Article in The Forward: Finding God — Who’s a She — at the Kohenet Institute

While leading a prayer session recently, on the eve of the Sabbath, surrounded by a small crowd of other Jews, Kohenet Sarah Chandler picked up her prayer book and prepared to pray.

But something was different. On the cover of her prayer book there was an illustration of a female figure, her body intertwined with two snakes, her arms spreading out like branches of a tree. Leaves sprouted from her head.

And then Chandler began praying, calling to God as a woman. “Blessed are you,” Chandler said, using the feminine conjugations of Hebrew words.

Chandler uses the title kohenet, or priestess, and she is a graduate of an institute that prepares women to become Jewish leaders. It is a modern reimagining of ancient spiritual roles for Jewish women, inspired by the stories of biblical matriarchs and ancient rites that proponents say were long forgotten, or suppressed, by rabbinic Judaism.

“This is about connecting to the divine feminine,” said Chandler, an alumna of the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute, a 10-year-old organization that seeks to reimagine religious ritual and female roles in Jewish life. “We are investigating feminine styles of Jewish leadership.”

Article in the Forward: Maiden, Prophetess or Weaver: What Kind of Hebrew Priestess Are You?

The Kohenet Institute ordains Hebrew priestesses, drawing from the Goddess Judaism movement, which seeks to rethink Jewish prayer through a feminine lens.

Priestesses have their choice of many paths. At the completion of their three-year-course, women select the feminine archetype most fitting to their personality to inform and inspire their vocation.

Here are descriptions of several; for more, see the institute’s full course description.

The Maiden

According to the institute, the Maiden is the “archetype of presence, embodiment, action, dance, joy and fellowship.”

The Maiden has appeared throughout Jewish tales, the institute writes on their website: for example, as Rebekah, the “zealous and kind girl who draws water for a stranger and his camels,” and as Miriam.

She appears as the maidens “who dance at the sacred shrine of Shiloh to celebrate the harvest.” Maidens bring “the gifts of passion, commitment, and courage.

Article in Religion News Service: Jewish priestess movement seeks to reclaim the divine feminine

DURHAM, N.C. (RNS) The first time Rinah Rachel Galper attended a service led by a group called the Hebrew 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.

Rinah Rachel Galper, an ordained Jewish priestess, stands outside her home in Durham, N.C. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron

“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

We Need You, Priestessing: Rabbi Jill Hammer and Taya Shere’s The Hebrew Priestess

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A few years ago, I attended a contemplative Rosh Hashanah service. Overall it was beautiful: lots of chanting and meditation, none of the rote prayers I’d encountered at other temples. I was several years into my long hiatus from Witchcraft–a hiatus I thought was permanent–and I began to wonder if I’d perhaps finally found a spiritual community I’d feel comfortable in. But my hopes were dashed when it came time for the Torah service.

When the Torah scroll was taken from the ark, the congregation didn’t just kiss it as others do. They put on music and danced with it. The facilitator handed it off to one congregant at a time, and everyone had a chance to cradle it in their arms and twirl. I looked on, suddenly uncomfortable. Every Jew knows the famous Hillel quote: “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellows; that is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary.” And yet every time I opened to a random page of my little copy of the Tanakh, I encountered violence, misogyny, and divinely sanctioned aggression. Of course it’s accepted that we don’t read the Torah literally, but even the most radical interpretations left me wondering how much one can reinterpret a text before admitting that that text simply isn’t useful. To dance with the Torah scroll seemed to be an unmitigated expression of joy at its contents–and I didn’t feel that joy. The Torah contains a lot of wisdom and beauty, yes. But so much of it fills me with anger and sadness. So much of Judaism makes me feel like an outsider.

Article in Kerem: "The Prophetess as Priestess: Women, Revelation, and the Sacred" by Jill Hammer and Taya Shere

In the fall of 2011 I dreamed I was giving a lecture on the Bible — something I frequently do in waking life. In the dream, I was telling the participants in the class about the missing letters in the Bible, pointing to a chart of letters that did not exist but had once existed, and somehow still did exist in their latent potential within the biblical stories. One of the letters had the sound ng, and I wanted to name myself after this letter. When I woke up, I had the sense that the dream was somehow real. 

Kohanot at the Parliament of World Religions 2015!

Kohenet Rae Abileah and Kohenet Sarah Bracha Gershuny attended the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah in October, 2015. They co-led a tashlich l'tzedek ritual with several members of Jewish Voice for Peace -- about the ritual in this blog. Rae spoke on a panel of priestesses about the role of a Kohenet and how she heard the calling to become a Hebrew priestess. Sarah Bracha and Rae invited participants to make ribbons to send to Paris for the Climate Ribbon art ritual at the UN Climate Summit. Read more in Rae's article about the Parliament, "What do you love and hope to never lose to climate change?" published on Patheos.

Book Review of The Hebrew Priestess by Judith Laura

The authors’ introductions to The Hebrew Priestess are just the beginning of the treasures in this bookBoth introductions tell of the authors’ journeys to the priestess path and their co-founding of the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute, which now has chapters on both the East and West Coasts of the United States.