Rethinking the Book of Esther: Feminist Hermeneutics and Shechinah Theology in the Poetry of Amy Levy

Luke Devine

Abstract


In this essay, Amy Levy’s biblical hermeneutic on Esther 9:22 is examined. Levy was an acculturated Anglo-Jewish woman triply marginalized by the upper-middle-class community of which her family belonged and that afforded women little intellectual space, the conservative Reform Judaism of the period, and as an obviously Jewish woman socializing in predominantly Christian circles. In the process of reengaging with the biblical texts, Levy, by her own figuring an exile in every sense, develops relational theological perspectives through imagery and themes resonant of Shechinah, the presence of God in exile since the destruction of the Temple. By doing so, Levy’s poetry visualizes the eschatological prospect of return and restoration to come; these proto-feminist hermeneutics also insert the symbols and language of divine presence into the Esther narrative, which conventionally makes no direct reference to the divine. This is important as Jewish feminist theology is generally considered to be a Second-Wave phenomenon. Moreover, the recovery of the sacral elements of the Levy corpus is vital to our awareness of previously marginalized, and even forgotten, Anglo-Jewish women writing theology in the late-Victorian period.


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