She Who Dwells Within: Feminist Vision of a Renewed Judaism, A

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9780060632922: She Who Dwells Within: Feminist Vision of a Renewed Judaism, A

A high-spirited woman rabbi assesses contemporary Judaism and breathes new life into classic tradition by drawing on Jewish, feminist, ecological and Native American sources.

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Chapter OneThe Forbidden Fruits of Winter 1975

I remember the first time She called me. I was hunched over the Talmudic tractate called Ketubot (Marriage Contracts) in the Jewish Theological Seminary library, trying to decipher rabbinic conversations about girls not yet menstruating who must engage in sexual intercourse to consummate a marriage. How soon after the first time may intercourse be repeated? After four days, says one. Till the wound heals, says another. Not until the following Shabbat, counters yet another rabbinic sage. I once asked Dr. Francus, who graciously let me attend his class in Talmud when no women were as yet admitted to JTS's rabbinic program, whether he thought the sages consulted women on this subject. He stared at me blankly.

I glanced hopefully out the window. Twilight tinged the horizons, heralding the hour of my release. I swept up the heavy volumes of rabbinic commentary and sailed down the stairs out into the city. A modern sculpture of the burning bush suspended over the entrance to the seminary declared words of revelation: "And the bush was not consumed.' Yellow and red city lights cloaked the iron leaves in a thick urban haze. I swung around, inhaled deeply, and set out toward Union Theological Seminary, where the New York Feminist Scholars in Religion were meeting to discuss their personal relationship with the Goddess. My anxiety level soared. A battery of biblical taboos pounded in my head. "You shall have no other gods before Me! Don't even try to find out about other gods. The practices of other nations are perversions.'

Yet just as the biblical character Dinah ventured forth, I felt compelled to "go out and meet the women of the land," even though I feared the encounter. I found myself opposite the granite towers of Union Theological Seminary, which stands like a medieval castle on the banks of the Hudson River. I skirted the main entrance and hurried to the north side of the building, where other members of the group clustered around a small wooden door like bees at a hive. Bev Harrison, a Christian feminist and professor of theology at Union, ushered us into a lounge, where we sipped tea and chatted.

When Bev called us to order, the familiar pounding heart thundered inside me. The all-woman group was composed of the vanguard of Christian and post-Christian feminist scholars and three Jews: Ellen Umansky, Judith Plaskow, and myself. 1, the fledgling feminist, asked myself what I was doing there.

Carol Christ in particular epitomized my notion of the post-Christian pagan woman. Tall, blond, and beautiful, Carol resembled the nude statue of the Goddess Diana in the Metropolitan Museum. Sinewy and graceful, Diana aims her arrow with precision, her nakedness untamed and free, like the virgin forests she inhabits. Carol similarly evoked a physical and psychic freedom that both excited and panicked me.

That evening Carol spoke lovingly of the Goddess in her life and the reasons she needed her. She had rejected God for the Goddess.

I resisted and scurried into an imaginative corner, where the aged Dr. Elk reminded me that the righteous Abraham smashed his father's idols, and Rachel died for hiding female statues under her skirts. Clothed in his faded brown suit, submerged in leather-bound books stacked in formless piles against the walls of his tiny, windowless office in Haifa, Dr. Elk waved a Bible in our faces and told us to open our texts to the first page. I was one of his pupils in 1966, when I spent seven months in Israel as a high school exchange student.

"Genesis, chapter one, was written in order to demythologize the gods of the ancient Near East. In the Bible, gods and goddess are reduced to natural phenomena under the control of God.' He gave us the example of Tiamat, who appears in the Assyrian creation tale as mother of the gods and the fearsome opponent of the sun god, Marduk. In Genesis she is converted into the primordial abyss called Tehom. Dr. Elk taught us that unlike Asherah, El, Baal, Mot, and Anat, the gods of the Canaanites, YHVH Elohim did not fight or fornicate. He had no opponents, because He was the one true transcendent being. Dr. Elk viewed paganism as a primitive and superstitious religion and Judaism as rational and prophetic. Pagans were slaves to the whims of childish gods, while the Israelites could depend on YHVH's consistency. Paganism promoted lewdness, while Judaism upheld moral conduct; pagans were chained to endlessly repetitive cycles of nature, while the Israelites were freed by YHVH's redemptive character to enter history.

I looked at Carol and realized I had missed most of her conversation.

Sheila Collins, who was present that evening, represented for me at the time those feminists who accuse the ancient Hebrews of dismantling Goddess religions. I am still troubled by the persistence of this belief among many feminists.

Sheila's portrayal of Jews in her book A Different Heaven and Earth, intimates theacide by the Hebrews and echoes the traditional Christian polemic that the Jews murdered Jesus. This perspective had caused much resentment between the Jewish and Christian women at the previous meeting, and it had not yet been resolved. Sheila's view of early

Review:

"As the prayers, guided meditations, and rituals that Lynn has included in "She Who Dwells Within "so amply demonstrate, Lynn's greatest spiritual gift is her ablility to awaken within others an awareness of divine presence...."She Who Dwells Within "invites the reader to share Lynn's courage and commitment to a Judaism that will replenish both our souls and the world with justice, righteousness, and compassion."--"from the forward by "Ellen M. Umansky""She Who Dwells Within "can be expected to trigger debate and generate controversy--a necessary process if Jews are to struggle effectively, honestly, and openly for ethically mandated changes in Jewish spiritual and communal life."--Aviva Cantor, author of "Jewish Women/Jewish Men"

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