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Seeking the Sacred Feminine

May 9, 2009 | by Aliza Bulow

The Da Vinci Code gets Judaism's view of the Sacred Feminine all wrong.

In The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown tarnishes Judaism with the same stroke that he dismisses Christianity and Islam for their repression of women and of the Sacred Feminine.


"The propaganda and bloodshed [of the church] had worked. Today's world was living proof. Women, once celebrated as an essential half of spiritual enlightenment, had been banished from the temples of the world. There were no female Orthodox rabbis, Catholic priests, nor Islamic clerics. The once hallowed act of Hieros Gamos -- the natural sexual union between man and woman through which each became spiritually whole -- had been recast as a shameful act." (p. 134-5)


His thin reasoning goes like this: if Orthodox Jews do not ordain women, they must vilify them, disregard their sacred potential and view them as temptresses to be suppressed.

Jewish women are the core of the Jewish world, the foundational pillar of Jewish practice.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In Judaism, women -- married or not -- are the high priestesses of the most sacred place of worship and practice, the home. They are the core of the Jewish world, the foundational pillar of Jewish practice. It is they who are entrusted with the communication of fundamental beliefs, truths and education to the next generation during its most vulnerable and formative years.

It is in their hands that the observance of kashrut is primarily placed. Today's essential practice of mikveh is their sole domain. They create the environment of Shabbat, and through their modesty (tzniut -- the practice of quieting the voice of the physical so that the voice of the spiritual can be heard) they shape the environment of the entire community. Our sages tell us that "in the merit of righteous women we were redeemed from Egypt, and in the merit of righteous women our future redemption will come." Judaism holds women, and their spiritual power, in the very highest regard.

Unfortunately there are some Jews who have absorbed negative attitudes about women from other societies. This does not make their opinion valid, and definitely doesn't make it Jewish.

Masculine and Feminine Energy

Judaism is replete with the Sacred Feminine, no less than the Sacred Masculine. In order to understand this, it is necessary to delve into the nature of the feminine and the masculine. Men and women have both masculine and feminine energy within them. It is like speaking about one's dominant hand. [1] Most of us use two hands, but one hand is generally dominant. So, too, with the masculine and feminine energies; while both genders have two energies within, one is usually dominant. The feminine is most often dominant in females, the masculine, most often dominant in males.

Both energies are necessary to make a complete human being and both energies are necessary to make a complete human society. In fact, both energies are necessary to make anything complete.

Masculine energy is that of giving. [2] It is a causative agent that inspires and offers the raw materials for a project. Whether it is the initial flash of a thought, or the rain and the glow of the sun, or the genetic material encased in a seed, it is the energy that is necessary to start off a project, to create the impetus, to give direction.

The feminine energy is that of receiving and expanding. It is the energy that makes things happen, that concretizes and transforms potential into reality. It takes time to process; it is often difficult and sometimes requires overcoming obstacles.

The result of the combination of these two energies is a synergy that is greater than the components of either. This energy pattern, found in every aspect of life, is most easily identifiable in the birth process. The father gives, the mother receives and expands upon over time, the synergy is the baby, which is neither the "gift" nor the "expansion" but greater than both and impossible without either. [3]

God is whole and above division. He is neither masculine nor feminine.

God is whole, unlimited, omnipresent. He is above division. So God is neither masculine nor feminine, both being subsets of a whole. The Tetragrammaton, the holiest name of God, contains within it both the masculine and the feminine. In Hebrew, it is spelled yud hey vav and hey. It is only pronounced by the high priest in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. We substitute "Hashem" (meaning "the name") or Adon-ai when we read it.

The name is full of meaning, including the blend of the Hebrew words for past, present and future since God is above time. In addition, the letters themselves show us something very deep. Our Sages teach us that the world was created through the medium of the letters of the Hebrew aleph-bet. Specifically, the celestial world was created with a yud, and the terrestrial world was created with the letter hey. Yud is a masculine letter. It even looks like the seed of human life. It is a causative agent that reflects the causative energy that distinguishes the spiritual world. Hey is a feminine letter. It even looks like the channel through which human life enters this world. It is the letter of the breath, the letter of manifestation. With a shape like an extended yud, vav also represents the masculine. [4] The four letters together describe four worlds, including two above the celestial world as well as the four levels through which the world is made manifest. [5]

As finite beings, we perceive God in different lights. We see God behaving in various ways: kind, merciful, angry, giving, commanding, jealous, loving, forgiving -- always in the way God relates to us from our perspective. But God, in His simplicity and oneness, is all. Humans most often experience God, the ultimate Source of everything, as a Giver, hence the use of the masculine language when referring to God. In this paradigm, we are the receivers. Humanity as a whole is therefore often referred to in the feminine.

For this reason, in the Song of Songs, a prophetic allegory of the love between God and Israel, King Solomon uses the language of bride and groom: masculine and feminine in a special relationship. "O my bride, your lips drip sweetness. Honey and milk are under your tongue, and the scent of your garment is like the scent of Lebanon." [6] Rashi comments that the first part of the verse refers to Israel's study of deeper mysteries of the Torah, while the second half refers to mitzvot done with clothing. God is expressing His love for us as the people who engage in a devoted relationship with Him. It is this loving and giving relationship that is the goal of creation. [7]

The Sacred Feminine in Judaism

Dan Brown postulates that the Holy Grail is not an actual cup, but rather a representation of Mary Magdalene's womb -- the vessel from which life itself is made manifest. In a religion where God is understood to be male and sexuality is outside the realm of the holy, this "news" would be truly shocking.

But for Jews, the deeper meaning of the womb forms the foundation of our understanding of mercy and God's application of this essential quality. One of the things we know about God is that His justice is perfect. Nothing we do goes unnoticed; God takes every detail into account. For most of us, that can be a pretty scary thought.

In our prayers, we ask God to look upon us with mercy, to behave with us as if we have not done so many negative things. But if God's justice is perfect, how can we ask Him to turn a "blind eye"? Where is the justice in that? God's justice must ask, "What have you done? How should I deal with you now in the face of your deeds?"

By focusing on a characteristic of the womb, Rabbi David Fohrman explains how the quality of mercy can be just. [8] The Hebrew word for womb is rechem. It has the same root as the word rachamim, mercy. The womb doesn't ask the presenting zygote, "What have you done to deserve my sustenance?" -- a question of justice -- because the zygote has accomplished nothing and has no merit whatsoever. Rather the womb's question is, "Do you have enough potential to make it worth my while to invest in you?" Potential, not past, is the root of the question.

The womb as the place from which one emerges, not stained with sin, but full of potential, ready to actualize one's Divine image.

God's attribute of mercy can be just when it focuses on our future rather than on our past. Like the womb, God's mercy asks about our potential, "What can you become? Given what you have learned from your past deeds, how will you transform yourself in the future to become something worthy of my patience?" It is through this quality of rachamim, mercy, that God can extend us life in the face of our failures.

The Torah sees the womb as the place from which one emerges, not stained with sin, but full of potential, ready to actualize one's Divine image. The mikveh is compared to a womb. It is a transformative body of water in which one can immerse in a state of lowered spiritual connectivity and emerge in a state of greater potential and readiness for heightened connectivity. This is one of the reasons that it is part of the cycle of a married couple's intimate life. In Judaism, the marital act is viewed as extremely holy. A married couple has the potential to most deeply emulate God by becoming one -- emotionally, spiritually and physically. During the times of the Temple, the Shechina, the dwelling presence of God, entered the world from the point between the cherubs placed on top of the Holy Ark in the Holy of Holies. Today it is the married couple, spiritually and intimately united, that draws God's presence into our realm. [9]

This is not accomplished through division or the elevation of one gender over another, but rather through unification. As Jews, we do not seek only one half, either masculine or feminine, in a vacuum. We strive for the merger of the two. The goal of humanity is not to elevate either the Sacred Feminine nor the Sacred Masculine, but to create a Sacred Relationship with the Divine. Sacred Relationship is realized when we seek unity through our human emulation of the non-gendered Divine. In Judaism, the Sacred Feminine is not a goal in and of itself, it is an essential part of the Sacred Whole.


1. To paraphrase Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller from her book, "Our Bodies, Our Souls."
2. "World Mask," by Rabbi Akiva Tatz
3. In this light, the Written Torah, the five books of Moses, is masculine. It is a causative agent, directing our actions, delineating our mission. But with that alone, we can not know the details of how to behave. The Oral Law -- the expansion and explanation, is feminine. It delves into the myriad of details related to the written law and clarifies specific points. The synergy is our behavior -- the way that we Jews weave the two together in our lives.
4. Sources for the meaning behind the letters can be found in The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael L. Munk, as well as in Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's translation and explanation of Sefer Yetzirah.
5. The Way of God, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto, IV:6:13
6. Song of Songs 4:11
7. The Way of God, I:2
8. Rabbi David Fohrman on his tapes about the book of Jonah in the series "Is it Kosher to Argue with God?"
9. For more on this, see the book "Ohel Rochel."


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