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Most Jewish people are familiar with the name “Adonai” for G!d/dess in Judaism, and maybe even Hashem.
But Judaism offers us so many G!d/dess names to help us build relationships with the Divine. Because mainstream Judaism is so heavily focused on the masculine side of the Divine, I’ll be focusing on Femme names, and one that I strongly believe is non-binary name of G!d/dess and another I believe to be trans.
Questions for you, as you explore these names
- What questions do they raise for you?
- Which resonate with you, which challenge you, which you use, which you wouldn’t?
- How/why/where you would choose to use different names?
- As you play with these names, along with your default G!d/dess name how does it change your relationship with the Divine?
- What ideas for practices using these or other names of the Divine come to mind?
Did I miss a name that you love? Let me know!
The name “Shekhinah” is one of the most commonly known names of Divine Feminine in Judaism. While the word does not appear in the Tanakh, it shares the same root word as Mishkan ( משכן) – the dwelling place of the Divine in the Torah (aka the Tabernacle). While the word was not found in the Tanakh, there are many references to the “presence” of the Divine in the Torah, Prophets, and other writing.⠀
The use of Shekhinah goes back as far as the Targum (~1 Century CE) and the is found repeatedly in the Talmud (~5th Century CE), although the foundations for it being incorporated into mainstream liturgy were laid by Issac Luria and the kabbalists of the 16th Century CE.⠀
According to the Talmud, the Shekhinah, the Indwelling, is the Divine that resides within the life of the world, dwelling on earth with the Jewish people and going into exile with them when they are exiled. While the traditional Jewish image of the transcendent God is male, in the kabbalah, that image has been accompanied by the feminine image of the Shekhinah—the inner glory of existence.Rav Kohenet Rabbi Jill Hammer via Telshmesh.org
The word itself is a feminine gendered word, and the kabbalists are the ones who popularized Shekhinah as a feminine aspect of the Divine in Judaism, and associated it with the sephira of Malkhut.
El Shaddai (אל שדי)
El Shaddai (אל שדי) appears many, many times in the Tanakh – beginning with Genesis 17:1. It is the name most commonly used in reference to nurturing, fertility, and abundance. While most often translated “God Almighty,” the word Shaddai is directly related to the Hebrew word for breast (שד) or breasts (שדיים).
The name is used with both words, and commonly on birth amulets as just Shaddai, and is said to be an acronym for Guardian of the Doorways of Yisrael.
As the name has both feminine (Shaddai) and masculine (El) aspects, it is also possible to understand it as a non-binary name of the Divine. Both parts of the name are also used independently El and Shaddai, which adds to the non-binary/fluid nature of the name for me.
Immah Ilaah (אמא עילאה)
Immah Ilaah (אמא עילאה) (eemah eelahah) is the Supreme Mother, The Supernal Mother, or the Cosmic Mother. This name comes out of the teachings of kabbalah, a mystical branch of Judaism started in approximately the 12-15th Century CE.
In the Zohar, there are multiple feminine God-images, such as Binah (understanding), also known as Immah Ilaah (the higher mother), who is called the womb and palace of creation, the fountain of understanding, the well of souls.Rav Kohenet, Rabbi Jill Hammer via Telshemesh.org
The name corresponds to the sefira of Binah, also coming from the teachings of kabbalah.
I think of this as the “Cosmic Mother,” and it’s the name I use most often when prayin gthe Shema these days. I just replace “Adonai” with Immah Ilaah.
Tzimtzimai (צימצמאי) is a name of the Divine that appears only once in the scripture, and is found in the Talmud (Shabbat 63a).
In the Kohenet community, this is a commonly used name of the Divine. We generally translate it as “She Who Makes Space,” as the name is directly connected to the word TzimTzum – the Divine contraction that made space for creation. But the more I listen to Carlo Rovelli’s
This is one of my most commonly used God/dess names. Maybe I use this name so often because I’m an introvert and having enough space is nearly an omnipresent thought for me, or maybe because I often feel like Hermione in Harry Potter needing a “time turner” to make space for all I want to do. Who knows. But it’s the face of God/dess I turn to very, very often.
The term haMakom simply means “the place,” but it is also used as a Divine name. This stems from three places in the Torah. The first is B’reisheit (Genesis) 22:4, which is part of the parsha known as the Akeda – the sacrifice of Issac.
On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar.
(ביום השלישׁי וישא אברהם את־עיניו וירא את־המקום מרחק)
That’s right – three days into traveling to where he agreed to murder his son in the name of the Divine – he looks up and sees haMakom from afar. It’s literally the mountain, but let’s have some fun with switching up that meaning. And think about how Abraham should have gotten some of that same fighting spirit he had for Sodom and Gomorrah about now…
And please notice the use of et-haMakom (את־המקום) in the Hebrew. See my next Divine Names post for details on the significance of “et.”
Next up is B’resheit (Genesis) 28:16 – where Jacob dreams of the ladder from Sky to Earth with angels going up and down. After seeing this and getting an epic pronouncement from God/dess – Jacob says:
Surely the Eternal is present in this place, and I did not know it!
( אכן ישׁ יהוה במקום הזה ,ואנכי לא ידעתי)
And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them
(ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם)
But what the Hebrew literally says is “dwell within them.” So The Place that God/dess resides is within us. Bonus prizes to anyone who also caught the word shekhanti (שכנתי), which has the same root as Shekhinah – In-dwelling Presence.
As soon as you start using this as a feminine-face/name of the Divine, someone will feel the need to tell you that technically it’s a masculine name. Right. The word is officially masculine, except that it’s conjugated in feminine forms. Nothing odd there, just another transgender face of the Divine. I guess in this case maybe it’s transmale, since it started with a feminine appearance but is presenting as masculine?
Et (את) is an untranslatable word that signifies specificity in Hebrew grammar. Technically it’s called an “accusative marker,” but it’s easier to think of it as adding emphasis. So not just “the place” but “this here place” – at least that’s how someone explained it to me years ago, and it made sense.
More important is that the Zohar teaches that את, which contains the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, is the Shekhinah hiding in plain sight throughout the Torah and all the Tanakh. These same letters with a different pronunciation also mean YOU (f) in Hebrew.
I’ve started thinking of this as the “She Persisted” of Jewish Divine Feminine Names. They tried to tell us God/dess was male and that male is “normal” and everything else is other. But yet — She persisted — She hid in the text and in all language.
Eitz Chaim (עץ־חיים)
I grew up singing the song
“It is a tree of life to them who hold fast to it
and all of its supporters are happy.
It is a tree of life to them who hold fast to it
and all of its supporters are happy.
Shalom. Shalom. Shalom. Shalom.”
When I entered my Kohenet training, and started working more on my Hebrew proficiency – I learned that that’s not what the Hebrew says. It says “She is a tree of life…” Funny how it’s always “it” if the gender of the words is feminine, but HE if the gender is masculine.
Literally the Hebrew says “She is a tree of life” (עֵץ־חַיִּ֣ים הִ֭יא) – the last word of the Hebrew there is היא (hee) – that means “she” in Hebrew.
Eitz Chai’yim is one of the oldest and most sacred of Divine Feminine names and concepts. The Menorah is a tree. The Torah is made from trees.
Don’t insult the Divine by singing “It is a tree of life” anymore — sing “SHE is a Tree of Life” with pride.
She is a tree of life to those who grasp her, And whoever holds on to her is happy.
(עֵץ־חַיִּ֣ים הִ֭יא לַמַּחֲזִיקִ֣ים בָּ֑הּ וְֽתֹמְכֶ֥יהָ מְאֻשָּֽׁר)
Wisdom seems to be, in Proverbs, either a feminine aspect of the Divine or a Divine being that partners with God/dess. And regardless of the original intent — isn’t invoking the Divine as “Wisdom” a good idea, when you need it?
The LORD founded the earth by wisdom;
(יְֽהוָ֗ה בְּחָכְמָ֥ה יָֽסַד־אָ֑רֶץ)
In Gnostic practices, Wisdom is called Sophia, but in we can use the word Chachama (חָכְמָ֥ה), which is Feminine form of the Hebrew word for wisdom. Looking into how the Gnostics understand Jewish “Wisdom,” I found this:
She was the creative, organizing, energizing aspect of the godhead, and she was the dispenser of ethical and practical advice. (http://gnosis.org/thomasbook/ch27.html).
The goldmine is Proverbs 8:12-31. Here’s just a taste:
“I, Wisdom, live with Prudence; I attain knowledge and foresight.
(אני־חכמה שכנתי ערמה ודעת מזמות אמצא)
That is the opening line of this section — and yes, Wisdom is female here. There’s no stretching, bending, or interpreting – אני־חכמה – I Wisdom (f).
8:22-31 are really the treasure. Seriously — go read it.
Tehomot (תְּהֹמ֥וֹת) / Tehom – The Depths
where deep calls to deep
(תהום אל תהום קורא)
Tehomot is the Depths. The name is found as Tehom (תהום) in the Psalms (42:8), and is seen as Toho v’Vohu in the first words of B’resheit (Genesis).
From the Deep, I call to you
From the Deep, I call to you
From the Deep, I call to you….
Raphael Patai and others have correlated Tehom/Tehomot with “Mother Tiamat,” an ancient near-east goddess of the deep. Just like Judaism incorporated the Canaanite god El (אל), here we see the incorporation and sublimation of Tiamat into Tehomot and other guises in Judaism.
He heaps up the ocean waters like a mound, stores the deep in vaults.
(כֹּנֵ֣ס כַּ֭נֵּד מֵ֣י הַיָּ֑ם נֹתֵ֖ן בְּאֹצָר֣וֹת תְּהוֹמֽוֹת)
I propose, and I’m not alone, that we reclaim Tehomot as a name of Divine Feminine in Judaism. Calling to the Divine not above, but below — in the darkest depths. Maybe that that’s the depths within ourselves, and maybe that’s the deepest trenches of the earth and oceans.
Kol Isha (קול אישה)
This term means “woman’s voice.” It has, mistakenly, been used as a pejorative. It has been used as a term to silence women, to say that we should not be heard. That men cannot hear a woman’s voice during prayer, or they will some how be sullied.
Let’s just say that a woman’s voice is “sexually stimulating” to me… so what. Wouldn’t the same be true for a man’s voice to a woman? Are men so weak that they can’t even hear a woman’s voice without getting a hard on or have porn fantasies play out in their minds?
This is an actual Rabbi’s response on this issue:
“But, you ask: Why should women suffer restrictions simply because men can’t control themselves? The answer is that we are all in this together. We all have to do our share and help each other out. Believe me, it is ultimately to women’s advantage to keep things from getting out of control. It serves both men and women to avoid situations which lead to promiscuity.” (http://www.aish.com/atr/Kol_Isha.html)
Yeah. Okay. How about we stop raising weak men who ONLY think of women in sexual ways? Right? We’re not talking about women who are intentionally singing in a way intended to arouse. We’re talking about women singing the same prayers as a man is singing.
Let’s reclaim this term and hold it as a name of the Divine Feminine. Let’s acknowledge it for what it means. That a woman’s voice is POWERFUL. That clearly it must be Divine and a voice of the Divine and a way of invoking the Divine that is so powerful that you must use it carefully and with great intent. That it is “nakedness” in the sense of emotional vulnerability, which as the great 21st Century sage Brené Brown teaches us, is where true strength comes from.
Let’s invoke the sacred name of Kol Isha when we want to call on strength coming from vulnerability. This is not some “essentialist” gender thing, I don’t for a second believe that it’s an inherent part of “womanhood.” Reclaiming vulnerability and emotional nakedness as the starting point of strength is for all genders – female, male, trans, non-binary. Let’s all claim the name of G!d/dess to bring on and bring out out this power – Kol Isha.
For those curious, here is are more articles on the halachah (Jewish “law”)of Kol Isha:
The Metrona or Metronit is a name I was first taught by Rav Jill Hammer. In the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism it says that it is one of the names favored for the Divine by Moses de Leon, the writer of the Zohar. The word simply means “lady,” but I think of it as Matron, and often associate it with the Gevurah (Queen-mother) path of priesting in the Kohenet tradition.
Apparently popular during the medieval era, she was seen as a figure of “divine comfort.”
This aspect of the Divine is very similar to me to the Malkah (that we’ll cover soon), but not a “Queen.” But I see it more as a Matron, a Matriarch, a well positioned woman who works to help those around her – but those people are not her “subjects.” It is an earned rather than an inherited position, and assumes a level of beneficence and communal engagement.
That is the difference from a “Queen,” who generally inherits the position and has different level of expectation from her people, which would be “subjects.”
A perfect example of the Matrona embodied in human form, is Doña Gracia Nasi. She was one of the most powerful women of the Renaissance – a Jewish woman who protected and enhanced her community when/where ever she could. If you’ve never heard of her – google her then get this book: The Woman Who Defied Kings: The Life and Times of Dona Gracia Nasi.
If you want a little more on this: http://bit.ly/2wsm1Me
In a nutshell: BOSS