Saturday, February 21, 2015

Feminism & God/dess in Judaism by Neorah Garcia

I HAVE ALWAYS BELIEVED IN WOMEN'S RIGHTS and equality, but it wasn't until the last two years that I have become more vocal, and officially identified myself as being a feminist – and a Jewish feminist. A major factor in my passion for feminism (and the rights of girls and women around the world) has been social media. Through social media, I have "met" some pretty amazing women, of various cultures and religions, all with rich "herstories" and experiences. I have become aware of the writings of some awesome Jewish feminists and Jewish women Rabbis, and they have opened my eyes to the impact our ancient Jewish Matriarchs and sisters made in our religion and culture. I have also become so much more aware of the suffering of girls and women worldwide at the hands of misogynist cultures and religions. I have also become so much more aware that the women of these cultures and religions are rising up and speaking out against the violence and hatred toward them. I cannot personally fight their battle for them, or tell them how they should do it, but I can support my sisters wherever they are because we are all fighting for the same core issues.

As an American woman in the Western world, I cannot impose my views and beliefs as a feminist on women of different cultures and faiths, even though I have problems with the Western World culture and don't necessarily identify with it, mostly because of my faith as a Jew. As a Jewish woman, my views, beliefs, and goals as a feminist differ from mainstream American culture, and we have different issues within our religion that need to be addressed.

I will fight my own battle, within my own world, culture, and religion, in my own way. All women are fighting for the same issues, but in different ways that relate to our own unique situation. We are all fighting for equality for all girls and women, and for us to be recognized as human beings – who have minds and voices, and who have a lot to offer this world. We all deserve the right for freedom to express ourselves the way we choose, inside and outside of our religious lives, without men dictating to us how we are supposed to do that. Women are the life givers, the nurturers, the very backbone that holds cultures and traditions together. Most cultures and religions have a rich history of the important role that women have played in the development and growth of the religion. In most cultures, it was the women who passed these traditions down to the next generation, to keep the traditions alive.

In Judaism there are many feminine references to God. The Shekhinah (the spirit of God) which is feminine, is mentioned a lot in our texts. The ancient Israelites worshipped Asherah, the wife of El, up until the destruction of the Temple around 586 B.C.E. They also worshipped the "Queen of Heaven" and, in addition, King Solomon also worshipped Asherah, alongside Yaweh. There are several names for God that are feminine, like Shaddai (which means breast). Israel, and Zion are referred to as feminine. Somewhere along the way, the roles of women and the importance they played, were suppressed and the ancient religion was totally replaced with patriarchal-run institutionalized religion. Misogyny and the demonization of women and the Divine Feminine took over. God became only a man.

In my Jewish faith we have a lot of feminists who have and who are now changing the face of Judaism, but we still have problems, and misogyny is still alive and well. I live in the dessert Southwest United States, and I am a member of and attend a Conservative synagogue. The only reason I attend this synagogue is because I love, admire, and respect my Rabbi, who is a beautiful / spiritual human being. If it wasn't for my Rabbi, I would much prefer to be part of a more progressive, more spiritual community, like Renewal, which is not available where I live. But that has not stopped me from trying to introduce more feminine-focused teachings and programs at my synagogue – and although my Rabbi is very supportive and encouraging, the community seems lukewarm, and only a few are interested.

My synagogue is what is called "egalitarian." According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, this means that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or social status. The definition of "egalitarian" in Conservative Judaism, means that women can be counted in the minyan (a quorum of ten Jewish adults required in Judaism for public worship) since 1973.

For example, the Torah cannot be taken out during services without a minyan. Egalitarian synagogues can also have ordained women Rabbis, Cantors, educators, and gay and lesbian Rabbis. But just because a synagogue is egalitarian, does not mean all the men or women accept that. That's where there is a problem.

In my congregation, if a man or a woman prays using the names of the Matriarchs (Sarah, Rivkah, Raquel, Leah), eyes will roll. The Torah’s teachings are written mostly by men, about men. My Rabbi, who is super supportive of the women, allows me to deliver lessons on the Torah from a Feministic perspective. I've heard responses by men in my synagogue that we don't need to address the women, they are already assumed. What's that? If their roles are assumed, then why can't we talk about them? If you agree that God is both masculine and feminine, what's wrong with using feminine gender language when talking about God? I hear all the time that the masculine descriptions of God are gender neutral. What's wrong with including feminine descriptors for God as gender neutral then?

There are other traditions in Judaism that are considered for men only. Women are discouraged from participating in them, using the argument that women don't need these activities, because we are more spiritual than men – or that we are so busy at home that we are excused from these responsibilities. This is nothing more than men trying to keep us away, and we women have bought it.

Wearing tefilin (the black leather prayer boxes with leather straps, worn on the arm and head during weekday morning prayers) and tzit tzit are discouraged for women. I myself wear tefilin, use a prayer shawl, and have worn tzit tzit under my clothing. I am not concerned about the approval of others and I choose to express my faith in a way that makes me comfortable. I also caused a bit of a stir because I asked why women were not called upon during services to carry the Torah. So now I (and some other women) have been asked to carry the Torah. However, there are some men that will not touch and "kiss" the Torah if a woman is carrying it.

I recently started a women's Rosh Kodesh group to get more women into the synagogue for Rosh Kodesh morning services. Rosh Kodesh celebrates the New Moon and marks the new Jewish month – which is and has been traditionally a women's holiday, celebrated by women. Since the moon is feminine, this is only natural, but a lot of Jewish women have very little knowledge of or desire to continue the practices of Jewish women in ancient times. I also wanted us as a group to learn about and discuss the divine feminine within our own religious texts and customs. What surprises me is the apprehension and lack of interest by women to learn about and embrace the Divine Feminine. But I am not going to quit… I will continue to get more women interested, even if it's just a few of us. I have started a hand drumming / healing circle for women only – to connect with our inner God/dess and tap into Her healing energy. I have had gatherings at my home, and I am now planning to host them at my synagogue.

Other branches of Judaism, like the Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox, and Chasidic, are not egalitarian, and there is a great deal of inequality when it comes to women and their role within the religion. More and more women in Judaism are speaking out and demanding change. For example, in Israel, in certain neighborhoods and situations girls and women are spit on and harassed if they are not covered up enough (the rules on how girls and women are supposed to dress are enforced by men!) and have to sit in the back of some buses. A Jewish divorce in Israel cannot happen unless the man gives the woman a "get", and right now, only the man can initiate this. We still have much work ahead of us to bring about equality so that women are treated with the same respect as any other human being. But this is not going to happen if we women are not comfortable with our own Divine Feminine. We need to embrace Her ourselves first, and realize how important Her role is.

In Kabbalah (mystical Judaism) there is a concept called "Tikkun Olam" which alludes to repairing the world. It is my personal belief that true and complete Tikkun Olam cannot and will not occur until there is a balance of masculine and feminine energy in the world. Right now there seems to be a battle to destroy the Divine Feminine and all the beauty that is part of it. It should not be about one energy dominating over the other, both are necessary, and both have to work together, because both are equal halves of the One Whole. To hate and destroy the Divine Feminine, is to hate and destroy the One we all come from.

Our Jewish texts still have some feminine references to God. Some of the female prophetesses are mentioned – and the important roles the women had are still hinted at, as they could not suppress Her completely. She left a trail, and if you look deep enough, you will find Her. The Shekhinah is rising, and She will claim Her rightful place.

By Neorah Garcia, a selection from the upcoming Girl God Anthology, Whatever Works: Feminists of Faith Speak.

Celeste Gurevich, Whatever Works Contributor

Whatever Works is a unique collection of writing by feminists of diverse faiths from around the world. This anthology combines personal essays, poems and academic musings with the goal of sparking conversations among women of all faith backgrounds. Religion plays a key role in defining and maintaining value systems, and yet it is often disregarded within feminism itself. This book shares the stories of highly diverse women with the hope that we can find collective solutions to the global problems that plague women and girls living under patriarchy.
Available late March - pre-order here.

Neorah Garcia is a Jewish woman with French Canadian / Native American (Abenaki) roots and a Jewish Neshema (soul). She was born and raised a Catholic in the French Catholic Church in Manchester, New Hampshire and later raised her children as Protestant / Christian. A few months before the death of her daughter (at age 19 from Cystic Fibrosis) she started searching for God. With the help of her desktop computer (and very strong inner spiritual voice), something finally clicked and she found her new path in Judaism. Her daughter passed away on the morning before Passover, 14 Nissan (which was going to start that evening), and she knew that day that God was telling her something… that she was headed in the right direction. Her marriage ended and she converted to Judaism
nine years ago with the guidance of Conservative Rabbi, Stephen Leon. She later met her soul mate at her synagogue, and she has been happily married for the last eight years, and she is proud to say that her husband is a feminist too! She has a 27 year old son she is very proud of, and he stood by her side throughout all of her journey. She is an active member of a synagogue in El Paso, Texas and also serves as a Board Member. During the last two years she has become interested in the Divine Feminine/God/dess when she came across some CD's by Taya Shere, a Hebrew Priestess (Kohenet), and some articles by Rabbi Jill Hammer (also a Kohenet). She then discovered the Kohenet Institute (which she cofounded, along with Rabbi Jill Hammer) and the Hebrew Priestess path. In addition to currently studying with the Darshan Yeshiva to become an ordained "para Rabbi" and Jewish lay Chaplain, she is planning to study for the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess program.

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