon.


N. Deutsch, The Maiden of Ludmir: A Jewish Holy Woman and Her World (2003); A. Rapoport-Albert, "On Women in Hasidism: S.A. Horodesky and the Maid of Ludmir Tradition," in: A. Rapoport-Albert and S.J. Zipperstein (eds.), Jewish History: Essays in Honour of Chimen Abramsky (1988), 495–525.

[Nathaniel Deutsch (2nd ed.)]