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Suckling at My Mother's Breasts

The Image of a Nursing God in Jewish Mysticism

By Ellen Davina Haskell

Publication Year: 2012

A fascinating discussion of the kabbalistic image of a nursing god, its historical context, and its theological implications. One of Kabbalah’s most distinctive images of the feminine divine is that of a motherly, breastfeeding God. Suckling at My Mother’s Breasts traces this idea from its origins in ancient rabbinic literature through its flourishing in the medieval classic Sefer ha-Zohar (The Book of Splendor). Taking the position that kabbalistic images provide specific, detailed models for understanding the relationship between God and human beings, Ellen Davina Haskell connects divine nursing theology to Jewish ideals regarding motherhood, breastfeeding, and family life from medieval France and Spain, where Kabbalah originated. Haskell’s approach allows for a new evaluation of Kabbalah’s feminine divine, one centered on culture and context, rather than gender philosophy or psychoanalysis. As this work demonstrates, the image of the nursing divine is intended to cultivate a direct emotional response to God rooted in nurture, love, and reliance, rather than knowledge, sexuality, or authority.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-iv


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p. vii

Hebrew and Aramaic Transliterations

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pp. ix-x

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Introduction: Kabbalistic Images, Relationality, and a Breastfeeding God

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pp. 1-14

As the kabbalists developed their theology in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, they experimented with new ways to understand the relationships between God, themselves, and the world around them. While earlier Jewish devotion focused on male anthropomorphisms that described God as King, Father, and Judge, the kabbalists expressed their divine relationships through a broader variety of images. ...

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Chapter 1: Breastfeeding and Religious Transmission in Rabbinic Literature

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pp. 15-37

This chapter explores rabbinic texts that use breastfeeding as a metaphor for spiritual transmission. While these works do not identify God as a nursing mother, they contain two themes that are central to the breastfeeding divine’s development in later medieval mystical literature. The first theme presents nursing as a metaphor for transmitting spiritual orientation and is found in stories of prominent Biblical figures...

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Chapter 2: Suckling the Divine Overflow in Early Kabbalah

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pp. 39-63

This chapter looks at three kabbalistic texts from the late twelfth through the early thirteenth centuries. In these works, the image of God as a nursing mother takes shape as part of an emerging mystical theology. As in the previous chapter’s rabbinic literature, the texts apply suckling imagery to the process of spiritual transmission. The early kabbalists, however, divert the metaphor from its human context...

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Chapter 3: God as a Nursing Mother in Sefer ha-Zohar

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pp. 65-88

This chapter examines the image of God as a nursing mother in Sefer ha-Zohar (The Book of Splendor), the quintessential work of kabbalistic literature. As in the previous chapter’s early kabbalistic writings, the Zohar applies the suckling-as-spiritual-transmission metaphor to divinity, using it to define spiritual overflow’s passage among the sefirot and between the divine and human worlds. While early kabbalists...

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Chapter 4: Concluding Thoughts on the Nursing Divine

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pp. 89-109

Kabbalah’s divine nursing imagery encourages an interactive relationship between God and human beings by modeling divine character and humanity’s relationship to that character along the lines of a tender family interaction. This model, which draws on all the positive emotional qualities of a mother suckling her newborn child, creates an intimate social bond that complements and corrects other divine...


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pp. 111-173


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pp. 175-188


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pp. 189-193

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781438443829
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438443812

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 826652882
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Suckling at My Mother's Breasts

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Cabala -- History.
  • God (Judaism) -- Love.
  • Mysticism -- Judaism.
  • Rabbinical literature -- History and criticism.
  • Bible. -- O.T. -- Criticism, interpretation, etc.
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