Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Maiden of Ludmir

(Khane-Rokhl Werbermacher; 1806?–1888?), Hasidic religious leader. Little concrete information is known about the pious Hasidic woman popularly known as the Maiden of Ludmir (Yid., Di Ludmirer Moid). Despite or perhaps because of the lack of historical detail, she has inspired a century of writers who have told and retold her story in fiction (including Isaac Bashevis Singer’s novel Shosha), plays, and articles.

The Maiden of Ludmir gained fame as the only woman in the history of Hasidism to function as a rebbe in her own right. While women such as Malke of Trisk and Khane Khaye of Chernobil acquired reputations for holiness, they were always relatives of powerful men (with the exception of an enigmatic eighteenth-century woman known as Yente the Prophetess). By contrast, the Maiden of Ludmir was born to a well-to-do family that was not part of the emerging Hasidic dynasties. She apparently was intensely pious at an early age and her biographers state that in her teens she had a heavenly vision during which she claimed to have received a “new and lofty soul.” From that point on, the Maiden acquired a reputation as a healer and miracle worker in the Volhynian town of Ludmir (Rus., Vladimir-Volinski; now Ukr., Volodymyr Volyns’kyi). When her father died, she used her inheritance to build a study house of her own. She also refused to marry, a provocative decision that inspired others to nickname her the Maiden. Legend has it that Mordekhai of Chernobil, a famous tsadik, eventually compelled the Maiden to marry; however, her husband was too afraid of her to consummate the relationship and so the couple divorced.

While the Maiden resembled male tsadikim in a number of important ways (for example, she led a weekly tish [gathering] for her followers), there are also parallels between her and traditional female figures of the shtetl. These figures, whom S. A. An-Ski identified on his Jewish Ethnographic Expedition into the Pale of Settlement, include the firzogern or zogerke (prayer leader), vaybersher opshprekherke (woman healer or exorcist), and klogmuter (professional mourner). Ultimately, the Maiden emigrated to Palestine (probably around 1859), where she appears to have reestablished herself as a holy woman in Jerusalem (with a diverse following that may have included Arab women) and even gained a reputation as a kabbalist. According to some sources, after the Maiden died, her grave on the Mount of Olives became a pilgrimage site.

Suggested Reading

Nathaniel Deutsch, The Maiden of Ludmir: A Jewish Holy Woman and Her World (Berkeley, 2003); Ada Rapoport-Albert, “On Women in Hasidism: S. A. Horodecky and the Maid of Ludmir Tradition,” in Jewish History: Essays in Honour of Chimen Abramsky, ed. Ada Rapoport-Albert and Steven J. Zipperstein, pp. 495–525 (London, 1988).