It is always troubling to the Jewish community when Jewish individuals – even some rabbis – commit apostasy – and embrace a pagan religion.
One of the most illuminating acts of apostasy was the publication of “An Altar of Earth: Reflections on Jews Goddesses and the Zohar”, by Jill Hammer, who identifies both as a semitic priestess open to pagan ideas, and also as a Jewish rabbi, (11/25/2013)
Using apologetics from the Zohar – a pseudepigraphic medieval work of Jewish mysticism – Hammer constructs an argument, concluding that feminist Jewish women should embrace pagan beliefs.
For many years, as I sat in synagogues, someone on the bimah would make an off-handed reference to the evils of idolatry. Many Jews who would never think of condemning the religious practices of Australian aborigines, Peruvian shamans or Buddhist nuns, and who might even enjoy the art in a Catholic church, give sermons about how worshipping images or praying to multiple deities is the root of all evil… someone asks “Isn’t that pagan?” as if the conversation is now over. Paganism is bad. Even a hint of paganism is bad. That is the Jewish position.
What is so bad about paganism? For some Jews, it is a matter of ethics. Many have argued that paganism, because of its multiple gods, its focus on nature, and/or its multiple images of God, does not promote ethics or unity among humankind and therefore leads to atrocity. Yet both pagans and “monotheists” (a difficult distinction, as some pagans are monotheists) have massacred innocent people…
Others say the problem with polytheism and paganism is not ethics but theology. Notably, I have heard this critique leveled many times in (and at) the Jewish feminist community. For the last fifteen years, I have been part of the community of Jewish feminists who are attempting to re-vision God… revel in personal, anthropomorphic God-images that include the pregnant woman, the midwife, the seamstress..
… While some Jewish feminist (and, of course, non-feminist) theologians may be able to legislate against goddess images in their intellectual structures, Jewish mystics and poets, modern and medieval, often perceive the Divine feminine outside the conventions and fears of the Jewish community. They may see the Goddess-and/or God-not only in text but in the trees and the sun and the moon, just as pagans do. They may see her as “dark womb of all,” as if She gave birth to the universe (a pagan image Genesis emphatically edited out). Many of us find divinity not only in Jewish texts and prayers about the divine feminine, but in myths of goddesses as well.
…I want not to edit my moments of contact with the Divine to get rid of any “pagan” influence. I want not to demonize goddess-imagery while thunder-god imagery rolls through the Hebrew Bible without comment or controversy. In short, I want not to be afraid of goddesses. That’s why I love this text in the Zohar.
… The Zohar quotes a classic text from Deuteronomy prohibiting pagan worship: “You shall not set up an asherah, or any kind of tree, near the altar…” An asherah is a pillar or tree representing the goddess Asherah. Stone inscriptions show that Israelites may once have worshipped Asherah, a goddess of love and fertility … the stamping out of Asherah-worship was one of the main concerns of the pure monotheists … From those radical monotheists, Judaism evolved. Yet the Zohar, steeped in multiple personalized, sexualized, gendered images of the deity, chooses to read this passage in a radically different way. …[The Zohar says that] Asherah is a name for the Shekhinah, the feminine Divine presence.
[The essay goes on to illuminate paganism in the Zohar itself, and then to approve of such paganism.]