Notes from one of a series of shiurim at Kol Nefesh on gender language in prayer
G-d Language in Reconstructionism
Rabbi Amy Klein
We All Stood Together
My brother and I were at Sinai
He kept a journal
of what he saw
of what he heard
of what it all meant to him
I wish I had such a record
of what happened to me there
It seems like every time I want to write
I'm always holding a baby
one of my own
or one for a friend
always holding a baby
so my hands are never free
to write things down
as time passes
the hard data
the who what when where why
slip away from me
and all I'm left with is
But feelings are just sounds
the vowel barking of a mute
My brother is so sure of what he heard
after all he's got a record of it
consonant after consonant after consonant
If we remembered it together
we could recreate holy time
Images of the Divine
Margaret Moers Wenig
(A Reform rabbi.)
God is a Woman and She is Growing Older.Not a comfortable image... but, as Kaplan put it: "It shouldn't be necessarily an issue of comfort but of what you feel it—your theology."
Moshe said to G-d, Behold, when I come to the Children of Israel, and shall say to them, The G-d of your fathers has sent me to you, and they say to me, What is His name, what shall I tell them? And G-d said to Moshe, אהיה אשר אהיה [I am what I am].An abstract G-d.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen. And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them. But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.A G-d of war.
Yalkut Shimoni, Isaiah 454
In the first three hours [of the day] the Holy Blessed One sits and studies Torah... What does G-d do in the fourth quarter [of the day]? Sits and teaches Torah in the house of the rabbis.A teaching G-d.
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 46a
When a human being is in pain, what does the Shechina say? My head aches, my arm aches!A sympathetic G-d.
Blessing on washing one's hands
Blessed are You, LORD our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us concerning the washing of the hands.A G-d of commandments.
Midrash Rabbah, Song of Songs 3:15
To what may the Tent of Meeting be compared? To a cave by the shore of the sea. The sea rushes in and floods the cave. Now the cave is filled, but the sea is no less full. Thus the Tent of Meeting was filled with the light of the Shechina [Divine presence], but the world contained no less of the Shechina than before.
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma 69b
For R. Yehoshua b. Levi said: Why were they called men of the Great Assembly? Because they stored the crown [of the divine attributes] to its ancient glory. [For] Moses came and said: The great, the mighty and the awesome G-d (Deuteronomy 10:17)׃ Then Jeremiah came and said: Foreigners are destroying His Temple. Where are His awesome deeds? He omitted [the attribute] "the awesome" [in his prayer (Jeremiah 32:17)]. Daniel came and said: Foreigners are enslaving his sons. Where are His mighty deeds? He omitted [the attribute] "the mighty" [in his prayer (Daniel 9:4)]. But they came and said: On the contrary! That is indeed the mightiness of His might—that He suppresses His wrath, that He metes out suffering to the wicked. And this is His awesomeness: If not for the fear of the Holy Blessed One, how could one [single] nation survive among the [many] nations! So how could our teachers [Jeremiah and Daniel] uproot something established by Moses? R. Eleazar said: Since they knew that the Holy Blessed One insists on truth, they would not ascribe falsities to Him.
Mordecai M. Kaplan
(The founder of Reconstructionist Judaism. 1881-1983.)
God is the Energy that Makes for Salvation.
Both immanent and transcendent. Human-?contract?control. Relate this to אהיה אשר אהיה (I am What I am).
The Meaning of Prayer
Tension between קֵוָה—fixed prayer—and כַּוָנָה [intention in prayer].
Historically the move [is] from spontaneous prayer to fixed prayer. This is a process—there are Talmudic debates about which words exactly are needed. Originally just the start and חתמיה [closing phrase of prayer, beginning "Blessed are You, LORD"] were fixed, and cantors would make up the intervening part.
Prayer was in development over the course of time, and got frozen. Reconstructionism holds that we have the right to unfreeze that and continue the evolution.
The essential idea of the Reconstructionist סידור [prayer-book] is to retain the traditional forms but to change them in ways that make sense to us today. For example, if Kaplan &c don't believe in a supernatural Creator, change the prayer from portraying G-d as Creator to us to trying to make the world a better place. [Kaplan writes about viewing Creation as an ongoing process and everyone doing their part in it.] Revelation is about objective morality; Redemption is about meaning in history.
So what about the traditional formula of G-d as King? If you don't believe in G-d as male, etc, as G-d as commander; if you believe the commandments come from humans, not above; there are substitutes, like השכינה, חי העולמים, רוח העולם, trying to get around the problem with both the gender and the theology. (See further below.)
Some Reconstructionists think this does not go far enough but for the sake of unity of קלל ישראל [the Jewish people] we "should not change the Hebrew, just the English." Others disagree. Think about integrity of the prayer [Kaplanites].
Tikva Frymer-Kensky suggests everywhere it says הוא ("he") &c;. [This sentence does not seem to be complete, sorry.] G-d is not only linguistically male but sociologically male—king, etc; many women find this alienating. This implies every male is in the image of G-d—invests the image of king &c with more power and status, leaving women out.
So what name would you use? Kaplan, though a religious feminist, did not address this issue.
Names for G-d without gendering the Deity
The Shechina, the Divine Presence, traditionally viewed as feminine. This has rabbinic precedents, but limited—abdicates transcendent aspect to the moral aspect. מלכת עולם. (Queen of the Universe)? Is this really going to gave people the same sense of transcendence?
Mix things? שכינה מלכת העולם? But this reinforces the separation above.
Or how about ה׳ מלכת העולם (ADONAY Queen of the Universe)? מלכת השמים (Queen of Heaven)? But the problem here is that this is referred to very negatively in Isaiah!
רַחֲמֵמָה (from רַחַם "womb", plus רחמים "mercy")—also could be reinforcing by taking away from ?man! [I.e. (if I've understood my scrawl correctly) a feminine aspect to G-d should not diminish there also being a male aspect.]
Or degender the Tetragrammaton? But again there is a danger of reinforcing gender separation stereotypes. R. Klein is in favour of a "morphed image"— G-d is the tree, the ?rnd, the king, the father, the mother, etc.
Marcia Falk said ה׳ מלך העולם [G-d, king of the Universe, found in a great many blessings] is a dead metaphor and became idolatrous, reinforcing the male image. She came up with עין החיים (Source of Life). But all names are partial. What do you do to G-d when we ?partialise Him? Alsoנברך את־ ... (let us bless...)—completely takes out the gender of the object.
She wants to break out of the traditional calling of the Divine Name.
Rabbi J. [can't make out my handwriting; could be Jan, Jane or Jason] Lipman (a post-modernist): The traditional form of "the G-d of my fathers, the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac and the G-d of Jacob", is actually post-modernist—each Patriarch relates to their own subjective experience of G-d.
Reconstructionist Prayer Book: כל הנשמה שבת וחגים
Many contemporary Jews are reciting ברכות/blessings in ways that reflect their theological outlooks and ethical concerns. At any place where a blessing occurs in the liturgy, the following elements can be combined to create alternative formulas for ברכות. This can be done by selecting one phrase from each group to form the introductory clause.
|I||ברוך אתה ה׳||Blessed are you, ADONAY|
|ברוכה את יה||Blessed are you*, Yah|
|נברך את||Let us bless|
|עין החיים||Source of Life|
|III||מלך העולם||Sovereign of all worlds|
|חי העולמים||Life of all the worlds|
|רוח העולם||Spirit of the world|
* Using the feminine form.
The Question of Authenticity
How do we define what is authentic? If it works it will become the next tradition and in a couple of generations no one will notice the difference. [lethargic_man: Yeah, right. Or within the bounds of Reconstructionism only, at best.]
Also how much is כלל ישראל [the unity of the Jewish people] important, and how important is it if the traditional words are a stumbling block to many.
Also, from where do you take your substitutes? Do you limit yourself to the תנ״ך (Bible)? The rabbinic literature? How about modern Hebrew? The revival of the language is itself giving honour to our ancestors.