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Selections from a Prayerbook where God’s Image is Female

According to Jewish tradition, God has both male and female attributes. Yet, in most prayer books God is portrayed in exclusively male terms, and all the people referred to in the liturgy are men.

This distorted view of God influences the way men and women view themselves, their roles in Judaism, and even their relationships with God. As a result, women may participate in rituals, lead services, and even become rabbis, and yet still not view themselves as having been created in God’s image.

To help rectify this situation, we have been working on a woman’s prayer book which emphasizes the feminine aspects of God and attempts to embrace our experiences as women.

Our book is an affirmation of our choice to remain within the tradition and to sanctify our everyday lives as women. Through our prayers we define ourselves as women in terms of our relationship with God and struggle with the meaning of this relationship. Our metaphors and ideas initially come out of a wrestling with the liturgy—trying to make it embrace our experience—rather than out of an effort to develop a systematic theology. In the process, we have arrived at concepts and interpretation which we can believe in, and through which we can pray.

In addition, our liturgy assumes the inclusion of women in the minyan {quorum of worshippers), it assumes their full participation in the Torah service, it assumes that they will serve as “messenger of the congregation” and that they will recite the mourners’ Kaddish. It acknowledges their participation in these rituals by using their own words in the prayers and blessings they are to recite.

The new prayer book, excerpts from which are given below, consists of new translations of the Sabbath liturgy, traditional material—for example, midrashim (legends. —not previously included in the prayer book, and original material. For over six months the Brown University (Providence, R.I.) Women’s Minyan has been using the prayer book in its Saturday afternoon services. In this setting, isolated from men in worship, we are learning what it means to pray in and be part of a congregation of women.

We have found that when women are reminded that they, too, are created in the image of God, they can bring forth what they carry inside—the beauty, wisdom and strength gained as the bearers of four thousand years of tradition.

Lord our G-d, lay us down in peace.
Our Ruler, raise us up to life.
Spread over us a canopy of peace, guide us with wise
counsel,
save us for Your Name’s sake.
Shield us, remove from us all enemies, epidemics,
violence, famine and sorrow
Shelter us in the soft folds of Your skirt,
for You are our G-d, our protector and deliverer….
(Hashkivaynu)

Sovereign of the worlds.
Not because of our own righteousness do we plead
before You
but because of Your wide and tender womb.
What are we? What is our life? What is our piety?
What is our righteousness? What is our salvation?
What is our strength? What is our power?
What can we say in Your presence?
Lord our G-d and G-d of our mothers and fathers,
are not the powerful helpless before you?…
The wise as if they had no knowledge
and the intelligent as though they lacked understanding?
For most of their words are empty
and the days of their lives are as vanity before You.
People are not above beasts, for all are mortal.
(Le-olam Ye-hi)

This new prayer is in the style of those written by Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev

Ruler of the Universe
I, Sarah, daughter of Ruth, come before You as a mother.
When my child is sick I care for her
with all my soul and with all my body.
I use my arms to cradle her.
I use my lips to recite prayers for her.
I use my legs to fetch good foods to sustain her.
I use my voice to sing her soothing songs.
I use my hands to hold her close.
And You, who are the Creator of all flesh
and the Mother of Your people Israel,
What have You done to sooth Your children
who are sick with longing for Jerusalem?
You have given us life and Your slightest movement
would be enough to sustain and nourish that life.
How can You withhold that help and not be shamed before Your children?

Blessed is She who spoke and the world became.
Blessed is She.
Blessed. . . who in the beginning, gave birth.
Blessed. . . who says and performs.
Blessed. . . who declares and fulfills.
Blessed. . . whose womb covers the earth.
Blessed . . . whose womb protects all creatures.
Blessed . . . who nourishes those who are in awe of Her.
Blessed . . . who lives forever, and exists eternally.
Blessed . . . who redeems and saves.
Blessed is Her Name.
(Baruch Sheh-amar)

That day the Lord saved Israel from the hand of the
Egyptians
Israel saw the great power which the Lord used
against them
and the people feared the Lord.
Miriam the prophetess took up her tambourine
and all the women followed her
dancing to the sound of tambourines
and Miriam led them with this song:

I will sing my praise to the Lord
To Her alone I will sing praise.
The Lord is my Mother, my Strength.
I will exalt Her all my days.

For She subdued the waves with Her might
And softened the sands with Her touch.
Her arm rescued the enslaved
And Her voice comforted our people in their despair.

Women, gather timbrels, cymbals and flutes.
Make heard the glory of the Lord.
Wear your colors, ribbons, bells and gold
To honor the victory of our G-d.
Come barefooted, dance on the shore.
Send forth a song, Sing Hallelujah.

Sing praise to the Lord.
To Her alone sing your praise.

For the horizons cannot restrain Her power.
Nor the heavens contain Her radiance.
Her children cannot tire Her understanding.
And Her womb is deep and broad.

Sing, daughters of Israel, sing aloud.
For I still hear the crash of the waves
And the wailing of the Egyptian women
And my voice trembles.
I can only whisper before the wonder of my G-d.

So sing now, sing Her praise
Praise Her in the sight of Her power
Praise Her for Her mighty acts
Praise Her for Her overwhelming greatness
Praise Her with the blast of the horn
Praise Her with the timbrels and dance
Praise Her with strings and the pipe

Praise Her with the clear-toned cymbals
Praise Her with the loud-sounding cymbals
Let all that has breath praise the Lord.

For She will bring us in
And plant us on Her own mountain,
the place where She dwells.
She will reveal Herself to us in a cloud of glory
She will reveal Herself to speak to us.

Sing now, my sisters
Sing of our salvation
For once in G-d’s presence
We will be silent and still.
For what is our song
To the voice of the Lord?
{Az Yashir)

The breath of all life will bless Your Name. Lord, our G-d
The spirit of all flesh will glorify
and exalt Your Name, Our Eternal Ruler.
From this world to the next You are G-d.
Apart from You we have no Ruler, Redeemer or Savior,
no one who sets free and delivers,
who supports,
and is gentle in all times of trouble and distress….
G-d of beginnings and endings, G-d of all creatures,
Lord of all generations, You are adored in praises
and psalms.
You guide the world with loving kindness
and the creatures with tenderness.
The Lord does not rest and does not sleep.
She wakes up the sleeping
and arouses the stunned to repentance and to new life.
She gives speech to the mute, and freedom to
the enslaved.
She supports those who stumble and raises up those
who are bowed down.
She soothes those in pain and cradles the abandoned.
To You alone we give thanks.
(Nishmat)

Praised be G-d who rested from all work on the
seventh day.
She arose and sat on Her throne of glory.
She wrapped the day of rest in beauty
and called the seventh day a delight.
Therefore, all creatures extol and bless G-d.
They ascribe excellence, glory
and greatness to G-d the Ruler, Creator of all
who in Her holiness bestows peace to Her people Israel
on the holy Sabbath Day.
Your name, Lord our G-d, will be hallowed,
Your fame, our Ruler, will be extolled in the heavens
above and the earth below.
You are blessed, our Savior, for the excellence
of the works of Your hands,
and for the brightness of the light that You made
they will always praise You, Selah.
(Le’El Asher Shabbat)

You bring the sun from her place
and the moon from her dwelling place.
You light up the whole world and give light to its
inhabitants whom You created in Your womb.
In love You shed light on the earth
and those who dwell on it.
And constantly each day, Your goodness
renews the works of creation.
You alone, our Sovereign, will be exalted….
G-d of the world, in Your great womb we find love
for us….
You are our steadfast stronghold,
our saving shield,
and our secure shelter.
(Hakol Yoduchah)

With much love You have loved us, Lord our G-d,
with great and exceeding tenderness
You have been gentle to us.
Our Mother and Ruler for the sake of our foremothers
and forefathers,
who trusted in You,
because You taught them the laws of life,
be gracious to us and teach us also.
Oh, our Mother, the Mother, the Compassionate One,
the loving, show compassion to us,
shelter us in Your womb,
and help our hearts to understand and discern,
to learn and teach, to observe and practice
and to fulfill all the teaching of Your Torah with love.
Fill our eyes with the light of the Torah…. 
Bring us home in peace from the four corners of the earth
and walk us upright to our country
for You are the G-d who gives birth to salvation.
(Ahavah Rabbah)

Merciful G-d, as a mother shows compassion on her
children,
have compassion on us,
the people You have borne and sustained.
Remember the covenant and deliver us from evil.
Help us, the people who have been carried by You,
to direct our evil impulse towards good.
With grace deliver us
and with love answer our cry
for salvation and mercy.
(Av Harachamim)

Naomi Janowitz graduated from Brown in June as a religious studies major and is now a Master’s Candidate at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School; Maggie Wenig is a senior at Brown majoring in religious studies.