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Judaism and Wicca: Are we so different?

Judaism and Wicca: Are we so different?
© 2004 Amber Laine Fisher
From: Breathless Noon

There is a widely held misconception that the religions of Wicca and Judaism are
fundamentally at odds with each other. The common perception of Judaism among pagans
and non-pagans alike is that Judaism is a separatist, racist, stringently patriarchal
faith in which the transcendent God Yahweh, the brutal ruler of the universe, dominates
the world with heavy hand. Many people assume that having knowledge of Christianity
grants one a knowledge of Judaism. After all, isn’t Judaism just Christianity with the
New Testament lopped off?

Such a gross misunderstanding of Judaism is the very reason that many Wiccans are
unable to find commonalities between these faiths. The purpose of this essay is to
grant the reader a more mystical view of Judaism in the hopes that true dialogue
between the two groups can take place, and that a richer understanding of one’s own
faith can be gained from the comparing of the two religions.

The nature of God in the Wiccan religion is highly debatable. There are probably
equal numbers of Wiccans who identify themselves as monotheists as there are Wiccans
who describe themselves as polytheists. Because Wiccans cannot even agree on this most
basic understanding of God, it is often difficult to go into any meaningful detail
about the rest of the notion of God, but we will endeavor to do just that.

The gender of God in Wicca is generally accepted to be non-existent. Although many
Wiccans will personify Deity and call it Goddess or Goddess and God, when we get right
down to it, most Wiccans accept the fact that Deity is genderless. They then point to
Yahweh of the Old Testament and claim that the Jewish vision of God is therefore
completely incompatible with the Wiccan notion of God based on gender alone (never mind
the transcendent versus immanent aspect of the Divine, which we shall address in a
moment.)

This is a very unfair and very uneducated view of the Jewish Divine, Yahweh.
Firstly, the name of the Jewish God is unknowable and ineffable. There are many
epithets associated with the Divine, Yahweh being only one of these names. The book of
Genesis, in its creation story, uses a different name associated with the
Divine-Elohim. The word “Elohim” is highly significant in understanding the Jewish
vision of the gender of the Divine, because of the way the Hebrew language is
structured. In Hebrew, every word has a root that has a gender, and a suffix, based on
the gender of the root word. The world Elohim, is, in many ways, a grammatical
anathema, and here is why. The root word here is “Eloah”, which is the feminine word
for God, or Goddess. The ending, “im” is, however masculine and plural. The
significance here is that Elohim is a word that depicts God as both masculine and
feminine, and furthermore, not confined to singularity.

It would be an error to assume that Jews are polytheists. The word Elohim does not
denote a belief in many gods, but rather it refers to the idea that God is a verb – it
is active, it is shifting, it is mutable, and therefore can take on many faces at once
– all concepts which can be applied equally to the Wiccan view of the Divine. The
Jewish God is beyond gender, though it contains elements of both. In order to derive a
better understanding of this idea, let us look to the Jewish mystical system of
Kabbalah.

The central glyph in the Kabbalah is an image called the Tree of Life. The tree is
composed of 10 spheres, each sphere representing an aspect of the Divine, and
essentially, an aspect of the universe. Each of these spheres is called sephira
(sephiroth is the plural)

The first sephirah on the Tree is Kether, which is the unity of all things – in
ideal form, not actual form. It is the potential for the rest of the universe. It is,
in many ways, the image of the Christian God. It is transcendent, gender-neutral, and
contains within it the potential for all ideas and manifestations.

What we do not see on the Tree are the three veils of negative existence, which lie
beyond Kether. They are Ain (No-thing), Ain Soph (Limitlessness) and Ain Soph Aur
(Limitless Light). The Ain Soph is the Hebrew God. The Ain Soph is the Divine Energy
from which all things come. As such, it has no form, no characteristics, no will. It
does not act – it simply IS. (This is why Moses asks the burning bush “Who are you?”
God responds “I am that I am”) All the rest of the Tree is but a reflection of Ain
Soph.

This is true in Wicca as well, though the idea is stated implicitly. Wiccans believe
that all gods are one god. Yet only a fool would state that all gods are the same – for
they are obviously not. What the notion that “all gods are one god” means, is that all
gods are but a reflection of something much greater – an over-arching principle that
defines and negates, unites and opposes all things. All gods are but fragmented flawed,
imperfect reflections of this concept – and it is for this reason that we say all gods
are one god. All gods reflect the eternal divine in one way or another.

It is true that the notion that all gods are one god is not necessarily accepted in
Judaism. The Jewish faith does not look at all kindly upon the notion of polytheism.
However, I daresay there are Wiccans who do not accept the tenets of true polytheism
either. There will, of course, be differences between the Jewish view of God and the
Wiccan view of God. Nevertheless, we must be careful to draw the parallels where they
exist if we are to understand their faith in reference to our own.

The Jewish God is largely transcendent, and cannot be accessed through the natural
world the way the Goddess is accessed in Wicca. However, there is a notion of immanence
in Judaism that has long been ignored, even amongst some Jews, but is making its way
back into the mainstream, and this is the notion of the Shekinah.

The Shekinah was, in early Hebrew mythology, the wife and consort of Yahweh. She was
the immanent; manifest Goddess, present within our world. Over time, however, as
Judaism became more staunchly monotheist, the notion of the Shekinah was integrated
into the notion of Yahweh, and they cased to be “separate” beings. Today, the Shekinah
is honored as the immanent divine found within and around us. The Shekinah is
absolutely fundamental and integral to Jewish life. She is invited into the home on the
Shabbat. She is honored as the Earth, and prayers are sent to her requesting her
blessings (such as the blessing prayed over a Mezzuzah when it is placed over the
doorway of a Jewish home).

In the Tree of Life, the Shekinah is said to reside in Binah (the sphere of
understanding), the sphere associated with the Divine, eternal, transcendent feminine.
This is where she exists as an ideal. However, the Shekinah manifests in Malkuth, the
kingdom of the physical universe. Here in Malkuth, she is present within and around us,
and it is for this reason that Jews do not need intermediaries to communicate with the
Divine. They do not need angels, saints, or the Christ to relay their messages to God.
The Shekinah is already here, dwelling among us. (As an aside, it is interesting to
note that the Shekhina has, in many ways, made its way into the Christian faith as
well. Many Christian scholars are now beginning to recognize that the Holy Spirit is,
in fact, the feminine aspect of God. This made is several passages of the Bible in
which the Holy Spirit is linked with Understanding, a fundamentally feminine
concept.)

This is a very broad, very simplistic exploration into the notion of the Jewish God.
However, I believe it paves a way for Wiccans to begin study, to derive other
similarities between our Goddess and the Hebrew Divine.

Judaism has long been accused of being a separatist faith. They are called “The
Chosen People”, and many non-Jews have long assumed that this meant that there was
something inherently and intrinsically Holy about their existence. This simply isn’t
the case.

When Abram made his covenant with Yahweh to serve him, and to dedicate all his
progeny to the worship of Yahweh, he chose to forsake all other gods. (The implication
here is, of course, that Abram, pagan that he was, acknowledged that there were other
gods.) This is not to say that all other gods were denied – it was simply that his
allegiance, and the allegiance of all his family and all their descendents, would be
dedicated solely to Yahweh, and in return, Yahweh would make Abram the father of a
great nation. The deal made between Abram and Yahweh was mutually beneficial. It was
not a case of God “creating” a sacred race of people, who were singled out as holier
than all other people. It was a case of mutual interest. In other words, the notion of
“the Chosen People” solely means that their God chose them to live a specific life –
not that God singled them out as “special”. They were chosen to carry out a certain
purpose. Nothing more.

Is this notion so different from Wicca? Within our religion, we believe that Witches
are those who are chosen to dedicate their lives to Goddess, to serve on her behalf –
in essence, to become servants, working her will at all costs. This is not different
from the notion of Judaism. We are chosen by the Goddess to carry out a certain duty.
The same is true in Judaism. Judaism is a duty-based tradition. They are bound by the
oath of Abraham to live their lives in ways that God has decreed. The Hebrew God does
not expect other people outside of Judaism to live the same way nor to abide the same
rules. Only the Jews have the duty, the obligation, to live a certain lifestyle. And so
it is with Wicca. We do not expect anyone else to follow the Rede. We do not expect
anyone else to speak with the tongue of the Goddess. This is only the path for us. It
is our duty to carry out the terms of the Goddess.

Many people have claimed the Jews are racist, because of the commandments in the old
testament not the mix with certain other pagan tribes. This, however, is a modern
interpretation of an ancient decree. The Jews lived among pagan people, and many of the
Hebrews still held other pagan gods dear. Ashtoreth, for example, was worshipped in
Hebrew temples for hundreds of years after Abraham made his covenant with the Lord. But
the covenant had to be honored. Therefore, in order to try to teach the Hebrews to be
faithful to their bargain, they were instructed not to consort with those who would
lead them astray.

This isn’t a notion of racism. This is a notion of self-preservation in order to
keep within the confines of a covenant. If the Hebrews were allowed to mingle and marry
with their neighbors, they were very likely to go back to the old gods that they so
loved, thus breaking the covenant with Yahweh. Therefore, they were encouraged to avoid
temptation, and to remain within their own tribe, that they may be faithful to the
bargain they had entered into. It was a requirement made in order to fulfill a binding
contract.

The last point that I would like to make is with regard to modern tradition. One
becomes a Jew in one of two ways: one is either born of a Jewish mother (Judaism is
matrilineal), or one converts to Judaism via a lengthy process of studying with a
qualified Rabbi. In many traditions of Wicca, the belief still exists that once cannot
be a Wiccan without being initiated by a qualified HP or HPS. Although there are many
Wiccans who think this is bunk, we cannot escape the fact that there are many who hold
this notion to be quite true. This is yet another parallel between Judaism and Wicca.
Jews believe that their tradition, their history, their oral traditions and the written
word of God are very important, and no one can claim to be Jewish without an intimate
knowledge of these things (unless one is born to a Jewish mother, in which case one is
Jewish by way of the covenant between Yahweh and Abraham). This is not to further
separate Jews from non-Jews, but rather to preserve a history of tradition. There is
certainly nothing wrong with this idea, and it is an idea shared among many Wiccan
traditionalists.

Jews do not proselytize. You will never have a Jew come to your door and teach you
the glory of Yahweh. This is also true of Wicca. Both groups believe that the path to
the Divine is incredibly personal, and that only through the formation of a
relationship with the Divine in an individual level can one ever come to know God. No
one else can forge that relationship for you.

In closing, I would like to remind pagans and other non-Jews that the Jewish
tradition, and the vast majority of Jewish theology is not contained within the Old
Testament. Judaism is not Christianity with the New Testament lopped off. There is an
entire tradition, the oral tradition, called the Midrash, the Mishnah, the Gemara-the
Talmud, and these things make up the bulk of Jewish theology. And in truth, if one does
not have even a basic knowledge of these things, then he does not have knowledge of
true Judaism. We cannot claim that because what we read in the Old Testament is
frightening or hateful or separatist or racist that Judaism is these things. The Old
Testament is but one small aspect of Judaism, which is not meant to be understood on
its own. We must look at Judaism holistically in order to understand this faith, and in
so doing, we will come to discover even greater similarities between the Jewish and
Wiccan faiths.

Endnotes

(1) This isn’t entirely accurate. This concept of Shekinah was shared by many of the
early Hebrews, largely because they were still so ingrained with pagan thought and
pagan forms. The Shekinah as a separable being was actually a misunderstanding of the
true concept, but the concept sat well as a mythiologic image. (See Patai, The
Hebrew Goddess
) The personification of the Shekinah in this essay is purely a
poetic mechanism.

Article by Amber Laine
Fisher
, ©2004, from Breathless Noon. Article may be redistributed provided no information is
lost or changed, credit is given to the author with a link back her website, and it is
provided or used without cost to others. Other uses of this document must be approved
in writing by Amber Laine Fisher.

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