The Female Divine

Is (the?) Shekhina (Shekinah? Shechinah?) a “she” or an “it”?

“The Shekhina is a woman,” Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy is quoted as saying in the latest issue of Moment magazine, in which the article “In Search of Shekhina” deals with Mr. Nimoy’s recently published book of photographs, “Shekhina.”

And yet in none of the following dictionary definitions is there any indication of femininity:

“Shekinah: A visible manifestation of the divine presence as described in Jewish theology.” (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language)

“Shechina: In Jewish theology, God’s presence in and throughout the world.” (The Encarta World English Dictionary)

Also “Shechinah: The presence of God on earth or a symbol or manifestation of his presence.” (The Random House Dictionary of the English Language)

So who’s right?

Your aunt. Clearly.

2 thoughts on “The Female Divine

  1. it’s an interesting article and all but it’s my understanding that Leonard Nimoy’s interpretation of Shekhinah as feminine aspect of the divine may also come from Jewish mysticism, where Shekhina is just another name for Malchut, the sephira that is closest to earth, or sometimes represents the presence of God here on earth. Further, there are masculine nouns in the Bible that take feminine verbs and adjectives even before translation. Finally, the final paragraph (cut and paste below), though presumptuous, gives the reader the answer to his original question without actually giving any examples–which is to say in certain contexts or toward certain ends it makes perfect sense to say that Shechina is the feminine aspect of God; but in others that are “less radical” it does not. Okay, so, so what, Leonard Nimoy’s photography is radical. We knew that.
    If you want to find a goddess figure within the Bible (as opposed to later interpretations), it’s really much easier than taking a noun that is used to refer to God that happens to be feminine. Besides the obvious one, El Shaddai (shaddaim means breasts, so shaddai-a masculine noun-would mean my breasts), check out “In the Wake of the Goddesses” for examples of how the Israelite God took on aspects of polytheistic goddesses in local religions in Biblical times.
    Whether the Shekhinah is a “she” or an “it,” then, depends on a number of factors: on what period of Judaism you choose as your reference point, on whether you have recourse to mystical imagery and on how literally you feel that this imagery — which undoubtedly is startling in conventional Jewish terms — should be taken. Those looking for a goddess figure in the Shekhinah will find one in her. The less radically inclined will speak of it as God’s presence in this world, sometimes personified as female for merely allegorical ends.

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