Conservative Judaism/Follow-up

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Question
Shalom Rabbi,

First, thank you for your service here. I know its all volunteer and I appreciate it. And thank you for taking the trouble to follow up with me.

My question was specifically concerning the use of the feminine Hebrew pronoun for HaShem (not to His all-inclusive Oneness). The explanation of the Sacred Four Letter Name, while interesting and even relevant in some ways, was not what I was asking about. Its relevance was not clear to me regarding the question. Perhaps I wasn't clear enough. I was trying to be succinct which sometimes has the opposite result.

We have no Orthodox (nor Conservative) shuls here within a couple of hours so we're taking the class at an independent synagogue (which is essentially Jewish Renewal-Reform). I know how Orthodox rabbis would answer this (and the ones I asked did as expected). I was wanting to understand this from a non-Orthodox perspective.

To me this question goes beyond the particular lesson in our text to the way HaShem is being presented here. The rabbi and staff feel that it is appropriate to conceive of HaShem in basically any way that works for the individual. Some use feminine pronouns, some seem to consider HaShem to be more like the Force in Star Wars or bramana in Hinduism and Buddhism. The traditional, historic view seems to be less popular.

As I understand it, the traditional (and biblical) Hebrew can be read as either "He" or "It" while the feminine pronoun can only mean "She." Hence if the feminine pronoun is correct it excludes both the male or neutral (which can include the female). This fundamentally alters Torah and the teachings of our sages and the Patriarchs. HaShem could then only be a goddess (something rejected by Torah and Tradition). If I am mistaken in this I would like clarification, which is what I intended to ask for here.

I'm trying to place my own views aside somewhat and be open to what there is to be learned here, but at times its not easy. In tonight's class for instance it was stated than "ben" can refer to either "son" or "child," which I understand to be correct, but then it was added, "or even daughter" which I don't think is correct, that's "bat" I believe (which can only be female, again excluding "ben"). When I questioned this, asking if the "child" was not by definition male the teacher hesitantly agreed, then  added "our textbook is not sexist" -- which I had never charged it was (although I am beginning suspect it as we continue on). I'm not sexist. We plan to make aliya in about a year and I just want to learn the language properly.

No offense was intended by the "9" on clarity. Your response was good. It just didn't answer my question.

Learning Hebrew is tough enough without these added layers.

Thanks again

Answer
Dear Shlomo,

I responded appreciatively and wished you well. Somehow that response was lost in the cyber sphere.

Liberal - including Reform - clearly are much more PC than traditionalist translations.

Secondly, male has been the dominant gender classically.

Thirdly, "ben" does not necessarily mean "son" or "child." In some Hebrew "eras" especially in that of written codes of law, "ben" means "in the category or status of" which clearly now makes sense of "bar mitzvah." Not son of the commandments but rather "now in the category of being commanded to observe the mitzvot."

Literal translation doesn't always work.

I encourage you to use the multi-volume Alcalay Hebrew-English-Hebrew dictionary at the least - and check out the wide use of "ben" in Hebrew.

Sorry for the loss of the original message.

Best wishes

Rabbi Dov

Conservative Judaism

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Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner

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Write to me with questions about Jewish customs and law, history, philosophy and tradition for answers from a Conservative perspective or conversion. I am a graduate of The Jewish Theological Seminary and a member of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly. Having served in congregational pulpits since 1970, I now am President of the Foundation For Family Education, Inc. a non-profit educational endeavor. I established it to create new formats of hands-on programs and provide free educational downloads at www.jewishfreeware.org. In addition to general informational questions I welcome your questions about programs for social action, outreach to dual-faith families, inter-faith clergy projects, healing services, education for conversion, adult education for the congregation and the community. If you have questions about Informal and Formal Education I am ready to share my extensive experience with Youth Activities, Camping and Religious School/Hebrew High School on a congregational, community and national/international level.

Experience

I have served on the National Youth Commission for more than 25 years and serve on the Boards of the Conservative Zionist movement MERCAZ and the World Council of Synagogues. I have always dual-families and taught candidates for conversion with a great sense of fulfillment. I am very proud of 25 years on the Jewish camping staff of Camps Ramah. My greatest source of pride is my family! Ask me about them, please!:-)

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