The Daughters of Zelophehad and the Five Feminine Powers of the Kabbalah by Rabbi Jill Hammer

Jill anointing her daughter. photo by Shoshana Jedwab

This summer, I visited Iceland, a beautiful and magical land.  While I was there, I saw the Kerid Crater, which is a caldera: a volcanic crater with a lake inside.  My family and I hiked around the edge of the crater and then down close to the lake.  The perfect roundness of the crater-lake gave the impression of a circular container—a jewel-box shaped by some immense hand— or else a massive eye looking up from the earth.  My daughter and I sat by the lake’s waters and anointed one another, having the sense we were in a sacred place.

Later that summer, I grappled with a story that reminded me of the crater. In Numbers 27, five sisters—the daughters of a man named Tzelafchad—approach Moses with a question.  Their father had daughters, not sons, and it seems this means his family will receive no land allotment in Canaan.  The daughters ask that they be given land allotments: “Let our father’s name not be lost to his clan just because he had no son!” (Numbers 27:4).  Moses takes their complaint to God and brings back an answer: the daughters have spoken rightly, and will receive a land allotment as they request.  However, they must marry men of their own tribe so that the tribal land is not lost— if the women married men of another tribe, their heirs would belong to that other tribe and so the land would change its tribal designation.  Thus, patriarchy is mitigated but not ultimately contradicted—the women become heirs to their father, but primarily for their father’s sake, not their own. 

Continue reading “The Daughters of Zelophehad and the Five Feminine Powers of the Kabbalah by Rabbi Jill Hammer”

Reflections on Miriam’s Cup by Rabbi Jill Hammer

For many years, I’ve had a Miriam’s Cup on my Passover seder table, next to the Cup of Elijah. Our cup of Elijah is a kiddush cup belonging to my great-grandfather Joseph Frankel and inscribed with his name. Our cup of Miriam was created by a ceramic artist and bears the word “Miriam” at its base. The Cup of Elijah, filled with wine, is an old tradition—a cup on the seder table for the prophet Elijah, who according to legend visits every Passover seder. The cup of Miriam, filled with water, is a custom only a few decades old, honoring the prophetess Miriam, who watched over the infant Moses, danced in celebration at the crossing of the Sea, and who according to a famous ancient tale had a well of water that followed her through the wilderness.

According to scholar Annette Boeckler, the custom of the Cup of Miriam began at a Shabbat table in Boston in 1989, made its way to the post-Sabbath Havdalah ceremony, and eventually found its way to the seder table. The custom was intended to honor the prophetess Miriam as well as the contributions of women to the Exodus and to Jewish life. Many of the heroes early in the book of Exodus are women, yet their stories are not part of the seder. The Miriam’s Cup at the seder is a way to give the participants an opportunity to include those stories. Continue reading “Reflections on Miriam’s Cup by Rabbi Jill Hammer”

Judaism or Christianity: Which Tradition Is More Open to Feminist Change? by Carol P. Christ

Jill Hammer’s recent post on midrash surrounding the Biblical figure of Eve (Hava in Hebrew) sparked me to muse again about the fact that, despite its patriarchal roots and overlay, Judaism is a much more flexible tradition than Christianity and, therefore, much more open to feminist change.

Part of this is due to the fact that Judaism is midrashic while Christianity has been and remains a doctrinal tradition. Midrash is a form of Biblical interpretation that includes retelling the story to fill in the blanks and to answer contemporary questions left unanswered in the original text. Jews consider the Torah (the 5 books of Moses) to be the “Word of God” though opinions vary as to what this means. In the rabbinical tradition, the Torah is interpreted through the Talmud which is an extensive collection of discussions and disputes that draw on Biblical texts in relation to contemporary (to the rabbis) questions. Midrash included in the Mishnah (a collection of teachings that preceded the Talmud) and the Talmud are considered part of the “oral Torah.” which is also “the Word of God.”

The Talmud is considered to be authoritative, but it includes conflicting interpretations that were never resolved into a single definitive view. Though different Jewish groups have declared certain views to be normative, other groups have disagreed. There is no central authority (such as a Pope or council) to resolve these disputes. Though some Jewish groups disagree strongly with the beliefs or practices of others, in Judaism as a whole an attitude of “live and let live” leads to inclusion rather than exclusion. Indeed. The Talmud records that in the midst of a particularly vehement dispute between two rabbis, a voice intervened, stating: “These and these are the words of the Living God.” (Quoted by Judith Plaskow in Goddess and God in the World.) Continue reading “Judaism or Christianity: Which Tradition Is More Open to Feminist Change? by Carol P. Christ”

The Holy of Holies and the Umbilical Cord: The Evolution of a Ritual Object by Jill Hammer

In the Jewish calendar, we’re just past the holiday season—the High Holidays, the harvest festival of Sukkot, and the concluding festival of Simchat Torah when the last verses of the Torah are read and the first verses are started again. The Torah readings for these holidays speak often of the offerings once made on the altar in the Tabernacle in celebration of these festivals.  Particularly on Yom Kippur, the readings mention the kodesh kodashim: the holy of holies. This enclosed sacred space contained, according to legend: the tablets of the Commandments inside an ark, topped by two cherubim that held up an empty space between them—an empty space understood to be the amplified presence of an invisible God.  As I think back over my powerful summer, which was largely spent with Jewish priestesses on various retreats and adventures (in Connecticut, Mississippi, California, Costa Rica, England and Scotland), I am thinking about a unique ritual object we use, and realizing that in its own way, it is a kind of Holy of Holies.

Continue reading “The Holy of Holies and the Umbilical Cord: The Evolution of a Ritual Object by Jill Hammer”

The Three Mothers: Feminine Elements and the Early Kabbalah by Jill Hammer

For over ten years, I’ve been teaching a work of early Jewish mysticism known as Sefer Yetzirah, or the Book of Creation.  There are widely differing opinions on the book’s origin and dating, but many scholars date it to the sixth century.  Its core concept can be described simply: the Divine used the Hebrew letters as metaphysical channels to create the different aspects of reality: the directions, the elements, the planets, the months of the year, and so forth.  Each letter is a channel by which God creates a unique form or entity, and meditating on the letters provides us with a connection to divine creative power. In its discussion of the letters, Sefer Yetzirah shows a strong connection to feminine imagery, and thus helps the later kabbalah develop its own link to the feminine.

Sefer Yetzirah shows influences from Aristotle to Gnosticism, and is often viewed as a work of Jewish philosophy.  However, it is also a work of meditation, giving the reader instruction on how to focus and connect to the divine. Scholars such as Richard Hayman and Marla Segol have noted that the book’s structure and content connect it to magical literature: for example, the book has a deep concern with “sealing” the space of the world: letters of the Divine Name are used to seal the six directions of the universe.  In a similar way, ceremonial magicians of the ancient world used sealing ritual, including the incantation bowls that were buried in the corners of a home to keep out evil forces.  The book, like much ceremonial magic of the region, also discusses the elements.  However, Sefer Yetzirah has a three-element system rather than a four or five-element system.  The three formative elements are air, water, and fire.

Continue reading “The Three Mothers: Feminine Elements and the Early Kabbalah by Jill Hammer”

Queen Esther from The Goddess Project: Made in Her Image by Colette Numajiri

Queen Esther
An orphan child,
who became
a well respected queen,
Esther, the Queen of Persia,
was a woman of integrity,
Wisdom and courage,
a beautiful woman, truly supreme,
favored by God,
She had a awareness of dependability,
steady strong, long-suffering faithfulness, with vision foreseen
in courage to stand in times of trouble
with true self esteem,
wise above measure,
Esther, Queen of Persia.
Like many Goddess tales, Esther (from the Old Testament “Book of Esther” or the “Megillah”) took full control of a dangerous situation and against all odds created a miracle, saving the lives of ALL OF HER PEOPLE.
There is a yearly Jewish celebration because of Her called PURIM (today, March 1st this year) where people wear costumes, re-read the Megillah, feast and give gifts of food and money to the needy.

Continue reading “Queen Esther from The Goddess Project: Made in Her Image by Colette Numajiri”

Jewish Folklore and Women’s Clothing: When Things are the Text by Jill Hammer

Two weekends ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the Jewish Museum on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.  The Jewish Museum has long been a favorite museum for me.  My wife and I took our daughter to this particular exhibit because we knew she’d like it.  The exhibit is entitled “Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress from the Collection of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.”  It consists of many, many garments created and worn by Jews, from Moroccan wedding clothes to German prayer shawls to Yemenite amuletic (meant to protect the wearer) dresses.  Accompanying the garments were placards explaining the folk traditions giving rise to the various garments.  What I realized (again) after viewing the exhibition was how much I could learn about the culture of Jewish women, and Jewish culture in general, by looking at things, not texts.

The sacred texts and laws central to Jewish life, while they certainly discuss Jewish women, tend not to be created by or for Jewish women.  This means many aspects of how Jewish women thought or acted (before the present day) are obscured. However, these garments were created by and often for Jewish women, and their shapes and symbols tell a great deal.  For example, the Moroccan Jewish wedding clothes I mentioned were embroidered with spirals, representing (according to the accompanying written material) the spiral of life.  These spirals were also found on Jewish tombstones. The spirals resembled, to me, the spirals I’d seen carved on stone at Newgrange and Knowth in Ireland—the ancient symbols of life and journey.  I was amazed to see them in a Jewish context.  Another dress that mixed Sephardic and Moroccan style also had spirals featured prominently.

Continue reading “Jewish Folklore and Women’s Clothing: When Things are the Text by Jill Hammer”

Miriam the Prophetess as Guardian and Healer by Jill Hammer

jill hammer cropped

The biblical traditions of Miriam the prophetess have captured the imaginations of Bible-readers throughout the ages.  Miriam, Moses’ sister, watches over Moses in his cradle (Exodus 2), and leads the Hebrew women in dance at the shore of the Sea of Reeds to celebrate redemption  (Exodus 15).  Rabbinic lore identifies Miriam with Puah, the midwife who saved Hebrew babies from Pharaoh, and depicts her as the herald of Moses’ birth (Exodus Rabbah 1:13; Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 12a). Contemporary Jewish feminists have established traditions of singing to Miriam the prophetess on Saturday night, parallel to the tradition of singing to Elijah the prophet at that time.   It has also become popular among some feminist/egalitarian Jews to place a cup of Miriam on the seder table at the time of Passover.  This cup is usually filled with water in order to recall the ancient legend that a well of water followed Miriam through the wilderness, quenching the thirst of the wandering people (cf: Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 9a).  It was even said that healing herbs grew near this well, so that Miriam’s prophetic power became a source of healing.

The veneration of Miriam is especially deep in Sephardic Jewish traditions—those Jewish traditions stemming from the Spanish Jewish diaspora, which may be found everywhere from North Africa to Holland to Greece and Bulgaria.  Sephardic women used incantations along with various rituals involving salt, herbs, and other substances, as healing for various ailments and troubles; women skilled in these practices were called precanteras or precantadoras.  Some of their healing incantations invoke Miriam as the ancestress of all women healers, as in the following prayer:

Continue reading “Miriam the Prophetess as Guardian and Healer by Jill Hammer”

Meeting Phrike: Feminist Theology and the Experience of Horror by Jill Hammer

Myself, I saw the numb pools amidst the shadows; myself, the wan gods and night in very truth.  My frozen blood stood still and clogged my veins.  Forth leaped a savage cohort… Then grim Erinys (Vengeance) shrieked, and blind Furor (Fury), and Horror (Phrike), and all the forms which spawn and lurk amidst the eternal shades.

Seneca, Oedipus (trans. Frank Justus Miller)

Horror is not a cognitive but a physiological or affective extra-discursive state of being. Not unlike the state of, say, feeling nausea, horror is a state of being, whose manifestation, based on the etymologies of the Greek φρiκη [phrike] and the Latin horror, may be described, as Adriana Cavarero writes, as “a state of paralysis, reinforced by the feeling of growing stiff on the part of someone who is freezing,” and further, through her mythological reference to the prototypical figure of horror, Medusa, as a state of “petrification” …

205. Kiarina Kordela, “Monsters of Biopower: Terror(ism) and Horror in the Era of Affect”, Philosophy Today 60(1), 2016, p. 193-205.

Surging anti-Semitism in the United States, as witnessed by many news reports and also anecdotes related by friends and acquaintances, holds a particular horror for Jews of my generation.  Some of us thought that we were relatively safe from that age-old bigotry.  It’s disorienting to be reminded that we are not.  My wife, whose father (alone of all his relatives) survived Auschwitz, has the skin-crawling sense as she reads the news that somehow we have gone back to that time.  Twenty-eight Jewish community centers have been evacuated in the last two weeks because of bomb threats, and a rabbi in the Midwest has received death threats for protesting neo-Nazi activities. A midwife/rabbi friend in Toronto had her house vandalized with swastikas.  A judge of my acquaintance in the New York area saw a statue of Martin Luther King vandalized with Nazi symbols.  Walking down the street in New York City, I myself heard someone exclaim gleefully: “Trump is going to get rid of the Jews!”  

While I hope that is not anywhere near true, the horror evoked by hearing such words is a real entity: a physiological state of being.  The Greeks personified the feeling of horror as a daimona (spirit) or goddess called Phrike.  The word phrike implies shivers, goosebumps: a physicalized emotion. The Romans called her Horror.  There are no stories about her, but the ancient Greeks used the word phrike when speaking about theater, believing that the pity and terror evoked by a play effected a catharsis for the viewers.  Via their beliefs about theater, the Greeks gifted Phrike to the world.  Lately I feel that Phrike is living in my house.   Continue reading “Meeting Phrike: Feminist Theology and the Experience of Horror by Jill Hammer”

Can Good Theology Change the World? Part 2 by Carol P. Christ

Carol P. Christ by Michael Bakas high resoultionIn the first blog in this series, I argued that one of the hallmarks of a good theology is recognizing that the source of authority must be located in individuals and communities who interpret texts and traditions as they encounter divinity anew in the present. In our new book Goddess and God World, Judith Plaskow and I suggest that a second hallmark of good theology is the “turn to the world.” What we mean by this is not only that divinity is immanent in the world, but also that the purpose of human life is to be found in this world—not the next.

The God of traditional theologies is pictured as an old man with a long white beard who rules the world from heaven. It is commonly assumed by those familiar with this picture that the purpose and meaning of human life is not to be found in this world—but rather in heaven. This assumption is increasingly being challenged. Many people no longer believe in life after death. The purpose of morality is increasingly being understood as improving the conditions for the flourishing of human and other forms of life—not on gaining the approval of a God who has the power to assign individuals to heaven or hell in the next world. Continue reading “Can Good Theology Change the World? Part 2 by Carol P. Christ”

Thinking about Goddess and God by Judith Plaskow and Carol P. Christ

Goddess and God in the World final cover design

Talking about our deepest beliefs and feelings can be surprisingly intimate. In our new book Goddess and God in the World, we discuss our different theologies and challenge each other’s views. In the conclusion, we consider whether there is any way to judge between our positions. While we believe that theologies are rooted in experience, we also insist that they must make sense of the world we share and provide the orientation we need as we face the social, political, and environmental crises of our time.

Theologically, we disagree on two fundamental issues: whether divinity is personal or impersonal; and whether divinity is good or inclusive of good and evil. Does one of our views meet our criteria for adequacy more fully than other?

Does the notion of a personal or impersonal deity make more sense of our experience of the world? Carol argues that if consciousness and intelligence is a fundamental aspect of human existence and is found in varying degrees throughout the web of life, then it makes sense to think of divinity as also having consciousness and intelligence. Judith responds that the notion of a personal deity seems to her a holdover from the biblical picture of God and that she can find no evidence in her experience or reflection that a divine individual who is conscious and intelligent exists. We seem to be at a standoff here. There is some consolation in recognizing that this is a fundamental divide in the history of religions, but this insight does not resolve our disagreement.

Does one or the other of our views offer better guidance in making moral decisions? Judith argues that her view places moral responsibility firmly in human hands, which is where it belongs. Carol agrees with Judith that humans and other individuals are the ones whose decisions will determine the fate of the world, and she finds recognition of the interdependence in the web of life sufficient grounds for moral decision-making. But she would add that the love and understanding of a divine individual inspires her to love and understand the world and to promote its flourishing. Judith believes that the idea of one divine presence that enlivens and unites the universe is a sufficient basis for ethical action.

Our other major theological difference concerns whether divinity is good or inclusive of good and evil. Judith argues that if divinity is inclusive of the world, it must be inclusive of both good and evil. Carol counters that if divinity is reflective of what is best in ourselves and in other individuals in the world, then divinity must be good, not evil.

Does one of our views provide better moral guidance? Carol argues that a divinity who is good inspires us to try to make the world better. Judith replies that the notion that divinity is good leads us to idealize ourselves and to forget or deny our capacity to do evil. Carol feels that a clear focus on the world is sufficient to remind us of our capacity for evil.

Does one of our views offer a more adequate account of the existence of evil in the world? Judith asserts that the idea that divinity is the ground of both good and evil provides a better answer to the problem of evil: the potential for both good and evil are inherent in the creative process that is the foundation of life. Carol believes that the world is created by a multiplicity of individuals, including the divinity. The capacity for good and evil is inherent in the creative process that structures the world. The divinity is good but not omnipotent. What we call evil is created by individuals other than the divinity. Judith replies that this view does not adequately account for the origin of evil.

Is there any way to choose between our different positions? Each of us is firmly convinced that her view is clear, consistent, coherent, and comprehensive, that it takes full account of the complexity of human experience, and that it provides the moral orientation we seek….Each of us has tried without success to win the other over to her perspective. In the process, we have gained a deeper appreciation of each other’s views and clarified our own. This is as far as we have been able to go. We acknowledge that, in the end, we cannot know which, if either, of our theologies expresses the nature of ultimate reality or provides the crucial ethical guidance we need. Our views have been shaped by our standpoints, including personal, communal, cultural, and historical factors, and this means that they are relative and partial. Because we cannot see into the future, we cannot know the long-term effects of either of our theological worldviews.

At the same time, we are unwilling to throw up our hands and declare that all theological perspectives are of equal value. We firmly reject the fundamentalist insistence that particular texts, traditions, or truths are universally and eternally valid. This position denies that people create and interpret traditions, and it has repeatedly led to intolerance and violence. We continue to insist that the views of divinity we have articulated make more sense of the world as we know it and provide better orientation as we face the problems of our time than the traditional views we have criticized. On the one hand, all theologies—and all worldviews—are relative to experience and limited by human finitude. On the other hand, they can be examined, evaluated, and debated in relation to their understanding of the world and the kind of life they make possible for both the self and others.

Excerpted from Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology–order now. Ask for a review copy (for blog or print) or exam or desk copy. Post a review on Amazon.  Share with your friends on social media using the links below.

carol p. christ photo michael bakas

Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow are co-authors of Goddess and God in the World and co-editors of Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions. Judith wrote the first Jewish feminist theology, Standing Again at Sinai, while Carol wrote the first Goddess feminist theology, Rebirth of the Goddess. Judith is co-founder of the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. Carol leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. Space available on the fall tour!

Embodied Theology: Goddess and God in the World by Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow

Goddess and God in the World final cover designToday is the official release date for Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. It just so happens that August 1 is also a day for celebrating the harvest. An excerpt from the Introduction introduces the embodied theological method” we hope will turn the field of theology upside down.

People who reject the popular image of God as an old white man who rules the world from outside it often find themselves at a loss for words when they try to articulate new meanings and images of divinity. Speaking about God or Goddess is no as longer simple as it once was. Given the variety of spiritual paths and practices people follow today, theological discussions do not always begin with shared assumptions about the nature of ultimate reality. In the United States, the intrusion of religion into politics has led many people to avoid the subject of religion altogether. In families and among friends, discussions of religion often culminate in judgment, anger, or tears. Sometimes the conversation is halted before it even begins when someone voices the opinion that anyone who is interested in religion or spirituality is naïve, unthinking, or backward—or, alternatively, that religious views are a matter of personal preference and not worth discussing at all.

Talking about divinity is also surprisingly intimate. Continue reading “Embodied Theology: Goddess and God in the World by Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow”

The Emergence of Feminist Theology: Remembering our Roots by Judith Plaskow and Carol P. Christ

Goddess and God in the World final cover designThis blog is an excerpt from our new book Goddess and God in the World which will be published by Fortress Press in just one week — on August 1. As we look forward to its release, we remember the critical works that started us on a journey of discovery that continues to unfold. In a jointly written chapter, we describe the beginnings of feminist theology.

Feminism was welling up from under during [the late 1960s]. We became feminists early in graduate school but did not discover feminist theology until we were preparing for our comprehensive exams. As Judith was later to write, feminism placed a question mark over absolutely everything for us: the maleness of God, the male authorship of the Bible, and the male perspectives from which virtually all theologies had been written. Three key essays set the stage for future work in the field, including our own. We have already mentioned these essays, but it is important to address the challenges they posed to traditional theology, and our own responses to them, in more detail here. Continue reading “The Emergence of Feminist Theology: Remembering our Roots by Judith Plaskow and Carol P. Christ”

A New Covenant by Joyce Zonana

“The Seder Table” by Lynne Feldman

As the Jewish High Holiday of Passover draws to a close, I have been reflecting on this seasonal ritual so central to collective Jewish identity and so significant to me personally.

The Haggadah, the script for the Seder gathering, enjoins all Jews to experience the Exodus—the liberation of the ancient Hebrews from slavery in Egypt —as if it were happening to each of us in our own time.  Because I was born in Cairo to an Arab Jewish family that left Egypt when I was two, I always felt Passover to be mine.  No need for “as if”: our Exodus was all too real. Yet, from my parents’ accounts, life in Egypt had been delightful. I could not reconcile the Haggadah’s dreadful representation of ancient Egypt with my family’s treasured memories of contemporary Cairo: I could not understand why we celebrated deliverance from an Egypt we loved.

Continue reading “A New Covenant by Joyce Zonana”

Stealing the Yarn: Jewish Women and the Art of Feminist Dreaming (Part 2) by Jill Hammer

Jill HammerIn my last post, I discussed the uses of dreamwork for Jewish women who are uncovering their own spiritual language. The protagonists of recorded Jewish dreams, from Joseph to the dream interpreters of the Talmud to the kabbalists, tend to be male. Yet there is a legacy of Jewish women dreaming, occasionally documented, and painstakingly uncovered by researchers. This hidden history offers us resources for understanding the women of the past, and for connecting to women in the present.

The Roman poet Juvenal (2nd. cent. CE) mocks a poor Jewish woman of his time for sitting under a tree and telling the meaning of dreams, calling her “high priestess with a tree as temple.” Much later in history, Hayyim Vital, the disciple of master kabbalist Isaac Luria, records in his diary that Jewish women in the city of Sfat (Jewish holy city in Galilee known as a center for Kabbalah) in the early 17th century were actively engaged (along with men) in recording, sharing, and interpreting dreams. Vital mainly records women’s dreams when the women dream about him! He saves these dreams from the dustbin of history, ironically, because he sees the dreams as prophecies of his greatness.

For example, Vital records the dream of a friend and patron, Rachel Aberlin. In the dream, Aberlin watches Vital eat a feast of vegetables at a table full of sacred books. Behind Vital, a fire rages, yet does not consume the pile of straw in which it burns. When Aberlin shares the dream, Vital understands this dream to be a manifestation of a biblical verse: “The house of Jacob shall be fire, and the house of Joseph flame, but the house of Esau shall be straw” (Obadiah 1:18). Aberlin, however, responds to Vital’s interpretation: “You quote me the words as they are written, but I see them as a reality.” (Between Worlds: Dybbuks, Exorcists, and Early Modern Judaism, p. 106ff).

Vital sees the dream’s fire as his own spiritual fire, witnessed by Aberlin. Yet we might read the dream differently. In our dream of Aberlin’s dream, we might imagine that Aberlin’s dream encodes her experience of watching Vital consume the nourishment of sacred books, which she, as a woman, is denied. Yet, the dream suggests, the fire of revelation is behind Vital, eluding him. Within the dream and in waking life, Vital is focused on text, but Aberlin, like Moses, perceives the fire that does not consume. Aberlin, not Vital, is the prophet in the dream— and the waking Aberlin says so. Vital records the dream, without recognizing Aberlin’s implicit criticism of his way of knowing.

Continue reading “Stealing the Yarn: Jewish Women and the Art of Feminist Dreaming (Part 2) by Jill Hammer”

Entering The Cave: Jewish Women and the Art of Feminist Dreaming (Part 1) by Jill Hammer

Jill HammerDreams are my window on my wildest self. They are also a way to observe the conflicts within, and therefore they are a feminist practice, teaching me about my relationship to power, gentleness, love, and brokenness. Claiming my dreams is a way of claiming all the parts of myself. I am inspired in my dream practice by my own Jewish tradition, which has many dream practices, as well as by contemporary knowledge about dreams. Frequently in my dreams, I am able to observe my own longing for the company of women and for the presence of Goddess—deity in a female mode—in my life. Frequently, I learn about my experience as a woman by watching my dreams.

In one recent dream, I found myself in a town called Ursula, visiting a cave. Inside the cave were statues of holy women. After my visit, I expressed a desire to move to this town, Ursula. When I woke up, I remembered a painting I had seen in London when I was young: a depiction of St. Ursula, a fourth-century Catholic saint said to have led eleven thousand women on pilgrimage. Ursula is also the she-bear, an archetype of the sacred feminine. The desire to live in the town of Ursula could be read as a desire to live in the realm of the she-bear: in the company of women. The town of Ursula is also a town of the ancestors: the priestesses, prophetesses and wise women of old, represented by the statues in the cave. Though the imagery in my dream comes from a variety of cultures, the dream reminds me of my desire to connect to the women my tradition through dreams.

I teach Jewish dreamwork (based on biblical, Talmudic, kabbalistic and contemporary texts) to rabbinical and cantorial students at the Academy for Jewish Religion. I have seen how deeply it adds to my students’ spiritual lives. And, as one of the co-founders of the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute, I have seen dreamwork transform the lives of women who are becoming ritual leaders and healers. Kohenet’s dream practice includes dream circles in which each participant offers a different reading of each dream, beginning with “In my dream of this dream.” We begin this way because each of us has a different understanding, influenced by who we are.

At Kohenet retreats, we often find that the dream of one person provides powerful healing for the whole community. For example, one woman dreamed of finding a bearded father-figure in a house. When she went into the basement, she found her mother working and writing next to a goddess shrine (Jill Hammer and Taya Shere, The Hebrew Priestess: Ancient and New Visions of Jewish Women’s Spiritual Leadership, p. 70). The dream expressed an experience many of us shared: the process of unearthing the power of women and the mythic feminine in our own lives.

Continue reading “Entering The Cave: Jewish Women and the Art of Feminist Dreaming (Part 1) by Jill Hammer”

Where are the Jewish Feminists? by Ivy Helman

10953174_10152933322533089_8073456879508513260_oLast month in my regular post, I suggested that a lesbian who passes as an Orthodox man subverts Jewish traditional gender roles and understandings of sexuality at the same time she is conveying something true about her own relationship to the Holy One.  Not a single comment challenged me on that proposition.  Not one.  Why?  I think I know the answer.

While I absolutely love this site and have been a regular blogger now for three and a half years, I must say there are whole worlds of ideas, insights and conversations that we are missing. Whenever I write a blog on this site related to Judaism, it is rare that I receive a comment from someone Jewish (at least recognizably so).  And, as the above example illustrates (especially if you were to read the comments of said post), no one even recognized the problematic nature of such a suggestion or challenged me as to how I think it would accomplish subverting gender roles and traditional views on sexuality.

The fact that I am the only regular Jewish contributor writing about Judaism in this blog doesn’t help. The last one left over two years ago. Also as far as I can tell from regular reading and a few searches, the last guest blogger who was both Jewish and wrote about something related to Judaism was about this time last year.  Where are the Jewish feminists?  Not here. Continue reading “Where are the Jewish Feminists? by Ivy Helman”

The Politics of Miztvot by Ivy Helman

headshotRecently, Ben of Ben’s Tallit Shop commented on an older post of mine on this website entitled: “How Literal is Too Literal? My Experience with Tallit Katan.   He wrote, “In my opinion, it makes sense to first try the mitzvah of tzitzit in private for a month or two to ensure you are undertaking it for the right reasons.  Making a political statement is not a valid reason (though some people, I imagine, would argue otherwise).  Mitzvahs and politics don’t mix.”

First of all, this comment is both sexist and patronizing!  A man would never suggest to another man to do what he suggested I do and “try the mitzvah… in private… to ensure you are undertaking it for the right reasons.”  I’d dismiss it entirely if I was that kind of person, but I’m not.  Sexism and patronizing aside (as if one could do that really), I would like to engage with his thoughts on the mixing of politics and mitzvot because I think that can lead to great reflection and insight for Jewish feminists.

Not all mitzvot have an inherently political nature, but many do.  In fact, one could even argue something as seemingly apolitical as lighting Shabbat candles could be political.  Lighting candles ushers in Shabbat peace for one’s household and ideally for one’s community even if that peace is only for one day a week.  Since this is at odds with the world’s political environment of fighting, war and violence, it could be interpreted as a political act.  After all, won’t every day in the redeemed world be Shabbat? Continue reading “The Politics of Miztvot by Ivy Helman”


Blessing the Source of Life harks back to the time when shrines were built near springs, the very literal sources of life for plants, animals, and humans.

The prayer “As we bless the Source of Life, so we are blessed,” based on a Hebrew metaphor which refers to a water source and set to music in a Jewish feminist context by Faith Rogow, has become one of the bedrocks of my Goddess practice.

In Minoan Crete, seeds were blessed on the altars of the Goddess and the first fruits of every crop were returned to Her. The ancient Minoans piled their altars high with barley, fruits, nuts, and beans, and poured libations of milk and honey, water and wine, over the offerings they placed on altars. Evidence of these actions is found in the large number of pouring vessels stored near altars.

Recreating these rituals on the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, and singing together, “As we bless the Source of Life, so we are blessed,” again and again, we begin to understand that the gestures of our ancestors were based in gratitude for Life itself. They understood that the fruits of the earth, the grain, the wine, and the oil, the cherries, the peas, the olives, and everything else that we eat, are gifts of bounteous Mother Earth. Continue reading ““AS WE BLESS THE SOURCE OF LIFE, SO WE ARE BLESSED” by Carol P. Christ”

Feminist Imaginings in the Contemporary Kabbalah Movement By Amy Levin

Amy Levin is a graduate student in Religious Studies at New York University with an interdisciplinary focus on American religion, gender and queer theory, secularization, spirituality, and consumption. She is a regular contributor to The Revealer and a practicing feminist.

If Kabbalah has frequented the media’s gaze in the past decade, the name Madonna has most likely infused the headlines, along with perhaps Mick Jagger, Britney Spears, and “A-Rod,” among others. Unsurprisingly, most of the media coverage on Kabbalah and its famed celebrities tends to conceal its central teachings, focusing on only one contemporary Kabbalah movement: The Kabbalah Centre. Valorized as one of the most financially successful movements of its day, The Kabbalah Centre began in the early 1970s by Rabbi Philip Berg and his wife Karen Berg. The movement exists alongside many of the contemporary groups that seek to renew and reinvigorate an ancient Jewish tradition.

Kabbalah, which literally means, “to receive,” is an umbrella term for a particular set of ancient Jewish mystical practices and ideas, dating as far back as 13th century Spain, and possibly even farther. It is commonly noted that Kabbalah was an esoteric, and thus exclusive practice, studied by only highly educated Jewish men over the age of forty. Like most religious categories, the limits and boundaries of its definition of Kabbalah differ in the various historical and geographical contexts in which it flourished. Jody Myers, author of Kabbalah and the Spiritual Quest: The Kabbalah Centre in America, notes that one of the central tenants of the Kabbalah Centre is that while Kabbalah is useful for anyone and everyone, one should not be coerced into belief or practice, and it is solely up to the individual to choose it as his or her personal path. Another tenant in Berg’s teachings is a central belief that God is a form of energy, called “the Light.” This loving and spiritual light fills infinite space, and seeks to share its positive energy with anyone who desires it.  Berg’s noncoercive model is part of an overarching egalitarian structure that posits religion as authoritarian and conformist, and spirituality as individual and liberating. Continue reading “Feminist Imaginings in the Contemporary Kabbalah Movement By Amy Levin”

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