Weaver, 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.
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”