Book Review by Mary Sharratt: ESTHER by Rebecca Kanner



We have been lost to each other for so long. My name means nothing to you. My memory is dust. This is not your fault or mine. The chain connecting mother to daughter was broken and the word passed into the keeping of men, who had no way of knowing. That is why I became a footnote, my story a brief detour between the well-known history of my father and the celebrated chronicle of my brother.

-Anita Diamant, The Red Tent

To a large extent, women have been written out of history. Their lives and deeds have become lost to us. To uncover the buried histories of women, we must act as detectives, studying the clues left from ages lost.

At its best, historical fiction can write women back into history and challenge our misconceptions about women in the past. Anita Diamant’s novel, The Red Tent, became such an iconic classic because she turned our stereotyped image of women in the Old Testament on its head by allowing the biblical Dinah to tell her own story in her own voice. Continue reading “Book Review by Mary Sharratt: ESTHER by Rebecca Kanner”

The Hebrew Priestess: A Book Review by Joyce Zonana

Hebrew Priestess coverWeaver, Prophetess, Shrinekeeper, Witch; Maiden, Mother, Queen, Midwife; Wise-Woman, Mourning-Woman, Seeker, Lover, Fool . . . . Thirteen possibilities for the female self, thirteen aspects of the Goddess, thirteen archetypes for the Hebrew (or any other) Priestess . . . thirteen fact- and dream-filled chapters in Jill Hammer and Taya Shere’s thrilling—and much-needed—new book, The Hebrew Priestess: Ancient and New Visions of Jewish Women’s Spiritual Leadership.

Nearly fifty years ago, anthropologist Raphael Patai introduced readers to the Hebrew Goddess, documenting the influence of Near Eastern Goddess religions on the practices and beliefs of the ancient Israelites. Since then, feminist scholars of religion, along with poets and novelists, have offered brilliant new interpretations of Torah and Talmud, creating feminist midrash and liturgy that open the ancient patriarchal faith to modern (and perhaps also ancient) notions of female authority and autonomy. At the same time, the increasing presence of women rabbis has transformed the congregational, communal Jewish experience for many women and men.

But what we have not had is a shamanic, visionary form of Jewish practice—“earth-based, embodied, ecstatic, energetic” (9)—that integrates ancient and contemporary Goddess spirituality with Judaism: while we have had female rabbis, we have not had formally trained and recognized Hebrew Priestesses.

Jill Hammer
Taya Shere

Enter Jill Hammer, who in the compelling Introduction to her book recounts with passion and precision her own meandering but steady journey to the Goddess and her establishment, with co-author Taya Shere, of the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute, a school dedicated to ordaining contemporary Hebrew Priestesses, kohanot.Kohenet,” although it does not appear in the Bible, is the ancient Hebrew word for “priestess.” Continue reading “The Hebrew Priestess: A Book Review by Joyce Zonana”

Embracing the Hebrew Priestess by Jill Hammer

Jill HammerEven after I was ordained as a rabbi, I longed to be a priestess. The spiritual leadership I wanted most was less about leading traditional Torah study and prayer (though I’d done plenty of that) and more about immersing in the ocean, creating new rituals, reading kabbalistic sources on Shekhinah (the divine feminine mentioned in Talmud and kabbalah), or interpreting legends about women. My deepest desire was for there to be a school for Jewish women on a priestess path.

Ten years ago, my dream came true. In 2005, Taya Shere and I founded the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute to bring to life the traces of the priestesshood we were finding in the Bible, in Near Eastern archaeology, and in Jewish lore and history. In Kohenet sacred space, we explore the women of spirit among our ancestors, resist their erasure, and bring forward the practices that were sacred to them. We discover in these forgotten teachings the mysticism of the material: the understanding that in our lived experience on the earth we are closest to divinity. At Kohenet, we meet the submerged version of deity called Shekhinah, Imma Ilaah, Elat, Goddess, Divine Mother, and understand why she has been so feared and rejected, yet also has been a deep and lasting part of our tradition as Jews.

The Kohenet Institute has ordained four classes of women and now meets twice a year for training weeks at the Isabella Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Connecticut, and at Ananda Meditation Retreat in Nevada City, CA. We and our students run workshops and services in venues like Limmud UK and the Parliament of World Religions, as well as classes at retreat centers, local synagogues and women’s centers. Days at Kohenet are filled with spiritual exploration: prayer in the feminine in Hebrew and English; ceremony to grant new names or celebrate elders or heal the sick; making incantation bowls in the style of ancient Babylonia; slideshows of ancient priestess and Goddess art from the lands of the Bible; drum circles and labyrinths; stories of witches dueling with Talmudic sages, immersing in the lake before the Sabbath. At Kohenet, we celebrate and embody the sacred feminine, and prepare our students to lead ritual in an earth-based, embodied, feminist way that is rooted in Jewish tradition. Continue reading “Embracing the Hebrew Priestess by Jill Hammer”

Staying In or Leaving the Religious Community of Your Birth: The Dialogue Continues by Carol P. Christ

carol p. christ 2002 colorThis blog is part of an on-going discussion between me and my friend Jewish feminist theologian Judith Plaskow about the differences in our choices to stay in and leave traditional religious communities, which is part of our forthcoming book Goddess and God since Feminism: Body, Nature, and Power.

When you (Judith) discuss the reasons I left Christianity while you stayed Jewish, I think you hit upon a crucial difference between us when you say that I am more “idealistic” than you are.  I agree that this does not mean that I am more ethical than you are.  When you say that I require more “purity of thought” or perhaps more accurately more “purity of ritual symbolism” than you, I think you have hit the nail on the head.  I simply cannot participate in a religious symbol system that I feel has done and continues to do great harm in the world.

I reiterate that for me this “problem” is not limited to the ways in which the maleness of God justifies male domination—including violence against and rape of women.  Equally important to me are the ways that religious symbolisms justify the violence of warfare and conquest.    I simply will not and cannot participate in religious rituals that justify domination and violence in the name of “God.”  If that makes me a “purist” or an “idealist,” I am willing to accept those terms.  Continue reading “Staying In or Leaving the Religious Community of Your Birth: The Dialogue Continues by Carol P. Christ”

%d bloggers like this: