Shofetim: The Divine Feminine, Magic, and the Role of Gender by Ivy Helman.

This post is dedicated to Carol P. Christ. I knew her first as my professor and then my friend for over 15 years. May her memory be a blessing.

This week’s Torah portion is Shofetim (also spelt Shoftim), or Deutoronomy 16:18-21:9.  I have written about this parshah before.   In that post from August of 2018, I reflect on how the patriarchal elements of the portion should not detract from its larger concern for justice, compassion, and peace. Yet, there is more to the parshah.  In fact, I have recently begun exploring Judaism’s connection to all things magical, and interestingly enough, this parshah fits right into my recent inquiries.   Let me share with you some of what I have learned as it relates to this parshah.  

Where Shofetim and magic meet is idolatry.  There are three instances in Shofetim where idolatry is condemned, punished by stoning to death.  All three of these prohibitions involve polytheism, either directly worshiping other deities or participating in practices associated with the worship of those deities.  What are they?

Continue reading “Shofetim: The Divine Feminine, Magic, and the Role of Gender by Ivy Helman.”

Post-Hysterectomy Reflections: Not All Women Bleed by Ivy Helman

Around the age of 8, or maybe 10, I learned my aunt had had a hysterectomy.  I remember visiting her house either shortly before or after the operation.  I can’t remember which, and it doesn’t really matter.  At the time, I don’t think I even knew what a uterus was or that I too had one.  

Just like me, she had suffered from uterine fibroids. This year, at the end of May, after nearly two years of various treatments including a failed myomectomy and ineffective prescription medication, I followed in her footsteps.  It was really the only option for me, although it was not an easy decision.  After surgery, there was the usual post-op pain and restrictions, but luckily my body has been healing well.  

Since the surgery, and as I prepare to teach “Gender and Religion” again in the fall, I’ve been thinking about a conversation I had with a student the first time I offered the class at Charles University.  We were about to begin discussing the article, “Why Women Need a Feminist Spirituality,” by Judith G. Martin, when a student pressed me on why we weren’t acknowledging that not all women bleed.  What he really wanted was to make sure that in our category of women, we were including transwomen.   Continue reading “Post-Hysterectomy Reflections: Not All Women Bleed by Ivy Helman”

B’tzelem Elohim and Embodiment by Ivy Helman

studyIt is quite common, I think, for Jewish feminists to gravitate to the first creation story of Genesis/Bereshit as an example of human equality but struggle to claim this same passage as an example of the goodness of embodiment.  Genesis/Bereshit 1:27 reads, “So G-d created humankind in the divine image, in the image of G-d, the Holy One  created them; male and female G-d created them.”  In this passage, we have not only equality between men and women, in direct contrast to the second creation story, but also a description of human nature.

Our Creator made us in the divine image: b’tzelem Elohim.  The most traditional explanations of b’tzelem Elohim describe our divine-likeness to mean: our intelligence, our capacity for goodness, our creativity as well as our inner divine spark.  Most traditional teachings also understand this description as a prescription for action: since every single human being is made in the divine image, we must treat every single human being with respect, dignity, concern and so on.  Continue reading “B’tzelem Elohim and Embodiment by Ivy Helman”

Pesach, Patriachy and the Unfinished Work of Liberation.

headshot2Pesach, or Passover, begins tomorrow at sunset. It has always seemed strange to me that a festival centered on liberation begins with a focus on housework and cleanliness to the point where one is almost a slave to the process of chametz (leavened food) removal.  Not only that, but the spiritual interpretation of what the chametz represents adds to this conundrum.

The Rabbis of the Talmud teach us that chametz represents egotism and arrogance. The divine instruction to eat only unleavened bread for the festival of Pesach is a call to cultivate humility because they believe that our inflated sense of self-worth causes harm to other human beings as we value ourselves and our lives more than them. As we remove the chametz from our homes, we are also supposed to be removing the self-centeredness, arrogance and egotism within ourselves. Cultivating humility redirects our attention to all those parts of our lives that have suffered by being too self-centered, including our relationship with the Holy One. Continue reading “Pesach, Patriachy and the Unfinished Work of Liberation.”

Tikvah v’hashamayim (Hope and the Heavens): A Jewish Perspective on Redemption by Ivy Helman.

headshotThe Torah is bursting with hopes over-fulfilled.  Abraham and Sarah hoped for a child and gave birth to a nation.  The Israelites hoped for freedom from slavery and eventually received an entire Promised Land.  We understand hope and, in so many ways, we live on it, as hope has sustained us for thousands of years.  Today, our hopes inspire our actions and motivate us to work for peace, justice and equality.   In Jewish terms, we call this goal or vision of a better world in the here-and-now: redemption.

Yet, redemption does not just appear out of thin air or because we wish it.  Redemption and the hope of it requires work and cooperation with the Source of All Life.  As Deuteronomy 30:19 says, “I have put before you life and death… [therefore] choose life…”  This cooperation could be a simple commitment to tikkun olam, repairing the world (some times translated as social justice).  For others, choosing life could mean more observant religious practice.  It could also be a combination of the two.  In the end, though, I think both hope and redemption require choosing life in some form or another.

Just as how we choose life depends on who we are, how we achieve this redeemed world depends on how we understand G-d’s redemptive power.  Some of us think redemption will come through the moshiach (a savior), Continue reading “Tikvah v’hashamayim (Hope and the Heavens): A Jewish Perspective on Redemption by Ivy Helman.”

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