Gender of God in Judaism

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Although the Gender of God in Judaism is referred to in the Tanakh with masculine imagery and grammatical forms, Jewish philosophy does not attribute to God either sex or gender.[1] At times, Jewish aggadic literature and Jewish mysticism do treat God as gendered.

Biblical perspectives[edit]

The first words of the Tanakh are B'reshit bara Elohim — "In the beginning God created."[2] The verb bara (he created) suggests a masculine subject. Elohim is also masculine in form. The most common phrases in the Tanakh are vayomer Elohim and vayomer YHWH — "and God said" (hundreds of occurrences).

Genesis 1:26-27 says that the elohim were male and female,[3] and humans were made in their image.[4]

Again, the verb vayomer (he said) is masculine; it is never vatomer, the feminine of the same verb form. The personal name of God, YHWH, is presented in Exodus 3 as if the Y (Hebrew yod) is the masculine subjective prefix to the verb to be.

Main article: I am that I am

In Psalms 89:26 God is referred to as Father. "He shall cry unto me, Thou art my Father, My God, and the rock of my salvation."[5]

In Isaiah 62:5, God is compared to the bridegroom, and his people to the bride.

  • "For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee."

In Isaiah 63:16, God is directly addressed and called "our Father".

  • "Thou, O Jehovah, art our Father; our Redeemer from everlasting is thy name." (ASV)

To God, according to Judaism, is attributed the fatherly role of protector. He is called the Father of the poor, of the orphan and the widow, their guarantor of justice. He is also called the Father of the king, as the teacher and helper over the judge of Israel.[6]

Some literary approaches to the Tanakh have argued that parallels between Biblical stories and earlier Sumerian, Akkadian and Canaanite creation myths show a matriarchal substratum that has been overlaid by a patriarchal approach.[7] "In the Bible, the earth is the feminine complement of God: the two combined to form man, who articulates their relationship, for example, in sacrifice."[8]

Rabbinical views[edit]

Judaism often relates to various "aspects" of God (cf. Sephirot). As Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan puts it, "[E]very name and every description that we may give to God can only apply to His relationship to His creation" [9] Although God is not generally regarded as gendered in Judaism, Benjamin Blech writes that God has both masculine and feminine aspects.[10]

In addition, God's "presence" (Shekinah) is a grammatically feminine word, and is often employed as a feminine aspect of God.

Many traditional rabbinic commentators, however, such as Maimonides, view any such beliefs as verging on avodah zarah (idolatry). Secondary male sexual characteristics are attributed to God in some piyuttim (religious poems). These include a description of the beard of God in Shir Hakavod (The Hymn of Glory), and similar poetic imagery in the midrash Song of the Seas Rabbah.

Traditional meforshim (rabbinic commentators) hold that these descriptions, like all physical descriptions of God, are metaphorical or symbolic.

Philo[edit]

Philo refers to God as Father in several passages:

"...discovering the nature of the one God, who is alone everlasting, and the father of everything else..."[11][12] Philo - A Treatise Concerning the World (1)

"...by whose intervention they might obtain a reconciliation with the Father. First of all, the merciful, and gentle, and compassionate nature of him who is invoked, who would always rather have mercy than punishment. In the second place, the holiness of all the founders of the nation, because they, with souls emancipated from the body, exhibiting a genuine and sincere obedience to the Ruler of all things, are not accustomed to offer up ineffectual prayers on behalf of their sons and daughters, since the Father has given to them, as a reward, that they shall be heard in their prayers." Philo - On Rewards And Punishments (166)[12][13]

Jewish feminism[edit]

Main article: Jewish feminism

Feminist views in Judaism retain the traditional view that God does not have any gender, but experiment with the use of feminine language and symbolism for God.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "G-d has no body, no genitalia, therefore the very idea that G-d is male or female is patently absurd. We refer to G-d using masculine terms simply for convenience's sake, because Hebrew has no neutral gender; G-d is no more male than a table is." Judaism 101. "The fact that we always refer to God as 'He' is also not meant to imply that the concept of sex or gender applies to God." Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, The Aryeh Kaplan Reader, Mesorah Publications (1983), p. 144
  2. ^ Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1990), p. 1.
  3. ^ Coogan, Michael (October 2010). "6. Fire in Divine Loins: God's Wives in Myth and Metaphor". God and Sex. What the Bible Really Says (1st ed.). New York, Boston: Twelve. Hachette Book Group. p. 175. ISBN 978-0-446-54525-9. Retrieved May 5, 2011. "humans are modeled on elohim, specifically in their sexual differences." 
  4. ^ Coogan (2010:176)
  5. ^ ASV 1901, Public Domain
  6. ^ Marianne Meye Thompson The promise of the Father: Jesus and God in the New Testament ch.2 God as Father in the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism p35 2000 "Christian theologians have often accentuated the distinctiveness of the portrait of God as Father in the New Testament on the basis of an alleged discontinuity"
  7. ^ Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness pages 177-178
  8. ^ Francis Landy, The Song of Songs chapter of The Literary Guide to the Bible, page 314.
  9. ^ Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Understanding God
  10. ^ Yet … Judaism long ago acknowledged the validity of [the] feminine dimenstion of the Deity. The two names of God differ grammatically with regard to sexual connotation… The Tetragrammaton (YHVH)…is…feminine; it refers to God as if “He” were in fact “She.” Yet, as we have frequently noted, the Lord is also called ELoHiYM. That name ends with…masculine plural… If human beings are created in God’s image, and the single most important thing we know about God is that He is One – why did God create two kinds of people, male and female, after His likeness? …God chose to create two different kinds of people on this earth, not in spite of the fact that He is One, but precisely because God in the deepest sense of the word is really two. Of course we do not suggest any kind of dualism implying separate identities. Rather, as the very names of God imply, there are two distinct aspects to the Deity. God is both masculine and feminine. This gender difference is not one of physical attributes but one of emotion and typology. Benjamin Blech, Understanding Judaism, page 273
  11. ^ http://cornerstonepublications.org/Philo/Philo_Appendix_I_Concerning_the_World.html
  12. ^ a b Yonge, Public Domain
  13. ^ http://cornerstonepublications.org/Philo/Philo_On_Rewards_and_Punishments.html