God Language and Liturgy

Jewish feminists imagine and address God in a multiplicity of ways, both innovative and traditional.

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We Seek the Inclusive One

Inclusivity: This has been a focus of our feminist vision. And unity a focus of our feminist‑Jewish theology. But we are also conscious of our particular story, our journey as part of the community of Israel, as the unwritten half of Jewish history. As feminist Jews, most of us yearn deeply for historical and communal Jewish connections. And so we try, when writing new prayers and creating new ceremonies, to weave them out of Jewish material, the Jewish themes that have nurtured us, the Jewish principles that have guided us, the Jewish structures that have become familiar to us and have made us feel at home.

Contrary to the perception held by some who see us only at the greatest distance--a distance which is most often self‑imposed--the truth is that feminist Jews want in, into the tradition, not out. As women--the half of humanity most often viewed as "other" in tradition--we have learned that denial of one's identity is a fruitless and suicidal act. We have learned to take the externally‑imposed view of ourselves as "other" and replace it with a self-embracing self. So as feminist Jews, we do not reject Jewish tradition, for we recognize that we come from it: we are it. Instead, we claim our right to the tradition, our right not just to participate in it as we receive it but to create the terms of participation. Our right not just to have our foremothers included in the prayers, but to have their images, our images, reflected in the God to whom (or to which) we pray. Our right not just to own Judaism, but to make it our own.

And so feminist‑Jewish prayer takes many forms, and our words have been varied and various; tentative, courageous, experimental, poetic, prosaic, moving, moving on. My own efforts to create prayer have emerged out of a conjunction of personal desire and community support. I have needed new prayers and I have felt needed. So I write.

Words, Names, Souls, Truths

Recently I was asked to create a blessing for the sixtieth birthday of a Jewish woman who wanted to affirm her stage of life in a Jewish context. She chose to take on a new name--as Abram and Sarai chose to take on new names when they entered a new phase of their lives--a name to signify a new passage, a new aspect of her identity. So I began thinking about names, about how important they have been in Jewish tradition; how we remember our foregoers by their names; how a soul without a name is forgotten; how the many names of Divinity have been repressed, just as women's identities have been repressed and erased from our collective memory. And I decided to celebrate the Divinity in all our names, in all our holy namings. To bless, to sing with human breath, the heart, the soul of all names. For in Hebrew, the soul (n'shamah) is connected to breathing (n'shimah). And in Hebrew liturgical tradition, the soul of every living being (nishmat kol hay) blesses God. Yes, and the relationship is reciprocal: Divinity inheres in, and thus blesses, the soul of all living things, the soul in every name and the names of our beings. And as Divinity blesses us with the power of naming, so we sing:

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Marcia Falk

Marcia Falk is a poet, translator, and Judaic scholar. She is the author of The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival.