Asenath Barzani is widely recognized as the world’s first female Rabbi. She was also a Kurd.
Asenath Barzani was born in 1590 and lived until 1670. She was the daughter of a well-known Rabbi in the Mosul areaof Iraqi Kurdistan.
A Female Torah Scholar
Growing up, Asenath was schooled daily by her father, and other local Torah scholars. She once wrote, “I never left the enterance to my house or went outside; I grew up in the laps of scholars. I was never taught any work but sacred study.”
When Asenath Barzani married, it was to one of her father’s students, a man who promised Asenath’s father that he would never force her to work, allowing her to study the Torah.
A Teacher of the Torah
When her father died, her husband took over leadership of the Mosul yeshiva, a place where religious texts are studied. Asenath’s husband was so preoccupied with his Torah studies that the responsibility to teach yeshiva students fell to Asenath.
In time, Asenath’s husband passed away, and leadership of the yeshiva fell to her. She became to be known as “Tanna’it.” Her leadership role of the yeshiva is not technically equal to a rabbi, but her responsibility, accomplishments and recognition give her rare credibility that few Jewish females had before the 20th century. Many consider her achievements to qualify her for the Rabbi title.
Legends About Asenath Barzani
At this time, Asenath Barzani’s name became known outside of Mosul, as one of the finest Torah scholars in Kurdistan. Legends were told about her, including a story about her saving Torah scrolls from being burned in a synagogue by a group of gentiles (non-Jewish people) in the town of Amadiya. As the legend goes, when a flame appeared above the synagogue, Barzani whispered a secret name that her father taught her, and a flock of angels descended upon the synagogue, beating out the fire with their wings.