Freema Gottlieb


"The Waters of Dissidence," Jewish Week, July 12, 2016

"Listen now you rebels (or ingrates). Are we to bring water out of this rock?"(Nums. 20:10)

The Ishpitzer maintains that the Israelites accompanied Moses and Aaron to the predesignated site with absolute faith. This new generation and Moses differed only over whether water could come from any stone in their path or if it had to come from the special one that was divinely designated.
But Moses knew that even in miracle there is an order.And God deferred to Moses because of the value He set on the relationship. Since Moses believed in order, although God could have have overturned nature and permitted him to lead this new generation into the Land, according to the natural order Moses went by he had to die.

"When a Kohen Encounters the Dead," Jewish Week, May 5, 2015

Why is the Jewish priest enjoined to leave care for the physical aspects of death to the layperson?
The Isbitzer sees a parallel between the plight of the Kohen confronted with death and what we go through. The death of a human made in God's image is an act of blasphemy. Because the Kohen represents the living connection between God and creation, he must steer clear of negativity. "In the depths, God's intention is only to improve the world." If He passes on this truism "in a whisper" it is only because while people suffer, it could sound callous.

“God Fears the Death of a Friend,” Jewish Week, August 31, 2010

To enter into human affairs, it appears, God needs at least one human to talk to, and Moses is that man. He is far from looking forward, then, to Moses’ passing. What will happen then, God dreads to think. Then 'I will indeed hide My face from them' [Deut. 31: 17–18], retreating into incommunicability, a state from which all other sufferings and persecution follow. God foresees this lack of verbal communication and finds it as intolerable as his favorite’s passing.

"The Return of the Lost," Jewish Week, November 19, 2013

What is Redemption, says Reb Nachman, but the return of the lost? ...As she is dragged to her death, Tamar gropes for the objects that might save her life and those of the unborn twins. They have vanished. She finds them again. Mutely, she dangles them before her executioner. "Acknowledge, I beg you, to whom these belong." Not only is her life on the line but also that of the entire Messianic line.

“The Self-Sacrifice of Moses,” Jewish Week, July 16, 2013

Only in old age does Moses count the cost of a decision made forty years before. God will either permit him to cross over into the land while destroying the entire Jewish people, or take them in Moses’ stead on the next lap of the journey, leaving him to perish in the wilderness. Despite his anguish, there is no question as to how he will decide.

“Alone with an Angel,” Jewish Week, November 27, 2012

No sooner have Jacob and his family escaped from his murderous father-in-law than he learns that his twin brother advances towards them with a veritable army. Wives, children, livestock, and utensils are on one side of the river Jabbok, while he remains on the other. Then, 'Jacob was left alone' [Genesis. 32:25]. At this moment someone embraced him ...

“Look Who’s Talking,” Jewish Week, July 5, 2011

From the six days of Creation, the rabbis say, the mouth of the donkey waited in the wings for her entrance. Balaam, her master, though a prophet, has secretly been enjoying close physical relations with her from childhood. Yet when his one true love opens her mouth and tries to talk to him seriously about their relation, Balaam is about to silence her forever, when she drops dead anyway.

“Rachel, Mother of Redemption and Return,” Jewish Week, November 16, 2010

After twenty-two years in exile, Jacob is coming home, weighed down by children, wives, and possessions when his beloved Rachel dies by the wayside. How muted is his reaction to her death compared with the passion of their first encounter. Then he already weeps for her death; when it finally happens, he has no heart for tears.

"TheReincarnations of Pinchas/​Elijah," , July 8, 2014

Is there a sense in which the dead are heirs to the living? The great commentator Rashi seems to think so. When an Israelite prince and a Midianite princess make love in public, a young man strikes them dead. For this seeming act of violence he is awarded God's covenant of peace or wholeness. Is this a reward or a penalty? To achieve wholeness he must reincarnate over many lifetimes. He shows up as a beggar, a Roman officer, an Arab. The Talmud says that when Elijah comes to town, dogs roll on their back and begin to play.

“Romanian Pilgrimage.” European Judaism (Winter 1976).
“The Oaks of Mamre: A West Bank Story.” Midstream (February 1985).
“Nostro Mare: A Mediterranean Oratorio for Humanity.” Jewish Quarterly 162 (Summer 1996).
“Rules of Warfare Invite a Pursuit of Transcendence.” Forward, August 16, 2002.
“Her Chiefest Joy.” Natural Bridges (Summer 2003).
“The Visitor.” Rosebud Magazine (August 2007). Runner-up winner of XJ Kennedy Award. Excerpt from Scottish Jewish Romanian midrashic memoir in progress.
Occasional columnist, the Jewish Week’s Sabbath Week:
“The Self-Sacrifice of Moses.” July 16, 2013
“Alone with an Angel.” November 27, 2012.
“The Romance of Jacob and Rachel.” November 29, 2011
“Someone Just Like You.” April 27, 2011
“Rachel, Mother of Redemption and Return.” November 16, 2010.
"The Return of the Lost." November, 19, 2013.
"The Reincarnations of Pinchas/​Elijah." July 8, 2014.
"The Veiling of Rivka." November 11, 2014.

“We enjoyed our friend Freema Gottlieb’s piece in Sabbath Week. She is a gentle mystic.”
—Jacob Birnbaum, founder of Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry and other human rights movements, on the Jewish Week editorial, 11/​29/​12

Selected Works

“Why the Figure of Honi the Circle Drawer Resembles That of Moshe Our Teacher.” European Judaism 15, no. 1 (Summer 1981).
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR French antisemitism
“The French Record,” Letters, the French Embassy and Gottlieb, about Vichy, France, Mitterand, etc. Washington Post Book World, September 12, 1993.
“A masterful work, and so timely; there is a spiritual yearning in the country, which The Lamp of God will help to satisfy.” —Bill Moyers, Public Affairs Television, Inc. “Freema Gottlieb’s beautiful book The Lamp of God is written in black fire on white fire; it is the kind of book that had to be written, that comes from the deep sources of both the author and the Jewish tradition, and whose brilliance blazes off its rough edges.” “Both a very conservative book, in love with roots, with nuances of orthodox tradition, immersed in sources, and an entirely radical, free-thinking one, that gives one a sense of understanding stories in the Bible, and mitzvoth, in a way that they have never been understood before. —Francis Landy, professor of Religious Studies, University of Alberta, Midstream,. “Of deep interest to all who want to know more about the extraordinary achievements of those who, through so many ages, have given their poetic and imaginative power to the enrichment of an ancient tradition. A dedicated performance and an admirable book.” —Frank Kermode, Fellow of the British Academy, professor emeritus of English Literature at Cambridge, member of the working party on interpretation, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, coauthor The Literary Guide to the Bible, and author of The Oxford Anthology of English Literature and many other works “Freema Gottlieb weighs into history, the history of our beginnings, like a true poet. Light in her hands is tangible; it can be felt, it can be held. Her art is truly transformational in the best sense: it treats its subject as though for the first time, and will certainly cause a stir.” —James Ellison, former executive editor, Book-of-the-Month Club, and book editor of Psychology Today “Freema Gottlieb is a truly talented storyteller gifted with a luminous and original imagination.” —Judith Rossner, novelist, author August, Looking for Mr. Goodbar and other novels. “The writing is not linear and expository, but associative and reflective. Some passages appear to have been written in a meditative consciousness and might serve as the objects of spiritual contemplation.” —Nehemia Polen, associate assistant professor of Jewish Thought, Boston Hebrew College ,and author of Esh Kodesh, the Warsaw Ghetto writings of Rabbi Kalonymos Shapiro.
Visionary Nonfiction
A meditation on 3,000 years of Jewish sources to which the light metaphor is key. Newly available internationally and affordably in a Kindle edition.
Creative or visionary midrashic nonfiction, newspaper column
Jewish Week, March 13, 2017

Example(s) of occasional column(s) in Jewish Week’s Sabbath Week.
Gut Renovation is a memoir-in-progress about the transformation of an apartment that originally was a Jerusalem water well.

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