Jewish Priestess Movement Seeks to Reclaim the Divine Feminine |

TBC Staff


The first time Rinah Rachel Galper attended a service led by a group called theHebrew Priestess Institute, she felt bewildered.

Unlike in traditional services, the group sat in a circle. One woman began beating a drum, her rhythms gradually building in intensity. Others got up to dance. In the center of the room stood an altar adorned with a copper bowl and photos of women’s ancestors. God was referred to in the feminine. During one part of the service, women wandered outdoors. Some even kneeled and touched the ground as they prayed.

“I had no idea what this was,” said Galper, a Montessori schoolteacher who lives in Durham. “It did not match the Jewish experience I had. Part of me wanted to call it heresy. But part of me knew there was something real and true about it.”

Since that first experience, Galper, 54, has gone to become an ordained Kohenet or Jewish priestess. She leads a weekly Shabbat service in her home for a group of non-Zionist Jews and next month will start an online training program for women seeking to be ordained as Jewish storytellers and spiritual guides.

While male priests called Kohanim performed the temple rituals in ancient Israel, there is no formal role in Jewish tradition for a priestess. In fact, the word does not appear in the Hebrew Bible. But a new movement is attempting to reimagine the role of a holy woman, an intermediary between the human and the divine who is part prophet, liturgist, shaman.

For inspiration, this Jewish priestess movement looks to biblical women such as Miriam, Moses’ sister, who drums and sings, and Deborah, the judge who held court beneath a palm tree.

It also embraces those ancient Israelite women who worshipped fertility goddesses condemned by the prophets, as well as modern teachings from various Earth-based religions with their healers and ritualists.

For co-founders Hammer and Shere, Israelite and Near Eastern texts are rife with examples of women serving as priestess, whether formally, in non-Israelite societies, or informally in proto-Jewish circles.

But whether goddess worship existed in ancient Israelite society is hard to know, said Jodi Magness, an archaeologist and professor of early Judaism at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

While the Hebrew Bible makes references to devotees of Asherath, which some scholars believe was a female consort to the God of Israel, it does not seem likely a female priesthood conducted that cult, since men would have worshipped her, too.

“Could it be that there existed some worship of female deities and women had a greater roles in ancient societies than we have evidence for?” asked Magness.

“It’s possible,” she said. “But this idea of female-driven society with female goddess and female priestesses serving them, I don’t know of anybody who thinks that’s the case.”

(Yonat Shimron, “Jewish priestess movement seeks to reclaim the divine feminine,” Religion News Service, 10/11/16).

[TBC: The issue here is not confined to the biblical roles given men and women. Rather, men and women, deceived by the temporal and often illusory status they may gain in the world, have forfeited fulfillment of their special and pivotal place in God's plan. It's so easy to exchange the truth for a lie.]