What do you mean by 'The Receiving'?
The art of receiving, opening to the divine spirit, is one of women's natural modes of spirituality. The word kabbalah means receiving. It's a very feminine word, and part of the message of the book is about the irony that the body of Jewish mysiticsm, or kabbalah, has been passed down from men to men for centuries.
So does your title refer to receiving the tradition or to receiving inspiration from a holy spirit?
It's both. The kabbalah is an oral transmission that is about direct experience with the divine. For men, that has been traditionally through the written word and through oral teachings. There's been less about the here and now.
Is the difference between female spirituality and male spirituality more in how we express it, or is it in our natural inclinations?
Women's spirituality, because we have the capacity to create new life and nurture life, is innately relational. It's all about relationship and nurturance and has to do with an immanent experience of the divine, which is the here and now experience. It tends to be more earthy. That's not to say it's true for all women, but in general, women's spirituality seems to be more about the here and now.
In Judaism, that was compounded by the fact that women were, until the modern era, kept out of houses of study in large measure. There were certainly exceptions--wealthy families who trained their daughters in the religious scriptures. But by and large, Jewish women were not literate in the holy scriptures. They were not taught Hebrew and Aramaic, and they were not allowed to perform sacred practices, such as reading from the Torah or blowing the shofar or leading prayer services. Their religious lives were necessarily very private and had to do with their own intimate experience of the divine, rather than the collective aspect. Many women never went to synagogue, and if they did, they didn't really know how to read or what was going on. That Jewish sociological fact created a situation where women were developing over centuries their own unique brand of spirituality, which wasn't so much contingent on the written word, but more upon the direct spiritual experience with the divine.
What's the connection between that 'here and now' spirituality and what we think of as Jewish mysticism?
At the very core of Jewish mysticism, there is this principle of the masculine and feminine needing to be in perfect balance in order for God to be present. In kabbalah, there are all kinds of teachings about the unification of the masculine and the feminine, the unification of heaven with earth, and the necessity for a person to be not only cognizant of the higher cosmic realms but also very present in the here and now on earth, walking one's talk, walking one's beliefs.
You write a lot about this idea of unification, yichud, in the book. The seven women you profile all achieve it. What else do they have in common?
Each one of them struggled within a more masculine dominant ethic to be themselves and to bring forth their brand of spirituality. They're all very different. One is the mistress of the home and another is a mistress of wisdom. Others are women of action, others are natural mediums and clairvoyants. They're all down-to-earth, they take care of business.