The purpose of this book is not only to uncover a lost history, but also to justify and spark the rebirth of the kohenet or Hebrew priestess. The primary author of The Hebrew Priestess, Jill Hammer, is an ordained rabbi in Conservative Judaism. Well-versed in the Bible, midrashic commentary, and kabbalistic speculation, Hammer is in an excellent position to uncover the lost and suppressed histories of Hebrew priestesses. Although as a rabbi, she loves to study and interpret Hebrew texts, Hammer also longs for a more ecstatic and emotional form of Jewish spiritual leadership—one that foregrounds ritual, intuition, embodiment, music, dance, guided meditation, dream interpretation, female symbolism, and connection to nature. She finds evidence of these forms of women’s spiritual leadership in the Bible, in midrash, and in the history of the Jewish people. Hammer offers guided meditations and co-author, Taya Shere, provides suggestions for sacred practice at the end of each chapter, encouraging readers to embody historical information in their own lives. Together, Hammer and Shere founded the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute which guides women through a three-year process culminating in their being initiated as Hebrew priestesses. In Chapters 1 and 2 of the book, Hammer provides a brief history of Hebrew priestesses and the Hebrew Goddess. She states that these two themes are interwined, as the priestess and the Goddess are mirror images of each other. Acknowledging that the word kohenet, the feminine of kohen or priest, does not exist in the Hebrew Bible, Hammer nonetheless asks whether founding mothers Zipporah and Miriam, as well as Deborah the Judge, unnamed women who perform the roles of wailing women, wise women, and sacred drummers and dancers, and others, might be considered Hebrew priestesses. She speculates that once widespread roles of Hebrew priestesses were relegated to the sidelines and eventually lost in a long process in which the priesthood was restricted to men. In Chapter 2, Hammer considers the ‘possibility of gender multiplicity in the Godhead’ in the use of the plural Elohim in the first Genesis creation story (p. 31). She affirms the women who baked cakes to the Queen of Heaven and who worshipped the Goddess Asherah as a living or symbolic tree. She notes that later ‘Jewish ritual hints at the Goddess even as it erases Her’ (p. 39) in images of the Torah and Shekinah as female and of the Sabbath bride. Subsequent chapters discuss the Hebrew priestess under the rubric of 13 archetypes: Weaver, Prophetess, Shrinekeeper, Witch, Maiden, Mother, Queen, Midwife, Wise-Woman, Mourning-Woman, Seeker, Lover, and Fool. Hammer uses these archetypes to organise historical evidence in Chapters 3–15. As these chapters do not contain detailed exegesis of every passage discussed, scholars may consider some of Hammer’s assertions insufficiently proved. Taken as a whole, however, the evidence raises compelling questions about women’s spiritual leadership in Jewish history. In Chapter 16, the archetypes are used to suggest the different paths that might be taken by today’s Hebrew priestesses in the communities they serve. The Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute has one foot in women’s spirituality, Goddess feminism, and the New Age movement, while firmly planting the other in the Jewish tradition. The women who become Hebrew priestesses have varying degrees of commitment to existing Jewish denominations and communities. Their goal is not to ‘fit themselves in’ to Judaism as it is, but to create a renewed and transformed Judaism where women spiritual leaders do not have to adapt their gifts to pre-established roles and in which the Hebrew Goddess can be freely and openly acknowledged. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press 2018; all rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: email@example.com
Literature and Theology – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 12, 2018
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