taya shere

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 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


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. 

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.