I get it -- we've all been there, all of us newspaper religion writers. Holidays come up, and our editor demands something besides the "same old same old." So we reach for the new and bizarre.
So it's understandable when the Religion News Service used Yom Kippur, which Jews observed on Wednesday, for a look at the Hebrew Priestess Institute, even though the institute is a decade old.
Still, why simply hand the mike to its boosters?
The institute is about as non-traditional as they come, as the article quickly establishes: dancing, beating a drum, sitting in a circle, placing women's pictures on the altar, praying to the "divine feminine." And, of course, ordaining women as priests -- something that would arch many Jewish eyebrows. But RNS offers only the slightest hint that not everyone buys into this approach.
That approach gets a loud, clear hearing in the article. Rabbi Jill Hammer, co-founder of the institute, wants to "re-imagine the role of a holy woman, an intermediary between the human and the divine who is part prophet, liturgist, shaman":
For inspiration, this Jewish priestess movement looks to biblical women such as Miriam, Moses’ sister, who drums and sings, and Deborah, the judge who held court beneath a palm tree.
It also embraces those ancient Israelite women who worshipped fertility goddesses condemned by the prophets, as well as modern teachings from various Earth-based religions with their healers and ritualists.
This Yom Kippur, as Jews crowd synagogues for the Day of Atonement, some women will gather in a circle for a mix of prayers, chants, songs and meditations — all of which incorporate references to the divine feminine – sometimes known in the Jewish mystical tradition as the Shekhinah.
Institute students are introduced to 13 women’s "archetypes" of leaders, including prophetess, witch and fool. Some participants refer not to God but the Goddess. And Jill Hammer and cofounder Taya Shere use artifacts like stones and divination cards in worship.