Every year on Shavuot, the history of the holding of the Torah at Mount Sinai is read in synagogues various regions of the world. It’s a drastic narration, with thunder and lightning and inscrutable ram’s tusks detonating, and Moses disappearing into a thick cloud. It’s a powerful narrative. It’s likewise a problematic story, for me. As a feminist, ascribing sanctity to an ancient verse with a see of women/ gender that is very far from my own doesn’t work for me. And yet, as a academic and midrashist who often toy with the words of the biblical textbook, I do meet God/ dess and my predecessors there. I’m moved by the ancient legend that all Jewish someones, of every time and target, were present to receive Torah at Sinai. How to express this layered and complex liaison with Torah?
The Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute has been maintaining Shabbat prayer online since the pandemic began, and we assembled on Shavuot morning to pray. As a community committed to the liberation of all genders, I felt we couldn’t read the Torah portion the way it was–but I also felt we couldn’t not read it. So I caused an aliyah–a Torah reading–composed of scraps of the text. Three of us read it together; I chanted the Hebrew, and Kohenet Ketzirah Lesser and Kohenet Harriette Wimms and I read the English. I picked scraps of the verse that talked to me in some way.
The aliyah changed each “fragment” of the text in three different ways, playing with the polysemy of the textbook and creating a sense of multiple meanings. This is in the Jewish way of predict sacred text, in which multiple renderings are always possible. And, this multilayered translation let me to get at some “countertexts”–ways of control the fib differently, brand-new slants on show.
For example, the word Sinai can come from a word that symbolizes “clay” or “earth, ” so I queried myself: what the hell is it signify if the whole earth were our mountain of revealing? The text for wilderness or desert is midbar, which can also mean “place that speaks.” What if we thought of the wilderness of Sinai as the place in us that speaks?
The phrase betachtit hahar entails “at the foot of the mountain, ” but can also be understood as “under the mountain, ” and in other Hebrew sources, tachtit can mean “underworld.” What if we received our show in the underworld?
The phrase har sinai ashan kulo–“Mount Sinai was all in smoke” — is understood by mystics to make “Mount Sinai was at the conjunction of infinite, go and soul.” In this say, the word ashan, cigarette, is an acronym for olam/ world-wide/ opening, shanah/ time/ duration, and nefesh/ person/ body. I also thought about smoke as something non-solid, as our reality is transitory and not solid.
The word anochi, “I, ” according to some etymologies, blends the Hebrew “I”( ani) with the word “here”( ko ). How might we understand the “I” of the Ten Commandments to be “hereness”? What would that do to our sense of knowing? In the verse, God “takes out” the people from Egypt. If we understand “brings out” to convey “birthed, ” how does our image of the floor modify?
And, the floor tells that the people “saw the thunder and lightning.” This sentence is contained in quotation ro’im et hakolot; the people “saw the voices.” Or, more literally, they “are seeing the voices.” What enunciates do we need to see? From a feminist direction, what singers need to become visible within our sacred narrations and practices?
After we read/ recited the poem, Kohenet Keshira haLev Fife invited each person present to type into the chat what their discovery had been in the past year. It was so powerful to receive Torah from one another. And I have to confess, this was one of the more meaningful Shavuot Torah construes I have suffered. Maybe that’s because, in the end, we can only touch the truth in scraps.
Fragments of the Sinai Revelation
ba’v’ mid @ba’ r siynay 😛 TAGEND
they came to the wilderness of Sinaithey arrived in the wilderness of the earththey came to the place that speaks
neged hahar 😛 TAGEND
In front of the mountainagainst the mountaincorresponding to the mountain
vay @hiy qolot v’b @raqiym v @` anan ka’bed` alhahar v @qol shopar khazaq m @od
there were thunders and lightningsthere were tones and brightnessand a thick clouda vapour of Presenceon the mountainand the voice of a shofarvery loudvery stronggetting stronger
vayi’t @yats @’ bv’ b @’ takh @ti’ yt hahar 😛 TAGEND
and they stood at the hoof of the mountainthey sat themselves under the mountainthey took their places available in the breadth beneath the mountain
v @har siynay` ashan ku’l’vo
Mount Sinai was wreathed in smokeMount Sinai reached through all infinite and timeThe mountain of earth was entirely ephemeral
v @haelohiym ya` anen’v’ b @qvol
and GodGoddessDivinityanswered in a voicein voicesin thunder
IShekhinahthe one who is here
took you outliberated youbirthed you
v @` osheh khesed laalapiym
do kindness for generationsmake love with multitudesshape generosity for diverse beings
ethasha’mayim v @ethaarets ethaya’m v @etka’ lasherba’m
the sky and the earth and the sea and all within it
l @ma` an yaarikv’n yameyka` al haadamah
that you may provide your periods upon earththat your time on the planet may be longthat each time you dwell here may count
v @kalha` am roiym ethaq’volot
and all the people witnessed the thundereveryone took in the revelationall the beings going to be able know these voices
niga’sh elha` arapel ashersham haelohiym 😛 TAGEND
can touch the mysterycan recruit the cloudcan approach the thick darknessin which Goddess dwells
Rabbi Jill Hammer, PhD, is the co-founder of the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute and the Director of Spiritual Education at the Academy for Jewish Religion. She is the author ofThe Jewish Book of Period: A Companion for all Seasons, The Omer Calendar of Biblical Women, The Hebrew Priestess: Ancient and New Image of Jewish Women’s Spiritual Leadership( with Taya Shere ), Siddur haKohanot: A Hebrew Priestess Prayerbook( with Taya Shere) andThe Book of Earth and Other Mystery. Her forthcoming book is titledReturn to the Place: The Magic, Meditation ., and Mystery of Sefer Yetzirah. She is a poet, scholar, ritualist, dreamworker, midrashist, and essayist.
Read more: feminismandreligion.com