Originally created 05/08/99

Neutrality for God a good idea

Back in rabbinical school about eight years ago, I had a teacher who told our class an amazing story about his daughter. He also was a rabbi and trying to do his best to raise his little girl. He was trying to give his daughter a chance that he never had: he was trying to give her a chance to open her mind.

One day, she came home from religious school after a discussion about God. What was interesting about her retelling of the discussion was not the discussion itself, but rather how she referred to God as "She." "God called the light Day, and the darkness She called Night." (Genesis 1:5)

How could this have happened? What did her parents do wrong? Doesn't she know God is a man? Doesn't she know that man came first? How dare she?

What happened was that her parents brought her up gender-neutral. Instead of referring to God as "He" of "She," as "King" of "Father" or "Lord," they referred to God as "God." They gave her a choice. And she made it. It is of no surprise if you know your Bible: "And God created people in God's image, in the image of God, God created them." (Genesis 1:27) She was created in the image of God, God must be a woman.

How could we have gotten to the point where we cannot see God as anything but a man? I blame my upbringing. If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere, how could God be just a man? God is God, not male or female.

I might be lost, but it's not too late for my child.

Women have been struggling so long for respect, respect that they deserve. I blame my upbringing. Why should we respect women? They're inferior. We came first and only afterward, women came about, as an afterthought. Not on their own, but rather from us men: "And God fashioned the rib that God had taken from the man into a woman; and God brought her to the man" (Genesis 2:22).

Is that the whole story? It is the only one I was taught. But wait, there's more, there's another version, an earlier version.

In the first chapter of Genesis, it's the sixth day and God creates man and woman, together: "And God created people in God's image, in the image of God, God created people, male and female God created them" (Genesis 1:27). Only after the seventh day, the day of rest, do we have, in Chapter 2, a second creation story, the story of the superiority of man over woman. What if we were taught the first version only?

Jewish commentary, the Midrash, on the first creation story, tells us that God created a being in the image of God, male and female, together (Midrash Rabbah, Genesis 8:1). Then, God separated the two halves and, thus, man and woman separate. Our tradition continues that when two people join in marriage it is, in fact, the reuniting of these two halves, separated at the beginning of time (Babylonian Talmudm Yevamont, 63a).

Our liturgy concurs. At night we ask for the Schechinah, God's sheltering presence, to watch over us. The Schechinah is feminine, the feminine side of God.

More and more clergy are using gender-neutral terms for God and people. Redundant? Yes: "And God saw all that God had made" (Genesis 1:31). Important? Even more so. Let's give our children the chance that we never had. Let's not create God in our image, but rather let's allow God to come to our children in any form they choose.

Rabbi Alex Greenbaum is rabbi of Adas Yeshurun Synagogue.


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