Kohen – Not.

Recently there has been a little buzz about the not-really-so-new ideas at Kohenet, the Hebrew Priestess Institute (founded in 2006), which was founded Holly Shere, a folklorist, and Jill Hammer, a JTS ordinee and her co-director. Tablet ran a short article about it, reasonably even-handedly attempting to explain what they are and do.

The responses in the article, from Rabbi Daniel Nevins, dean of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s rabbinical school,“I don’t see how Kohenet, to judge from its website, is compatible with Jewish belief and practice,” and from Rabbi Moshe Tendler, a dean of the seminary at Yeshiva University, are, respectively, accurate and a bit over the top. Nevertheless, they both really miss the point anyway.

Hammer and Shere claim that their -approach “holds ‘a soft position with regard to monotheism.’ While their work ‘conceives of God/dess as a unity,’ they ‘welcome women who experience the divine as a multiplicity,’” they claim that their program is attempting to restore the divine feminine and reintroduce “earth-based” ritual and reject “the patriarchy, hierarchy, and the disembodiment’ of mainstream Jewish practice.”
So, to summarize, the public information about the program states that it is seeking to use magical ritual and aren’t dedicated to monotheism.

While it’s true that claiming that any religious practice which isn’t monotheistic can not claim that it falls within normative Judaism (and their own practitioners, make such claims as -”‘We’re not as learned as rabbis are in Torah and Talmud—what I call the writings of men,’ says Yocheved Landsman, of Boulder, Colorado, who was ordained in Kohenet’s first graduating class last year,” dismissing the writings of Judaism, as “men’s”), I don’t really care much about that – I mean, if they want to invent a new religion, why not? It’s no worse than any other new religion – let many flowers bloom- as long as they’re willing to admit that what they’re doing isn’t really Judaism – which they more or less do if you read the fine print. No, what I object to, is in fact that what they’re doing is the same old anti-feminist position, dressed up.

I used to hear this all the time in women’s studies classes: “studying X is of no use, because it’s a men’s way of thinking.” usually that referred to science or math or philosophy; something where rigor counted more than one’s own personal opinion (and opinion was usually called “my reality, ” as in, “Well, you say that it’s useful to know about chemistry and biology to understand how our bodies work, but that’s your reality. My reality is that science is a men’s way of thinking and those men are defining for me how my body works, and so I reject that.” Yes, really. Thomas Kuhn has a lot to answer for).

The problem with this perspective it that it first of all generalizes a particular perspective into “the way that women are”: The divine feminine can’t be warlike, that’s a male descriptor, God can’t be loving and merciful, those are female traits, the Shekhina is tied to ‘earth” -i.e. the material world, and so we “celebrate” her that way. This is the same old “men are mind and women are body” that has been used for centuries to limit women. (Not to mention that what we today think of as “feminine” and “masculine” traits are highly society-specific – note how the current view of what is the Divine female are traits that were previously ascribed to the divine male in Judaism! Similarly with human men….)

Secondly there’s the whole earth-based thing. Magic is what oppressed peoples use in order to gain a little power back from those who oppress them. We don’t need that. If you want equality in Judaism, make the effort to learn the languages that allow you to access the texts. The problem is that it takes work. A lot of effort and years of study.

It is curious that the program likes to use the language of kabbala. Curious because of the way that the kabbalists actually described that divine feminine: not what I would guess one would call positive female role models: not the warm fuzzy side of the sefirotic chart (love and mercy), but rather the harsh and judging side; the lowest level of the sefirot – the shekhina or nukvah – is the receiver and has no active participation. I’m okay with that. You’ll note I have no problem with judging. I think judgment is a good idea under some circumstances. Warm fuzzies can come after the situation is truly understood, not before. Consequences are often important for learning. But it’s not exactly a tradition of women are nicey-nice or important.

Thirdly, there’s the anti-monotheist trend problem. Aside from the problem of whether non-strictly-monotheist perspectives can be Jewish (which I don’t much care about for the purposes of this post), they are creating a worse problem for themselves by means of their own “solution.” Modern Rabbinic Judaism regards God as without body and without gender. Certainly biblical era Israelite religion used gendered language to talk about God (which was certainly made worse by the fact that Hebrew and other Semitic languages are heavily gendered so even chairs and tables are stuck with being “male” and “female”) and clearly believed – at least to some extent – that God had male characteristics. But the attempt to stamp that out caught on early, and certainly by the time of Rambam was pretty clearly articulated: God is neither male nor female, not embodied. While it may be true that this has something to do with “fear of the body. And often, it’s fear of the female body,” that’s a bit tendentious. Other religions of the era had no problem stating explicitly God’s maleness (including our sister Semitic religion, Christianity) and embodiment; Judaism denied it explicitly. I don’t note that Christianity of the era did so much better honoring women and making them equals: to the contrary, in the institutionalization of Christianity, the embodiment of God further defined the mind-body split, re-imagining the Aristotelian view of women as having a lower level soul, more like an animal’s, when they defined woman below man, like man below God.

Monotheism isn’t the problem: if we want a version of spirituality that expresses how we are as women, maybe we should try avoiding branding all women – and for that matter, all men- as being like one thing or another. Even better, if we want to try to have a relationship with the Divine, I suggest avoiding making It over in my own particular image might be helpful, leaving It to be larger than myself, and having aspects that might be beyond reach of my mind. It does nothing for women to claim that we need our own female god; nor does it do much for women to say that thousands of years of tradition is beyond my reach, so I’ll just invent something else and say that it’s the same thing.

In the Tablet article, Hammer and Shere cite Miriam dancing with a timbrel as their notion of “most resembling” a priestess. Perhaps so, since other powerful female figures in the Torah (why is poor Miriam always called in to represent any female as needed; there are other interesting women in the Torah!) were women like Devorah, a war leader, or Huldah, a prophet who declared the validity of a divine text (as well as the usual sort of prophesying) or how about the five daughters of Tzelophchad (who are named) who challenge Moses to change an unjust law – and succeed. I note that none of these women are mentioned in the “Thirteen Priestess Paths” mentioned on the Kohenet website – not even under the heading of “Neviah,” while instead, they do elevate the Witch of Endor. They do mention, “To be a ba’alat ov, or the keeper of a spirit, was a forbidden practice in ancient Israel,” and, today, of course, as well.

Really, Kohenet is calling on women to perform necromancy as an act of spiritual leadership? And amulet-making? Seriously?

In short, I don’t much care whether Hammer and Shere want to invent another set of rituals that have nothing to do with a family-resemblant tradition that has taken shape through the ages. The image that Kohenet presents seems to be a renewal of a particular era’s view of what it meant to be female: goddesses, the moon, menstrual blood- I remember feeling attracted to that sort of thing when I was a teenager and felt emotionally connected to the idea that there was some Divine thing Out There that looked like me.  But that path is not, ultimately, empowering. And it’s certainly not feminist.

Ultimately, it’s a way of taking someone else’s definition of what women should be and accepting it, then trying to figure out a way to sneak in a little bit of power in the back door. Forget that.
Instead, I challenge Hammer and Shere to do better: reject it. Find a divinity that accepts no limitation, admits no stereotype, doesn’t swallow ridiculous stereotypes and doesn’t make over God in your (idea of) human image.

Judaism hasn’t been perfect (nor has any other religion) in separating human hubris from celebration of the Divine. It hasn’t been able to perfectly separate human men’s tendency to view their power over some parts of the community as divinely ordained and thus reflecting both the natural order and Divine demand. But in monotheism, there is the potential to do so.

As early as the talmud and midrash, the rabbis recognized that the way things are in our world aren’t necessarily the way God intended things:
The Sifre (Parshat Pinhas, Bamidbar 27:1, Kuf lamed gimal (133) of the Horowitz edition; Sifre is a talmud-era work of biblical exegesis) reports, “‘And the daughters of Tzelophchad drew near’ When the daughters of Tzelophchad learned that the land would be divided amongst the tribes to the males but not to the females, they gathered together and all of them came together to consult with each other for advice. They said: God’s mercy is not like the mercy of human beings. Human beings have mercy upon the male more than upon the female, but God is not thus, rather God’s mercy is upon both males and females, as the Torah says, ‘[God] gives mercy to all flesh.’”

I suppose we might despair that despite the recognition of this fact, not a whole changed for quite along time, and be tempted to give up on our tradition because even today, so many people are busy trying to enforce particular gender roles as divinely ordained, whether or not it’s true (if it were true one would hardly need to enforce it: there are no laws preventing people from flapping their arms and rising into the air), but it’s worthwhile to pay attention to the rabbis’ attempts to get us to recognize that our image is not the last word in how the divine really exists and makes the world.

So, reinvent away: But you’re making a big mistake: if you really want power or equality, you have to be willing to demand it: setting up an alternative system that has no access to, the tradition of thousands of years is a denial of one’s own power, not a reclamation. It’s simply not true that the master’s tools will never take down the master’s house: in fact, those tools are the best ones we have to make a fit home for all of us, men and women, together.

63 Responses to “Kohen – Not.”

  1. Dibur Acher– there’s much to say here, but we’ll start with a few things…

    Kohenet doesn’t assume that the kabbalah, unreconstructed, is at all useful theologically for women. Kohenet tends to look at kabbalah the way Raphael Patai does– as an interesting carryover and remake of earlier goddess imagery. We don’t see it as non-sexist literature, though it is useful in certain ways.

    Kohenet never assumes that God/dess should always be identified with the compassionate, nice parts of God. That’s typical of somedivine feminine spiritualities, but it’s just not something we assume. The Kohenet curriculum looks at how the feminine (human and divine) has been depicted in Jewish lore in a variety of ways– and the variety is astonishing. We do think the history of the feminine divine is important, and that someone in the Jewish world should teach it.

    Though we don’t certify people in it, we do spend a great deal of time on “the tradition of thousands of years”– we study Bible, Talmud, and midrash, some of us are rabbinical students, etc. However, we choose not to learn in a discourse where only certain kinds of questions are allowed. Studying in an environment where one cannot ask about the women the Witch of Endor might have represented, or see them in a positive light, without being ridiculed is not a good learning environment for women or anyone else.

    In addition to learning these things, we also learn that the first spiritual poet of the world was a woman: Enheduanna, a high priestess. Her poetry, dedicated to the goddess Inanna, has a very biblical cadence. That’s a text Jews don’t study, but it is relevant to understanding the poetry of Miriam and Deborah, and it is relevant if you want to know what happened to most of the women spiritual leaders at some point in history.

    As for “necromancy,” all over the world, women do the important spiritual work of mourning for and tending the connection with the dead. The rational West tends to dismiss this, but I’m not exactly clear why it is okay for theologians to discuss volumes about what happens after we die, but when women have experience of connection to the dead, they are called witches. This is precisely the problem with accepting the current version of theological history. (By the way, the rabbis of the Talmud practice the same magic as the witches they encounter; the only difference between forbidden and permitted is that when male rabbis do it, it’s okay; see Sanhedrin 65b and Shabbat 81b. And a further by the way– all the kabbalists did magic, though nowadays it’s mostly pitched as meditation. That you don’t know this is a product of the last century of Jewish forgetting.

    The issue of God and bodies is complicated, but one of the problems with rational Western monotheism is the rejection of the body as a site for sacred experience. God has no body because bodies are less-than. Even the thought-experiment of thinking that God might be immanent in body experience (women’s and men’s) will show how far we’ve gotten from the body as sacred. And the body is sacred, for many of us. Accepting women as sacred bodies is an important step for women, but it’s equally important for men (and those who fall outside gender binaries) to accept their bodies– and not to accept the binary of body and soul, which is precisely what Kohenet rejects.

    Your assertion that it is the Jewish philosophical mainstream that God is not male is very strange. If so, why do we address God in prayer as “father”? What you’re really saying is that in Judaism God has no “body” (no phallus), but that’s not the same as saying God is not male. After all, in the Talmud, God wears tefillin and is a king, scribe, etc. Rambam has no problem with these images. He has a problem with bodies. (By the way, Philo, an early Jewish thinker, believed women had no souls and were only bodies. Your assumption that only Christianity contains true misogyny is false.)

    We’ve all been taught that monotheism is the answer to everything. Yet many of us have learned to respect religions that our ancestors would have judged as idolatry. One thing monotheism does is turn the world into a duality: God and not-God. We tend not to look at the world that way. Other ways of thinking about God are possible (and maybe less likely to cause us to demonize indigenous people all over the world.)

    One word about Huldah– she is very interesting in that she is a mouthpiece for incipient Deuteronomic theology. We study her at Kohenet. I used to like her a lot, before I realized that she is being used as a symbol of female power supporting the new system which is soon to reject female leaders entirely.

    The very long post is nice in that it takes Kohenet’s work seriously (something many of us didn’t expect to see in the Jewish community in our lifetimes). You don’t really know much about the program from one article. However, we appreciate that you don’t mind if we dance around in flowy clothing. We do not appreciate that you assume that because our clothes are sometimes flowy, we don’t also have brains. The equation of “feminine” clothing with immaturity (one might even say lightheadedness), by the way, perpetuates the very stereotypes you say you reject. So that’s something to think about.

    It’s up to history to judge whether what we are doing is Jewish, or Jewish enough. We are living in Jewish community with God/dess as we understand Her; all of us understand Her (Him, It) in different ways (supernatural and not). We share a common desire not to be bullied into being silent about our spiritual experience or our reading of tradition. We’re heartened by the likeminded communities we’ve seen arise in recent years, and particularly by the ways that the earth (our embodied reality, which we’ve cared for so poorly) has become more central to Jewish life. We’re aware that there are rabbinic texts that have compassion for women, but compassion isn’t the same as autonomy.


    Yeilah · September 4th, 2010 at 10:55 pm
  2. After reading through this post, the original article, and the Kohenet web site, I have to agree with Rabbi Arthur Green’s quote from the article: “Jewish women’s religious creativity was so deeply squashed for so many centuries that it now bursts forth with tremendous vigor. Should we expect that every form of this outburst would be to my androcentric, neo-traditionalist taste? Hardly! But the release of that creative energy is such a blessing that I’m more than willing to put up with a lot that I can’t immediately embrace.”

    A couple of specific objections:

    @Dibur Acher: “Magic is what oppressed peoples use in order to gain a little power back from those who oppress them. We don’t need that.”

    Contrary to what certain Marxist anthropologists may teach, that’s not the only way to look at magic. Magic has played an important role in the majority of cultures throughout history and continues to do so in many societies today. It can connect people to the sacred and to their values, bodies and communities in a way just as potent as prayer, meditation or other rituals that Westerners may be more familiar with.

    Beyond the utilitarian perspective, remember that many cultures (including strands of Halachic Judaism) view magic as a literal truth — it’s simply the way the world works. To dismiss magic out of hand as “the superstition of the oppressed,” as it were, is arrogant and condescending toward indigenous peoples. It verges on racism.

    @Yeilah: “we also learn that the first spiritual poet of the world was a woman: Enheduanna, a high priestess.”

    You mean the first spiritual poet whose writings have been found by archaeologists? We should be careful with absolutist language like this; it erases the experiences of those whose cultures did not develop writing and of those who lived before its development in a handful of very specific civilizations. I can guarantee you that Enheduanna was not, in fact, the first spiritual poet — although that first poet (if there really was a “first”) might well have been a different woman.


    Ben Pachano · September 5th, 2010 at 12:28 am
  3. Diber Acher-

    When you prepared this blog entry, was it in response to the Tablet article and first pages of the Kohenet web site, alone? Have you interviewed or questioned any of the teachers of Kohenet, or co founders Rabbi Jill Hammer, PhD, Director of Spiritual Education at the Academy of Jewish Religion in NY, or Holly Taya Shere, who holds the pulpit at the Olney Kehila synagogue in MD? Have you sought out and interviewed any students or graduates of the program who recieved s’michah? Or anyone involved at Isabella Freedman/ Elat Chayyim, the Jewish spiritual retreat center that hosts the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute and watched it develop over the past several years? To connect with direct sources, to seek out and research several angles on this program by speaking to the living/breathing/thinking/people involved, might be a far better, finer balanced way of presenting your opinion on the material being offered by the founders of Kohenet to their students. The program I participated in for four years, and recieved s’micha from, bears little resemblance to the program description that you seem to offer. Perhaps more research, and a second, deeper, look, is in order.


    Alitza Ma'ayan · September 5th, 2010 at 12:48 am
  4. “Studying in an environment where one cannot ask about the women the Witch of Endor might have represented, or see them in a positive light, without being ridiculed is not a good learning environment for women or anyone else.”

    Thank you, Jewschool. There should be like a running dare for rabbis to work this line into their Shabbos Shuvah drash.


    Josh · September 5th, 2010 at 5:54 am
  5. What you fail to realize in your article is that Jill, Holly and Sosh are training us to be “archeologists”….that is to “dig” through ancient texts to discover, rediscover and appreciate where the divine feminine is in our standard text. Like the work done by women archeologists in other fields, we are seeing where stories, myths etc…have changed over time…from female to male…
    There are those of us who are not well grounded in text….as there are students in other “Jewish” workshops and courses who are there to learn…so what if we are all not Rabbis or Jewish scholars…What we do is learn and practice….Others use biblodrama to illustrate our ancient stories…even though you don’t mention them in your article, I don’t imagine you would condemn them….so why us? We do our own midrash…and if it has a feminine bent, so be it!
    The morning Shacharit as is Kabbalat Shabbat is one of the most spiritual and transforming services I’ve attended….allowing space to connect witht the Divine…and ultimately, for me, that is the purpose…of study and prayer.
    One last thing….Hegelian philosophy, as you know, says there is thesis, antithesis and synthesis….In order for Judaism to come back to a center place, where women are seen as equal, not seperate and equal, but as Equal, there needs to be antitesis…Kohenet, in our focus on the Divine Feminine, is just that. May we see the time when “She” takes her rightful role alongside “He”


    suzanne stier · September 5th, 2010 at 7:52 am
  6. So what you’re saying is that Jews disagree about what Judaism is? And that they’re going to argue about it?


    Art D. · September 5th, 2010 at 11:23 am
  7. To the Kohenet apologists commenting here, well done. I loved this post, but I’m also finding plenty of food for thought in your responses. Though, overall, I’m still pretty suspicious of what y’all are doing.

    However, what your responses don’t seem to be dealing with is Dibur’s chief argument, which is that your work is anti-feminist. What is y’all’s response to that charge?


    David A.M. Wilensky · September 5th, 2010 at 11:37 am
  8. Diber Acher does not have accurate information about the Kohenet program. The “evidence” used to call the program anti-feminist simply does not reflect the reality of what is taught and experienced in the institute. The label itself creates a duality which is what the program tries to move beyond. We are exploring in depth the connection to the divine through words, experiences, and ideas that have been locked down and covered up for centuries. Feminist or anti-feminist is irrelevant. We are opening a path for women (and men) to experience the divine both in new ways but also in the ancient ways of our ancestors. Studying life cycles (death, birth and everything in between), looking at text (we study Tanak, Gemara and more) and its portrayal of women and their roles, moving dancing and singing opens new spaces for women (and men and those who fall outside gender binaries) to deep our connection to a religion and tradition that is quite diverse and varied. We are looking at all aspects of the divine from judge to warrior to mother to healer (etc.) and all that is complicated within each. Judaism is ever transforming and evolving. The Judaism of today is different than it was two hundred years ago which was different than it was two thousand years ago. Our diversity as a people and our transformation as a tradition is our strength. As we evolve we swim in the deep wells of what has come before us. Know from this participant that Kohenet strengthens women’s voices, leadership and creativity.


    Mescladora · September 5th, 2010 at 1:22 pm
  9. If embodied religious and spiritual practice is feminist, does that mean that supporters of disembodied divinity and practice are sexists or supporting patriarchy?

    What does the feminist line in support of disembodied practice look like – if it exists?


    Jew Guevara · September 5th, 2010 at 1:41 pm
  10. I don’t know how you get the idea that this is anti-feminist…and it is not anti-male…It is women doing the work of discovering, re-discovering the Divine Feminine…and we are certainly not anti-intellectual…We read text, some of us more knowledgable than others…We are not lazy and we can argue our way out of “paper bags”…How you translate what we are doing as anti-feminist is curious to me…You might argue that we might be a threat to “mainstream” Judaism…and I’d agree…as is Renewal, as was Reconstructionism, and actual the Conservative Movement. Anything that isn’t “usual” is a threat….and we certainly aren’t usual…But have no fear, before long, some of what we are discovering and what we are practicing will become “mainstream”….just as the Jewish Feminist movement has caused major changes in all the movements, including, I might add, the Modern Orthodox…
    And by the way…there is a book written maybe 30 years ago, probably out of print now called “Pagan Practices in Judaism” by Theodore Reich…It is most interesting…talking about some of the Pagan Practices we have incorporated into our ‘Mainstream ” Practices…
    When all is said and done, we are both pro-feminist, pro-intellectual and pro-holistic God…God incorporating all aspects of humanity….


    suzanne stier · September 5th, 2010 at 2:06 pm
  11. Personally, I’d find it hard to argue that there is such a thing as disembodied practice.
    Uh, tefillin and tallit anyone? blessings over food (what is food, if not an expression of the needs of the body)? Mikvah?
    Seriously, I have no idea what Kohenet actually is teaching, but what their website touts is certainly neither archeology nor Judaism.
    Although it does take us back to another thread about the seriousness of the products of JTS and AJULA. Um, point to KRG.


    Kol Ra'ash Gadol · September 5th, 2010 at 2:10 pm
  12. Word, Guevara. One of Dibur’s arguments that struck me most is that claiming that body is unimportant to men, and therefore only men like disembodied theology. Disembodied theology isn’t a matter of gender, but of logic. But maybe logic is only for men…?


    David A.M. Wilensky · September 5th, 2010 at 2:12 pm
  13. Suzanne, reaffirming that Kohenet is feminist is not convincing me. Dibur has made a salient argument that inherent in what Kohenet is doing is a type of gender generalization that is as harmful to women as it is to men. Do you have an argument against that?


    David A.M. Wilensky · September 5th, 2010 at 2:41 pm
  14. David ~ Please look at my post above regarding feminism and the program. We look at all aspects of the divine in a space that is open to questions and discussion. We do not assign logic or transcendence, magic or embodiment to men or to women. We do not look at a single gendered way of experiencing the divine. We do recognize that Judaism in our era has a certain dominant perspective that is male in metaphor and language. We recognize that women and men have experienced the divine in diverse and varied ways throughout the ages which is evidenced in the writings of the Torah and Talmud.


    Mescladora · September 5th, 2010 at 3:00 pm
  15. I don’t understand where anyone comes off judging another person’s meaningful experience.

    Dibur Acher-
    what are you threatened by in this program? what do you think Jewish practice/Judaism is threatened by in this practice? It seems to me that this program will only attract a certain type of participant and if they find meaning in it, grand for them! your tone is so elitist and so derogatory, it seems you are unnecessarily defensive. Hiding behind a false name gives you the ability to say things in a manner that you may not say with your real name. So, why hide behind the pseudonym? Why not put your words with your REAL name?

    KRG-Where and why do you score a point? The elitism just screams through your words…


    Justin · September 5th, 2010 at 3:20 pm
  16. I am deeply appreciative to Dibur Acher for writing this post and clearly articulating the general impression I got from the Tablet article, and many women’s-only endeavors in general. As a product of liberal Judaism, I have never found Jewish textual learning oppressive, inaccessible or without meaning to me as a woman.

    However, many “feminist” situations have made me self-censor, because it appears clear to me that my authentic perspective, driven from rationalism, and my respect for the male sages of our tradition, are not seen as a valid viewpoints. Dibur Acher’s charge of anti-feminism is valid.

    I do think there is some merit the strains of thought that strive to bring Judaism off the page, that recognize that Judaism is has roots in the earth as much as it is embodied by things as ephemeral as words. But, as other commenters have already mentioned, this is not strictly a gender issue. Gershon Winkler’s Walking Stick organization comes to mind as an example of this.


    Ruth B · September 5th, 2010 at 3:39 pm
  17. I fail to see how the necromancer of Endor is representative of the Jewish religion. If you’re into ancient Caananite practices, that’s fine, just remember to sacrifice your kids along with the necromancy.


    Amit · September 5th, 2010 at 4:37 pm
  18. Necromancy is also useful in communicating with said kids after they’re dead.


    Amit · September 5th, 2010 at 4:39 pm
  19. Still wondering about my question. If there is no such thing as dis-embodied Judaism, then what does it mean to be a proponent of embodied Judaism? Not sure one can exist without the other, once you accept the binary.

    Would a strong supporter of disembodied Judaism be counter cultural?
    Yes – if it’s true that normative Judaisms are actually embodied.
    No – if normative Judaism is clearly on the side of disembodied-ism.

    Which is it?


    Jew Guevara · September 5th, 2010 at 5:00 pm
  20. @David: Oh, yes, “logic is only for men; it’s a male way of being”. I heard that a lot in one particular WMST class (no blame, to the prof)… one of the most irritating times of my life.

    Even if Enheduanna was the “first spiritual poet of the world,” who cares? What does that have to do with Jewish practice?
    Perhaps if the argument is that Enheduanna wrote texts that had later been adapted into Jewish practice, and there were extant texts where the borrowing was clear (and let’s be frank, there are definitely borrowings in Tanakh, especially in pieces from psalms, but also certain kinds of phrases such as “milk and honey” which are fertility symbols – think about it-) and the argument is something like, how interesting that we borrowed the text, let’s look at the development of textual tropes… That would be one thing. But it’s just absurd to claim that older traditions were more pro-female. In fact, the actual evidence of actual archaeologists shows no such thing: societies in which goddesses were worshiped had no greater likelihood of respecting women or giving them freedom and/or equality than those which didn’t.

    Also, I didn’t make the claim that only Christianity was misogynist, only that embodiment is no protection against misogyny, because Christianity has embodiment of the sacred, and is just as misogynist.

    @Yeilah’s comment about the Witch of Endor is a non sequitur: there’s a big difference between having discussions about what happens after one dies and calling up spirits of the dead to consult with them, and similarly I imagine there’s quite a difference between asking questions about the Witch of Endor and advocating that she be considered a role model.

    And I rather wonder about her distinction between being male and having a phallus. Is the claim that one can be male without having a body? What exactly would be the “maleness” inherent? The only conclusion one could draw would be that there is some quality of wearing tefillin or being a scribe that is masculine. I can’t imagine much more essentializing than that (Well, I can, actually, but let’s not go there).

    One of the very things I was pointing out was that in fact, what we today think of as feminine behavior were in fact the very things that we now think of as male and vice-versa (Boyarin writes well about this for a more developed account)in some cultures. Masculinity and femininity are culturally specific, not universal; given that fact, what exactly is it that could be male about God other than a phallus – once one actually succeeds in stripping away the metaphoric language, which was Rambam’s intent (and btw, Rambam was no great feminist either – that’s okay, his reasoning was wonderful about many things. Let’s hear it for logic and empiricism!)? That is the point: it’s hard for people to imagine God without gender, without making God into our own image. It is not an improvement to say that God is both male and female, it’s a step backwards from trying to help us rid ourselves of the hubris that says “God is like me.” God is not like me. God is like God, and I am not, nor is my body, sacred: it is of course, part of me, and the Jewish tradition recognizes that the body is firmly attached to the soul, and is not bad or unholy or something to be denied -tot he contrary.- But sacred? no, not according to Jewish tradition. I am not sacred. I can make holy my acts. I can make myself holy by living out my obligations of mitzvot, but that’s different. God is not many, God is one. If one denies that, one is no longer espousing Jewish theology.

    Which is fine. Feel free, but be honest. Truly, if you want to celebrate pagan wisdom and the Semitic women who preceded Israelite religion as role models, be my guest. Really, its fine. As I say let a thousand flowers bloom, but calling that pro-woman? It’s not, because it robs women of truth and our true selves – and our true selves are people who with work can dig into our texts and learn from them, develop halakha for both men and women, fulfill the obligations/mitzvot of our covenant and try to make ourselves able to see beyond our own image. It is hard work for everyone, male or female.

    To abandon tradition because it’s too male, that’s just another form of the mechitza and the canard that “women are more spiritual than men so they don’t need to pray in a minyan.” Do you think for thousands of years women had no agency at all? The talmud, by the way, contradicts this.

    It is a shame and a pity that so many people want to make sure that women don’t have the tools to do so, that over the centuries, women were told they couldn’t or shouldn’t or weren’t allowed; so few Jews, male or female, now have the tools to really understand their own tradition directly – it’s a terrible thing, but we now are able to do better for ourselves if we want to. And we can.


    Dibur Acher · September 5th, 2010 at 7:04 pm
  21. Oh, and @Justin: what am I afraid of? I’m afraid of a bunch of people out there making affirming the offensive idea that women are nature where men are nurture, women are body and men are mind. In the work I do, I see it all the time – people who should know better spend a lot of time trying to affirm and prove it.


    Dibur Acher · September 5th, 2010 at 7:11 pm
  22. There is nothing here really worth responding to. Dibur Acher has set her/himself as our judge and jury based on even less knowledge of Kohenet than she assumes we have of Judaism. The post is mean, spiteful, and beneath this website.

    A two minute effort to explore who Rabbi Jill Hammer and Holly Shere are and anyone would know how well educated and respected they are by a wide range of people.

    Why should I “defend” chanting and dancing in a circle? Hasids do it. Are they not Jewish? To call Kohenet anti-feminist simply shows complete ignorance of who we are and what we do.

    The post is full of assumptions which are unfounded. Do your homework, then let’s engage in a real dialogue.


    Ketzirah · September 5th, 2010 at 7:15 pm
  23. There is nothing here really worth responding to. Dibur Acher has set her/himself as our judge and jury based on even less knowledge of Kohenet than she assumes we have of Judaism. The post is mean, spiteful, and beneath this website.

    AMEN!!!


    Justin · September 5th, 2010 at 7:52 pm
  24. This post makes a lot of valid points, but I was astounded by the following two lines:

    “Magic is what oppressed peoples use in order to gain a little power back from those who oppress them. We don’t need that.”

    “It’s simply not true that the master’s tools will never take down the master’s house: in fact, those tools are the best ones we have to make a fit home for all of us, men and women, together.”

    The idea that oppressed peoples can use magic to gain power is a major concept in Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands. The “master’s tools” line was said by Audre Lorde. So you casually reject the work of two of the most important feminist thinkers of the 20th century, and then claim that you know more about feminism than another group of women? Do you realize how arrogant that is?


    Julie · September 5th, 2010 at 8:15 pm
  25. [...] the central statement of faith.  This practice came to mind after I read what I felt to be a poorly informed, fear-based blog post about Kohenet on Jewschool.  If you read this site, you know that Kohenet is my one of my spiritual homes and I spent 3.5 [...]


    The Importance of Fringes | Peeling a Pomegranate · September 5th, 2010 at 8:27 pm
  26. so easy to be arrogant hiding behind a fake name!

    “You know nothing about what I know about, but I know more than you about what you know about.” hmm….


    Justin · September 5th, 2010 at 8:51 pm
  27. I certainly don’t mind being called arrogant – or any other name. That’s an ad hominem argument.
    www.infidels.org/library/modern/mathew/logic.html#hominem

    Also note that I made no arguments about Hammer and Shere’s persons (I suppose the flowy clothes comment was perhaps a bit much, I’ll happily take it back; the paper bag comment was not about Kohenet, but about attributing a certain way of thinking to a particular gender: I stand by that), only the content of what is claimed on their website (which presumably they have some control over) and in the Tablet article. If their website is not reflective of their actual practice and content, then I do apologize for taking it as such. And I do grant that media is certainly perfectly capable of misrepresenting what they’re writing about either purposefully or not. Is that the claim being made here?

    I do not reject Audre Lorde or Gloria Anzaldua’s work as a whole, merely two statements, in regards to a particular situation (Although actually, if you read carefully, I’m agreeing with Anzaldua, just with a caveat on this particular case). There’s something weirdly ironic about being in an argument about the rejection of traditional authority, and then being called arrogant for rejecting other authorities. Note that I also am pretty clear that I *don’t care* about what practices are taught at Kohenet insofar as religious practice, whether or not I agree with it personally, only as regards whether it’s good for women or not. So far, I don’t see an adequate response to that.


    Dibur Acher · September 5th, 2010 at 10:21 pm
  28. Although Mescladora seems to at least be working towards it.


    Dibur Acher · September 5th, 2010 at 10:23 pm
  29. DA-
    seemingly one in your “line of work” should strive towards humility, no?


    Justin · September 5th, 2010 at 10:38 pm
  30. @Justin: Of course, shouldn’t everyone? But a little name-calling never hurt anyone.


    Kol Ra'ash Gadol · September 5th, 2010 at 11:05 pm
  31. Ben– you’re right; I misspoke; I meant to say “the first known poet of the world”– surely not the first poet or the first woman poet.

    David– clearly we at Kohenet don’t see ourselves as anti-feminist. There are multiple feminisms in the world. For some, equality of opportunity (that is, everyone can study Talmud) is enough. For others, having everyone study Talmud but maintaining parameters where only Talmud (originally a pursuit of literate Jewish men) is valued is not enough; we have to discover what alternate spiritual practices might have been, and there’s been so much written on this, from Bernadette Brooten’s analyses of women’s titles on gravestones to Daniel Dever’s analyses of Israelite women’s home altars.

    The gender essentialism argument is one that we struggle with a lot, and Jay Michaelson is about to publish a dialogue between me and him about gender and the Goddess. We’re not essentialists; we have trans folk in and around our community, for example, and we make an effort not to make the kinds of stereotypical mistakes this article accuses us of. The fact is that in environments that are “gender-neutral,” women rarely get to talk about the ways that their body experiences embody God/dess– to speak frankly, it’s hard to explore one’s feelings about menarche or about sexual encounter, or even about being vilified by a rabbi in the Talmud, in mixed company. it’s true that not all women want to talk about these things in spiritual terms, but for those of us who do, we need a place to do it. It is deeply important that women’s embodied experience not be invisible because it’s a) denigrated or b) ignored.

    Jew Guevara– if you want the feminist non-embodied position, read Cynthia Ozick, who just wants women to be able to express their consciousness, and isn’t interested in bodies. For me, her approach doesn’t work, but it probably works for Dibur Acher.

    I recommend Jay Michaelson’s book God in Your Body, since I can’t discuss the full question here. Yes, Judaism has lots of embodied practices, thank Goddess. Judaism also has a significant trend that might be called “bitul hayesh,” the idea that the best use of the ego is to overcome the desires of this world and seek for the world beyond (like in Pirkei Avot where we’re told this world is a corridor for the next).

    An issue we deal with at Kohenet a great deal is the tumah/taharah laws and the ways that childbirth and death (the fertility cycle often associated with goddesses and women) are kept away from the sancta, thus marking these once sacred states as not holy (there are lots of ways to read this, but fundamentally, if you’re not allowed in the temple, then there is something not-holy about you). At Kohenet, we believe in re-sanctifying these states as body states. That’s part of what we believe about embodiment.

    Amit– this sort of stereotyping of shamanism (combined with the use of “necromancer”) is the kind of prejudice, based on biblical rhetoric that was political in its own day, that has kept Jews from having respect for the indigenous traditions of the world. Yes, there are charlatans and abusive leaders. However, let’s try to have a broader perspective on belief, and give others the respect we want to enjoy.

    Dibur Acher– as I’ve already said, we don’t do the nature/culture thing; we think both men and women have bodies and minds. That seems to be an issue you had with your earlier co-students; you’re projecting it onto us. And of course we think women had agency in the time of the Talmud, etc. There is an unbroken line of women’s spiritual quest– starting with the ancient priestesses.

    Enheduanna is important for Jews to study because, among other things, we need to realize that Miriam and Devorah are not “exceptions,” they are part of a long-standing institution of religious poets and singers, one that parts of the Bible and later tradition spent a great deal of energy trying to wipe out. Only after reading Enheduanna did I realize why it was so necessary to discredit Miriam in the Book of Numbers.

    Certainly societies who have goddesses are not necessarily more egalitarian )(though some, like the Celts, tended that way), and at Kohenet we’re careful enverb to say that goddess-based societies were inherently more feminist. What you may not understand is that most of us are at Kohenet because we were drawn here by a deep experience of Goddess, or spirit, in a Jewish context. we’re following a calling. You are assuming we chose this path because we think it’s perfect, goddess societies had no sexism, women are all about nature all the time, etc. But for many of us, this is about following a mystery. We were taught God was one thing; we discovered God was something else, and, as Ntozake Shange says, we loved her fiercely. We are unpacking that experience in community. While our theology is indeed radical, we are not doing anything much more radical than the kabbalists who decided there were ten parts of God and the final one was a bride and a queen.

    Yes, women can read texts. We can, and we do it well. Some of us love doing it, and I am one of them. But not all of us want to spend our lives debating whether women can be witnesses in a court of law (for my money, a ridiculous question). Some of us want to spend our lives in a conversation we actually want to be having and are willing to invest our life-energy in. I can respect your commitment; you seem unable to respect mine.

    Re: The Witch of Endor; I don’t actually think there is such a difference between discussing death and having experience of our dead. Jews in Eastern Europe talked to the dead all the time, and at Reb Nachman’s grave people still talk to a departed rebbe. ItJoseph Caro had a maggid– he talked to a spirit being most of his life. Are you kicking him out of Judaism too?

    Since I see the text as layered, I don’t think of the Witch of Endor as a person, but rather as a sign that the Book of Samuel is acknowledging the society’s reliance on witches/wise women etc. There is actually a fair amount of research into priestesses in related Near Eastern cultures who did “conflict resolution” between humans and the spirit world; shamans do this work today. So, by the way, do rebbes who talk about gilgul and the repair of souls.

    It’s fine for you to believe that the universe is not God (though we panentheists don’t share your belief) and it’s fine for you to believe that you can transform the sexist bent of halakhah to suit modern feminists (and I truly wish you success, though I am skeptical). What is not fine is for you to therefore say that Kohenet is sexist and takes away women’s true selves. If you believe that a woman can only be her true self by immersing herself in the halakhic system, I respectfully suggest that women are their true selves all over the world without benefit of Aramaic. I’ve studied Talmud, halakhah, Zohar, and much else, and I am certain that none of it constitutes my true self.

    I highly recommend Sue Monk Kidd’s book Dance of the Dissident Daughter, where she sensitively chronicles her journey from good Christian to questioner to Goddess follower (who still goes to church). She talks about the need of many religious women to prove themselves to the father/Father through their loyalty and commitment to the system. For myself, I needed to work through this need and ultimately choose to see beyond the walls built for me by the Jewish system around me. It’s been a delight to discover I’m not alone out in the Shekhinah’s apple orchard.


    Yeilah · September 5th, 2010 at 11:13 pm
  32. enverb=never; ItJoseph=Joseph; my apologies.


    Yeilah · September 5th, 2010 at 11:18 pm
  33. @KRG, calling someone out for arrogance isn’t name calling, in my opinion, it’s description of tone and content.


    Justin · September 5th, 2010 at 11:22 pm
  34. Ruth B– just to let you know, Kohenet has very friendly relations with many non-gender-based, but earth-based, Jewish organizations and communities. We by no means think earth-based stuff is only for women; we do think that women need a particular kind of space to explore earth-based and embodied spirituality.

    I also want to say that I sympathize with your feeling that logic and/or respect for talmudic sages is not always welcome in feminist groups. I have felt that way in some other groups. At Kohenet we strive for a position where we can recognize and speak a text’s biases without fear, and we can also respect the wisdom it offers. We have a fabulous mishnah teacher and on Shabbat afternoons she gives us a tremendous dose of sage-style spirituality.


    Yeilah · September 5th, 2010 at 11:28 pm
  35. One of the problems of the whole goddess based paganism thing is it often (not always) degenerates into a worship of the human female. As a student of Donna Haraway, I reject cultural feminism and the goddess myths. Rather, we need new ideas, new myths, new languages to describe a coming and entirely new postgender world, one with multiple sexes, multiple genders, not strict binaries of any kind.

    Taking all gendered language out of the siddur and replacing it with neutral pronouns and words would be more feminist, in my opinion, than focusing on the divine feminine. I am inclined to often refer to Hashem as “she”, knowing full well that this is an absurd anthropomorphism. G-d has no gender or sex, of course. The metaphorical body of sephirot the kaballists have left us is but male, female and neuter, all at the same time. And indeed, is not every human being the same way?

    And Yeilah, monotheism does not mean a distinction between G-d and not G-d. Personally I don’t see panentheism or pantheism to be antithetical to monotheism. I myself am a theistic monist, i.e., the underlying unity of all things is the One Eternal G-d.

    P.S., i don’t remember the source, but someone taught me once that Adam Rishon was a hermaphrodite, which was then seperated into two beings. If anyone can find the source, please share it with the rest of the class. Thanks.


    shmuel · September 5th, 2010 at 11:29 pm
  36. @Shmuel- Breishit Rabbah 8:1


    Justin · September 5th, 2010 at 11:33 pm
  37. @Yeilah, Nice response, and I get a better sense from it than your previous one of what you’re doing (at least, you personally). I don’t think I would claim that “a woman can only be her true self by immersing herself in the halakhic system,” (For one thing, that would be awfully difficult for all those non-Jews), but I also don’t hold with the relativist stance of everything is equal, all perspectives are true, which seems to me to be something that in the position of Kohenet as you describe it, will be enormously hard to avoid.

    And I’m just not going to be able to agree with you that “I don’t actually think there is such a difference between discussing death and having experience of our dead. Jews in Eastern Europe talked to the dead all the time, and at Reb Nachman’s grave people still talk to a departed rebbe. Joseph Caro had a maggid– he talked to a spirit being most of his life. Are you kicking him out of Judaism too?”
    That’s like saying you don’t see a difference between discussing a tuna sandwich and eating one.
    Nobody has tried to raise the shade of Reb Nachman (or if they have, they certainly wouldn’t admit it amongst other Breslovers), the Jews of Eastern Europe may have talked to the dead, but they didn’t do it by deliberately raising them from their graves (By and large the folklore about that is involved with either regular people having conversations with dybbuks and the like – mostly against their will, or rabbis having dream conversations with colleagues who have passed on and come back in dreams to relate some important message, or with rabbis who actually either bodily, or again, in their dreams, find a way to chat with former colleagues in olam haba) and Joseph Caro – also didn’t deliberately raise the dead, and in any case, that’s a rather more complicated problem, since his spirit was the personification of the Mishnah. I can’t really say anything sensible about that, not being a kabbalist, but the Mishnah certainly isn’t dead. Just to be fair to you, a better example would probably have been the Tzfat practice of sleeping on the graves of rabbis with the intent of having the bits of soul still hanging around infest them.

    Since we can’t seem to leave the Jewishy part of this alone (okay, that’s fair) I also would have to say that I think it’s not beyond the scope of the discussion to really push hard on who gets counted as an ancestor and what counts as a Jewish practice that can be brought into normative Judaism. Perhaps an argument could be made about what counts as a witch, but I don’t think it’s legit to say that witchcraft (once the first matter is decided) could be part of normative Judaism. That doesn’t necessarily mean, I guess (okay grudgingly), that something that might look like magic couldn’t be performed, but it’s awfully important to also recognize that amongst, say, the miracle workers of the Chasidim, “magic” is very carefully expressed as not something which is done by the power of the person, but through God’s grace. On the other hand, manipulating symbols and ritual items to get a particular outcome – in other words, bending God to one’s will- is particularly vilified. If through prayer a miracle comes to someone, perhaps that person could be considered holy, if through manipulation of ritual objects something happens against the order of nature, that’s significantly more problematic.


    Dibur Acher · September 5th, 2010 at 11:41 pm
  38. Shmuel, it’s in Genesis Rabbah 8:1.

    While I’m still on-line, I want to say that I too don’t think monotheism and panentheism are incompatible, though for some of the folks above it obviously is. I also don’t think panentheism and polytheism are incompatible. To me, deity is deity. I identify as a transmonotheist.

    In terms of prayer imagery, some people prefer to pray to a God they can imagine in a form. It’s part of being human for many of us.


    Yeilah · September 5th, 2010 at 11:48 pm
  39. Yeilah–

    Your responses have been most erudite and reasonable. And I especially appreciate the acknowledgement that some women’s groups do contain an undercurrent of misandry, even if kohenet does not.

    However, statements like “We by no means think earth-based stuff is only for women; we do think that women need a particular kind of space to explore earth-based and embodied spirituality.” only reinforce my extreme skepticism. I don’t need the particular kind of space that you are talking about. Perhaps I am projecting all of my negative experience with exclusively women-groups on you, but I find I do *better* with mixed or even mostly male groups.


    Ruth B · September 6th, 2010 at 12:08 am
  40. Well, my policy is not to engage with people who link to descriptions of logical fallacies. (Before I go – oh, jeez, why am I doing this? – the English instructor in me has to point out that calling someone arrogant isn’t ad hominem when the description itself is the argument.) All right, I’m outs. Peace.


    Julie · September 6th, 2010 at 3:04 am
  41. Julie,
    That’s precisely what an ad hominem is: it’s making a comment about the person rather than addressing the argument.

    By the way, I do want to point out that I did not claim at any point that Kohenet is anti-male. Not sure how that got brought up.


    Dibur Acher · September 6th, 2010 at 9:44 am
  42. “In terms of prayer imagery, some people prefer to pray to a God they can imagine in a form. It’s part of being human for many of us.”

    This is the dividing line between Judaism and Islam on the one hand, and Christianity or paganism on the other. It’s the conscious, purposeful rejection of ‘god in human form’ trope.

    So yes, for some people it’s part of being human. Not sure it’s part of being Jewish though.

    The reverse of seeing god as male isn’t seeing god as female, it’s doing the spiritual homework of seeing god as not human, not embodied, not earth bound, not constrained by human categories.

    Anyhoo, thanks everyone for a very interesting discussion.


    Jew Guevara · September 6th, 2010 at 10:07 am
  43. As an act of contrition, I’ve gone back and edited the post and all my comments to make sure that there was nothing that could be taken as a personally directed comment.

    I nevertheless stand behind my original point that goddess worship and developing a parallel system is not beneficial to women. Let me put it this way: the logical inference if women aren’t bound by the system developed by men is that men aren’t bound by a system developed by women, so that creates a society in which women’s voices and commentary on the traditional halakhic system can be handily ignored by men – which is what Kohenet is trying to overturn, isn’t it?

    @Jew Guevara: Thanks for making the point simply and clearly.


    Dibur Acher · September 6th, 2010 at 10:35 am
  44. Dibur Acher writes:
    Julie,
    That’s precisely what an ad hominem is: it’s making a comment about the person rather than addressing the argument.

    No, ad hominem is a logical fallacy in which an unrelated comment about the person is used in an attempt to support or discredit an argument. There are several examples at the site you linked to. “You’re a poopoohead” is not an example of this fallacy; “Martin Luther King had extramarital affairs; therefore, we should be suspicious of his vision of racial equality” is.

    In this case, Julie’s charge of arrogance (whether or not it is warranted) was based on your words in this thread, not based on external knowledge of you as a person, so it’s not an ad hominem. Furthermore, she didn’t even call you arrogant; she said “Do you realize how arrogant that is?”.

    A better example of the ad hominem fallacy in this thread (in reverse, as well as appeal to authority) is Ketzirah’s statement that “A two minute effort to explore who Rabbi Jill Hammer and Holly Shere are and anyone would know how well educated and respected they are by a wide range of people”, as if this was supposed to put the matter to rest without addressing any of your substantive critiques, as if well-educated and respected people can’t be wrong, or can’t disagree with each other.


    BZ · September 6th, 2010 at 11:07 am
  45. Jew Guevara– it’s fine for us to agree to disagree, but I do want to suggest that the kabbalistic etz chayyim is, in fact, a form, and that the image of a shining presence in the merkavah is, in fact, a form. The Shekhinah weeping for Her children while huddled on Mount Zion is a form (a metaphor, yes, but a form the sages felt love for and empathized with). Judaism is in dynamic conflict with the issue of God having a form, but there are lots of forms for God in Jewish thought.

    Ruth B.– We remain committed to providing our services to women who want them (and we’re creating a multigender conference in the spring) but we would never want to define your spiritual needs. If this isn’t something you want, we would never push it on you.

    Dibur Acher– so glad to have had this conversation. And your revisions are appreciated.

    I see where we are missing one another on the Witch of Endor. For me, the scene of “bringing up the dead” is a ritual dramatization of the kind of communion with souls that goes on in Jewish contexts all the time (such as communion with the soul of Rebbe Nachman, and I know people who have had extremely powerful experiences of speaking with him, and hearing him, at his grave). If you don’t believe this can happen, then you don’t, but it is a traditional Jewish, as well as shamanic, belief that it does happen.

    Having tried to exist within rabbinic boundaries and having felt silenced, I now do not want to be the “Jewish police” and decide where the boundaries need to be. I recognize the Jewish community (communities) will have to do that, and that’s fine. However, I am part of a spiritual community that centers on Jewish experience but doesn’t feel that all spiritual experience had by Jews must be Jewish. Our participants have valued their experiences in feminist, Native American, African, Wiccan contexts, and in their own bodies and hearts. By not demanding they deny this as a condition for entry, Kohenet makes room for powerful women to choose a Judaism they can participate in. They have now served on the chevra kadisha, given divrei Torah, done weddings, created Jewish twelve-step groups, Rosh Chodesh groups and classes, led services (even at Pardes!), been in Arab-Jewish dialogue, and written creative liturgy. Parallel systems are indirect, but they have their ways of getting into the mainstream. I think about this every time I see the community turn around to face the Shabbat bride, the Shekhinah, as She enters the shul on Friday night. (Wonder what the Rambam would make of that.)

    Thanks to everyone for the conversation.


    Yeilah · September 6th, 2010 at 11:22 am
  46. Yeilah writes:
    I think about this every time I see the community turn around to face the Shabbat bride, the Shekhinah, as She enters the shul on Friday night.

    Since when is the Shabbat bride the Shekhinah? I always understood this as a personification of Shabbat, not of God. (The Shekhinah has already been present all week.)


    BZ · September 6th, 2010 at 11:37 am
  47. For the kabbalists, Shababt was the manifestation of the Shekhinah in time; the Zohar says this very clearly. They saw Shabbat as a time when the Shekhinah and the Holy One were in closer contact and the Shekhinah gave birth to souls, hence, the “arrival” of Shekhinah to her beloved on erev Shabbat. See: Zohar I, 48a. Also see the Zohar on Chaye Sarah, where women are supposed to light Shabbat candles because they are manifestations of Shekhinah kindling new souls as she arrives for Shabbat.

    The fact that you think we’re welcoming Shabbat and not the Shekhinah is exactly what I’m talking about. The mystics invented a ritual where they went outdoors to greet the feminine Godhead as she came for her sacred marriage. Mainstream Jews liked the ritual and adopted it. They called it “welcoming the Shabbat bride” and forgot that the kabbalists called Shekhinah the bride, not Shabbat the day. But the original ritual is a sacred marriage ritual, no two ways about it.

    Rabbinical schools aren’t going to tell you this stuff, which is why Kohenet exists.


    Yeilah · September 6th, 2010 at 1:14 pm
  48. Rabbinical schools aren’t going to tell you this stuff, which is why Kohenet exists.

    we certainly learned it correctly in my rabbinical school… Now whether or not Rabbis tell congregants these things is a different matter…


    Justin · September 6th, 2010 at 2:08 pm
  49. Yeilah writes:
    The mystics invented a ritual where they went outdoors to greet the feminine Godhead as she came for her sacred marriage. Mainstream Jews liked the ritual and adopted it. They called it “welcoming the Shabbat bride” and forgot that the kabbalists called Shekhinah the bride, not Shabbat the day. But the original ritual is a sacred marriage ritual, no two ways about it.

    This goes back to the Gemara (Shabbat 119a), well before the kabbalists:
    רבי חנינא מיעטף וקאי אפניא דמעלי שבתא, אמר: בואו ונצא לקראת שבת המלכה. רבי ינאי לביש מאניה מעלי שבת, ואמר: בואי כלה בואי כלה


    BZ · September 6th, 2010 at 2:10 pm
  50. I have no way of knowing what is taught in rabbinical schools, but even an Am HaAretz like me can find the association between Shabbat and the Shechinah on a site as elementary and accessible as MyJewishLearning.
    www.myjewishlearning.com/practices/Ritual/Shabbat_The_Sabbath/Themes_and_Theology.shtml?PRRI

    This is typical of my experience in mainstream liberal Judaism during the last 15 years: I have found no lack of feminine voice or interpretation, and at times I’ve honestly found them over-represented.
    Surely I can’t be the only normative-synagogue-attending Jewish woman out there who doesn’t feel oppressed…


    Ruth B · September 6th, 2010 at 2:56 pm
  51. BZ is not claiming that shabbat is not identified with shekhina, only that the ritual predates lurianic kabbalah by about 1000 years.

    Yeilah writes:
    Amit– this sort of stereotyping of shamanism (combined with the use of “necromancer”) is the kind of prejudice, based on biblical rhetoric that was political in its own day, that has kept Jews from having respect for the indigenous traditions of the world. Yes, there are charlatans and abusive leaders. However, let’s try to have a broader perspective on belief, and give others the respect we want to enjoy.
    Yes, of course, how stupid of me to think that Judaism was a religion with beliefs. Now I know all it is is a celebration of the ethnicity of some child-sacrificers to Caanan who were regrettably corrupted by some guy with a book around 500 or so.
    Also, why is Judaism not an indigenous tradition?


    Amit · September 6th, 2010 at 4:20 pm
  52. [...] — the central statement of faith.  This practice came to mind after I read what I felt to be a poorly informed, fear-based blog post about Kohenet on Jewschool.  If you read this site, you know that Kohenet is my one of my spiritual homes and I spent 3.5 [...]


    The Importance of Fringes · September 7th, 2010 at 8:51 am
  53. Dibur Acher writes:
    Note that I also am pretty clear that I *don’t care* about what practices are taught at Kohenet insofar as religious practice, whether or not I agree with it personally, only as regards whether it’s good for women or not. So far, I don’t see an adequate response to that.

    My question for you is who gets to decide what is good for women? I think women do. Not one women and not a group of women, but each woman for herself. So please explain how any of the following things we do in Kohenet are BAD for women, because I simply don’t understand how they can be bad for women in general, or Jewish women more specifically.

    In Kohenet, we pray traditional Jewish prayers using feminine words, masculine words, and gender neutral words for the divine according to our preference. We are taught how to change the traditional masculine Hebrew into feminine or neutral if we wish.

    There is something else I want to share here regarding gendered language and the divine. It is fine to say that we are all intellectually capable of understanding that God is not masculine or feminine in reality, and that Judaism uses male language as a hold-over from our ancient Hebrew language. But these are esoteric concepts that take years to develop. Does my four-year-old daughter not hear that God is a boy when she goes to synagogue? She hears it over and over. She is told that God is a boy and she is a girl. And the little boys hear hundreds, thousands of times that God is a boy and they are, too. By the time we are old enough to understand that some Jews don’t actually think this way, it is too late. The children have already been told for years that some are God-like and some are not. Laguage is powerful.

    In Kohenet, we sometimes share new interpretations of traditional prayers and may sometimes use the interpretation in place of or alongside the original. This has at least a long history in Reform Judaism, I can’t speak to the specific siddurim of all other movements.

    In Kohenet, we study the traditions that have been a part of Judaism for thousands of years INCLUDING the parts that have been openly and unabashedly squashed, ignored, or nearly obliterated. These traditions are often ones that were handed down mother-to-daughter or through other female channels of transmission. The male Jewish establishment holding the pens favored forms of transmission that tended to be father-to-son or otherwise male-to-male. This resulted in censorship of certain ideas and practices. In Kohenet, we look at traditional Jewish text, archaeology, and any other tools of science or heart, of logic or spirit, that leads us to find practices that feel both authentic and Jewish to us as Jewish women.

    If there are Jewish women out there who feel that their whole selves are fulfilled by praying in only male God-language and by reading texts that clearly favored men’s knowledge and men’s experience, then that’s great for them. But how can it be “good for women” to tell them that they CAN’T say “She” instead of “He” if they want to and can’t read between the lines to look for what our great-great-great-great-grandmothers couldn’t pass on to us because it simply wasn’t written down?

    You seem to assume Kohenet tells women how they SHOULD be (not logical, rejecting book knowledge, dance in circles, etc.) I can assure you that I like to learn from books (I hold an M.A. in Jewish Studies) and I also like to dance in circles sometimes. More importantly, I can assure you that what Kohenet has done for me is allowed me to be WHO I ALREADY WAS (a Jewish woman) in a context that feels both authentic and Jewish, TO ME. It is an easy argument to say we are not Jewish. The orthodox feel that no one is Jewish but them. But we get up in the morning, gather for shacharit, wear tallit and teffilin if we wish, pray, then go to breakfast and bless our food in Hebrew. What religion do you call that? It is easy to say we are pagan and dismiss us. It is easy to say we are antifeminist. But we are complex, we are learn-ed, we are learn-ing, we are many things. If some of what we do strikes you as pagan, and that bothers you, then I suggest you skip Sukkot this year. And don’t light Chanukah candles. And don’t do anything within Judaism that resembles what pagans do, because that’s a slippery slope. (I am responding here in general to those who have made the “pagan” cry, not necessarily Dibut Acher specifically on this point)

    But wait! What if what you experience as authenically Jewish and authentically feminist varies from what I experience as authentically Jewish and feminist? What can we do? We can recognize that any woman who is a Jew by birth or has gone through a Jewish conversion process and identifies as such is a Jewish woman, and that her voice counts among us, even if we disagree. And if she grapples with Jewish text and sees a tradition of Priestesses and female Jewish ritual leaders who were silenced, and you don’t, then at least give her the benefit of the doubt until you have actually sat through ONE class and heard and read for yourself.

    In Kohenet, we are taught that the Jewish traditions of women who were told to be quiet are just as important as the traditions of men who were told to participate openly. For that matter, we are just as open to hearing about Jewish traditions that were ignored because they were spoken by a less popular male voice. It just so happens that our society in general has preserved fewer female voices in the text and tradition. That fact cannot be ignored. In Kohenet, we seek to give as much life as possible to the traditions and voices that have survived this censorship, because we as Jewish women feel that is our birthright. Is that “bad” for us? Is that “bad” for you?


    Sericha · September 7th, 2010 at 11:28 am
  54. Sericha writes:
    Does my four-year-old daughter not hear that God is a boy when she goes to synagogue? She hears it over and over. She is told that God is a boy and she is a girl. And the little boys hear hundreds, thousands of times that God is a boy and they are, too.
    [...]
    But how can it be “good for women” to tell them that they CAN’T say “She” instead of “He” if they want to

    In my liberal Jewish communities, the use of “He” and other male language for God (in English) has been deprecated for at least 20 years. In these communities, it is standard to avoid gendered pronouns altogether; “She” is problematic for the same reasons as “He”, no more and no less. (Hebrew is more complicated, of course.)

    It is an easy argument to say we are not Jewish.

    So easy that no one here actually said it.

    The orthodox feel that no one is Jewish but them.

    If that were true, Chabad would be a lot less in-your-face.


    BZ · September 7th, 2010 at 6:29 pm
  55. Dibur Acher, thank you for this post. The last thing we need is another group telling us what Jewish women really are and really can contribute. The statements about embodied versus embodied religion corresponding to female versus male experience are especially disturbing.

    On the other hand, also great is that if women act like crunchier and more pagan versions of na-nachs, that shows Kohenet is right – but if they don’t, it’s not proof of anything, because they’re tools of the patriarchy.

    Finally, I want to submit that “femininity” and “masculinity” as we know them now are goyish concepts. I’m not saying classical Jewish thought doesn’t often think that women have certain traits and men have certain others, but it just doesn’t line up to what’s called up by these words. And trying to project them back into Jewish traditions… ugh.


    Yonah · September 8th, 2010 at 9:00 am
  56. BZ,
    I am well aware that liberal Jewish communities often strive to use non-gendered words for God. This is possible in English and some other languages, but not in Hebrew, as you point out. But most Jews pray at least some of the time in Hebrew, so this only puts a superficial band-aid on the problem. Also, it is quite difficult to avoid using gendered pronouns for God one hundred percent of the time. I myself find it quite tedious and forced to strike out all pronouns in prayer or discussion about God. It makes the language seem artificial. So what’s wrong with some people saying “He” if they want to, some saying “She” and some using both interchangeably? It certainly can’t make the problem worse, even if you don’t feel it makes it better.

    As far as what you said when you stated that no one here has said we are not Jewish, I’m not sure I know what you mean. Did you mean that no one had said the participants in Kohenet are not Jewish? Because I am quite sure that people here and elsewhere have called Kohenet theology and practice not Jewish, and that was what I was getting at. Sorry if that didn’t come through clearly in my original comments.

    And yes, of course, Chabad does wonderful outreach (inreach?) for the Jewish community all over the world. Please correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t it generally their goal to gently guide Jews who are non-practicing or more liberal in their practice toward a more or less (preferably more) orthodox Jewish life? Even if you don’t see this as the case, Chabad is but one facet of Orthodoxy.


    sericha · September 8th, 2010 at 10:13 am
  57. Yonah writes:
    The last thing we need is another group telling us what Jewish women really are and really can contribute.

    Where exactly does Kohenet do this? Kohenet seeks to add to the pssibilities for women’s contributions. It has never sought to select some contributions as better or more valid than others. Kohenet theology and practice is relevant to those for whom it is relevant and not relevant to those for whom it is not. But where is the idea that Kohenet seeks to define all of Jewish femininity or prescribe what all Jewish women should do?


    sericha · September 8th, 2010 at 10:21 am
  58. sericha writes:
    I am well aware that liberal Jewish communities often strive to use non-gendered words for God. This is possible in English and some other languages, but not in Hebrew, as you point out. But most Jews pray at least some of the time in Hebrew, so this only puts a superficial band-aid on the problem.

    In Hebrew, every noun has gender regardless of any real-world meaning, so using masculine pronouns for God (and for table) in Hebrew doesn’t convey maleness in the same way that it does in English, in which gendered pronouns are reserved for entities with actual gender. So I don’t find masculine pronouns for God in Hebrew objectionable, and for the same reason, I don’t find feminine pronouns for God in Hebrew objectionable (though it’s interesting to note that the people who find it important to balance out the genders in the Hebrew liturgy tend to be native English speakers). Both are objectionable in English, because gendered pronouns in English imply that the antecedent has a gender (a real gender, not just a grammatical one), and God doesn’t have a gender.

    So what’s wrong with some people saying “He” if they want to, some saying “She” and some using both interchangeably? It certainly can’t make the problem worse, even if you don’t feel it makes it better.

    It doesn’t make the problem worse if you’re comparing this to the straw, well, man in which the default is that God is referred to (in English) as “He”. It does make the problem worse if the default is that God is not referred to (in English) with any gender, which is the reality for many of us.

    As far as what you said when you stated that no one here has said we are not Jewish, I’m not sure I know what you mean. Did you mean that no one had said the participants in Kohenet are not Jewish?

    Yes.

    Because I am quite sure that people here and elsewhere have called Kohenet theology and practice not Jewish, and that was what I was getting at. Sorry if that didn’t come through clearly in my original comments.

    Ok.

    And yes, of course, Chabad does wonderful outreach (inreach?) for the Jewish community all over the world. Please correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t it generally their goal to gently guide Jews who are non-practicing or more liberal in their practice toward a more or less (preferably more) orthodox Jewish life? Even if you don’t see this as the case, Chabad is but one facet of Orthodoxy.

    My point was that Chabad, for the most part, only does this kind of outreach to Jews, not to non-Jews (though I did see a Chabad pamphlet in Arabic about the Noahide laws that a friend picked up in Ramallah). Therefore, this is one example of an Orthodox group recognizing non-Orthodox Jews as Jewish, contradicting your statement “The orthodox feel that no one is Jewish but them.” (And I certainly wasn’t defending Chabad.)


    BZ · September 8th, 2010 at 10:42 am
  59. zeek.forward.com/articles/116957/


    Mescladora · September 8th, 2010 at 12:07 pm
  60. Yeah, that’s a good point BZ, gendered words in Hebrew don’t necessarily imply gender, just like the Romance languages. For example, “le vagin” in French, “the vagina”, is masculine. I don’t think it’s implied that the vagina is a masculine body part.

    The problem with English is hardly anyone wants to read, “Blessed be It”, so they go with a gendered pronoun, and since most of the time it literally translates as masculine, that’s what they go with.


    shmuel · September 8th, 2010 at 12:31 pm
  61. We don’t ordain/grant smicha to Kohenim. You can’t just become one, you either are or aren’t a kohen or levite. I guess I’m the only one confused by this.


    ML · September 19th, 2010 at 10:35 am
  62. ML-
    NOW who’s being essentialist???

    But seriously, no, you’re not the only one. If an organization said it was training kohanim (m.), we would all write them off as Third Temple wackos.


    BZ · September 20th, 2010 at 12:04 pm
  63. Having just read this discussion two years after it happened, I will put in my two cents anyhow even if no one will read them.

    About embodiment: on the one hand traditional Jewish practice is *so* body-based: feasting, fasting, mikveh, sex, brit milah, hand washing, asher yatzar, tallit, tefillin, swaying at prayer, blessings over food, candles, wine, sukkah, lulav, bikur holim, hevra kadisha…

    But on the other hand a huge amount of traditional Jewish *thought* devalues the body, and even more so the female body. I don’t find this very much in Hazal (who worked out the whole above-mentioned network of bodily rituals) but from the Middle Ages on it permeates the thought of the rationalists and mystics alike, and the Hasidim, Misnagdim and Maskilim too. The body is pitted against the mind and/or the soul, and at best the body is supposed to be used or transformed for “higher” spiritual purposes. I for one am grateful to Kohenet and others who are working to undo this dichotomy and find Jewish ways of thinking that are more aligned with Jewish ways of living.

    About priestesses and prophets: No matter how egalitarian present-day Judaism has become and will become, the past remains male-dominated because it is available to us mostly in texts authored by and for men. So the more seriously you take Judaism, learning sacred texts and living by their teachings, the more you are immersed in a male past where women are *that* close to not existing at all. I’m a man and this is a heartache to me; how much more so for many women.

    So part of what Kohenet is about is to transform, not (only) the present, but the past — “rediscovering” priestesses, women prophets, women healers, women sages, etc. etc. So that the past that serious Jews are bound to spend a lot of time in can be an egalitarian past, after all.

    NB, I personally am skeptical about the historicity of most of this and tend to think that what is being done is invention, imagination, not rediscovery. But I also accept the consensus of academic scholarship, that the picture of Biblical history found in the Tanakh, the picture of antiquity found in the Talmud, the picture of earlier Hasidism found in Hasidic tales, etc., are all imaginary. At most, a kind of historical fiction. In other words, *any* Jewish past that we look back on and live in is largely a work of imagination. If so, the re-imagining of the past, in a way that can heal the heartache of life in a strangely male world, is holy work.


    Justin Jaron Lewis · December 24th, 2012 at 2:05 am

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik