Claiming the Title Kohenet: Examining Goddess Judaism and the Role of the Priestess Through Conversations with Contemporary Spiritual Leaders
Among the most exciting areas in both feminist spirituality discourse and Jewish religious practice are the reemergence of Jewish priestesses, kohanot, and the formation of a small, growing movement called Goddess Judaism, a term coined by Jenny Kien, author of Reinstating the Divine Woman in Judaism (2000). I include this worship of the Sacred Feminine as a key part of this piece because I have found that the role of a Jewish priestess is only supported by groups when the Sacred Feminine is revered and held as part of our concept of deity. In what can only be a brief overview of a rich and broad subject, this paper addresses some of the new research into the presence of goddess worship, and its ritual functionaries, among Semitic peoples in the Ancient Near East, ranging from the Fertile Crescent to Canaan to Carthage. I also discuss contemporary goddess feminism and new practices combining Judaism with feminist spirituality, as forms of both worship and resistance to prescribed roles in a traditional religion. This resistance—and a creative insistence on egalitarian inclusion—manifests in debates around public worship by women’s prayer groups in Israel, and can be seen in the growing number of women rabbis and others taking spiritual leadership roles in the United States. I also look at women-centered midrashim–reinterpretations of canonical and apocryphal legends; empowerment of Jewish women’s personal and religious lives through creation of new rituals, and writing of new liturgy and sacred texts. Finally, I look at how women have incorporated the Sacred Feminine into their spiritual practices within existing Jewish frameworks, as well as the ways they handle opposition and derision of their ideas and practices. The paper will conclude with an assessment of shifts in consciousness in the Academy and the community brought about by this movement, and its impact on the liturgy and services of traditional religious institutions.
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