Conservative Judaism/Gender based prayer


Thank you for you service,
My wife and I are currently studying the book Aleph Isn't Enough (level 2) by Linda Motzkin (who I believe is Reform). On page 21 it gives 2 alternate prayers to HaShem for when men are not present. They use the female pronouns rather than the he/it of normal prayers and translate as: "...Who makes us holy with Her mitzvot..." We were told that while these are non-traditional they are appropriate and Torah consistent. I understand that the male pronouns can mean "he" or "it" while the female ones only refer to females. My question is, is it appropriate to use female pronouns when referring to HaShem when men are not present? I can not imagine this is correct however my wife and I really want to understand this more fully.


Dear Shlomo,Tetragrammaton

Thank you for writing.

The issue is not who edited or wrote the book in question but what is the religious "hashkafah" or perspective you are seeking.  For that, you should speak with your own Rabbi - and not to one of us "online" Q&A responders, for the most responsible and reliable response for your sake.

From my own theological perspective, God is neither masculine or feminine or even neutered neutral - God is beyond physical gender, some Kabbalists notwithstanding.

When you use the word "HaShem" instead o God, we are both using a "kinuyi," a Hebrew term for an English euphemism for the Hebrew letters that appear in the Torah, the Tetragrammaton. As Wikipedia helpfully summarizes this term:

"The term tetragrammaton (from Greek τετραγράμματον, meaning "four letters")[1][2] refers to the Hebrew theonym (Hebrew: י-ה-ו-ה‎) transliterated to the Latin letters YHWH. It may be derived from the verb that means "to be",  in the existential sense of the verb 'be' (that is, 'to exist'), not in the copula (as 'to be someone'). It is considered in Judaism to be the proper name of the God of Israel used in the Hebrew Bible."

Please note that the vowels assigned to the Torah word are NOT the proper vowels but are borrowed from another Hebrew word for "Lord."

Hence, we all use alternative terms in English and Hebrew, in writing and speaking.  Your use of HaShem suggests that you may prefer an Orthodox theological perspective in which case I urge you to speak with an Orthodox Rabbi.

In terms of whoever is leading the service making an attempt to more closely "identify" with the presence of God, female rather than a male term, I understand the effort.

I personally prefer to perceive of the Eternal as beyond gender, and I recognize the history which in English has rendered the Eternal to be a "male" term - "King" instead of "Sovereign."

Good luck in your studies

Rabbi Dov

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Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner


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 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.


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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