Shekhinah: Finding the Feminine Divine

For the majority of my life, I experienced prayer as something to be performed, with an emphasis on the external forms rather than the internal juice. This looked like diligently saying “amen” at the right times, standing at the proper moments, and trying not to chat too loudly with my neighboring friends. It also involved me pushing down the deep internal “NO!” I felt at seeing the words He, Him, Lord, and God of our Fathers that stood out on the pages like thorns on my skin. 

How could I possibly connect this language to the sense of wonder I felt upon seeing intricately designed flowers, the reflection of the sunset on the lake in the northwoods of Wisconsin where I went to camp, the tickle of joy that swept through me watching a family of ducks waddle through the grass, or the warmth of a friend’s whisper on my ear around a campfire? 

I couldn’t. So for many years I didn’t, and this disconnect lived in my soul, a pain I carried with me, not knowing the medicine required and if it even existed.

This all changed in my mid-twenties. A roommate of mine came back one day from a Jewish meditation retreat and told me she had met a “Kohenet,” or Hebrew Priestess. Upon googling this, I learned of the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute, a three-year training program to reclaim and re-embody a feminist, earth-based Jewish lineage in devotion to the Divine Feminine. A month later, I found myself at a retreat center in northern California at my first weeklong Kohenet training. 

While I sat with my cohort on the floor, Rabbi Jill Hammer told us all about how there had always been Jews who worshiped a Feminine Divine, even in those ancient days of the early Israelite cult. As Rabbi Jill Hammer writes in her book:

For much of Israelite history, goddesses were still active divine entities in the lives of the Isrealites. The history of Israeli and later Jewish monotheism includes a history of the attempt to either drive out, or assimilate, the goddess in the Israelite psyche (Hammer and Shere, 2015). 

In other words, the move to monotheism carries with it not only tender loss but also violent erasure. For the “one G-d” that survived was the “male” YHWH. The connection with idols, including the goddesses Asherah and Anat, became prohibited. 

In that moment of learning, the very foundations of what I thought defined Judaism blew open. In that opening, an ancient knowing — a YES — flowed in.  

At my first Kohenet retreat, I understood that reclaiming the sacred feminine was deeply part of my Jewish lineage. With the guidance of my Kohenet teachers, utilizing the beautiful, maroon-colored Kohenet siddur (prayerbook), I prayed in the feminine for the first time. All of a sudden, Birkat Hashachar, the morning gratitude blessings that I had recited dryly hundreds of times, enlivened me. 

These prayers became a portal through which gratitude for sleeping and waking and being clothed and finding strength welled up inside me. The Shema became a bringing together of those ancient, separated parts of myself, a gathering towards wholeness. Tears streamed down many of our faces the first time we recited the blessing for being called up to the Torah in the feminine, a chorus of “Brucha at Shekhinah,” that changed all of us that day. 

It has been several years since I received smicha, or ordination, in the Kohenet lineage. These days, I switch up the G-d language all the time in my prayer life — a practice that speaks to my soul as a genderfluid, non-binary person. Because I have developed an intimate relationship with this sacred in-dwelling presence, when I pray, I have a sense — an inner knowing — of who I am talking to. The language therefore matters less to me than it once did. And I can appreciate the many names Judaism has for this ultimately unknowable Force. 

At times, it feels right for me to say the traditional words of my ancestors, those found in most siddurim, and to match the linguistic flow of the minyan I am davening (praying) with. And when I start to feel that inner quiver in me, that sense of “NO!” that threatens to pull me out of prayerful presence, I switch to feminine language and am welcomed warmly back. Returning yet again to rest under the wings of Shekhinah. 

They never could fully erase Her. She shows up as Shekhinah, the indwelling presence of Hashem, referenced in the stories of the Talmudic sages. She appears in the dreams of the Kabbalists. She makes herself known as an intimate form of the Divine in chassidic texts. And perhaps most notably She is there for me — in my lonely moments and in my moments of grief and joy. She is there in my tears and in my smiles, a place I can return to again and again.

At The Well uplifts many approaches to Jewish practice. Our community draws on ancient Jewish wisdom, sometimes adapting longstanding practices to more deeply support the well-being of women and nonbinary people. See this article’s sources below. We believe Torah (sacred teachings) are always unfolding to help answer the needs of the present moment.


The Hebrew Priestess, Rabbi Jill Hammer & Taya Shere (2015)

Shekhinah: The Divine Feminine, My Jewish Learning

Shekhinah: Finding the Feminine Divine
Kohenet Avra K’Davra Shapiro
Kohenet Avra K’Davra Shapiro

Kohenet Avra (they/them) is a cultural organizer, liberatory educator, musician, and ritualist living on unceded Lenni Lenape land in Philadelphia. They are a deep believer in the Torah of sloths, flowers, and Sacred Emergence. Check out their offerings at Kohenetavrashapiro.com.

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