By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
We always refer to Hashem as male. We say “Him,” “Avinu Malkenu,” etc… but actually because Hashem is not a person, we cannot define “Him” as having a specific gender.
But lately I feel like it is easier for me to feel like I have a loving relationship with “Him” if I see him as a mother, rather than a father.
The problem is, it makes davening slightly confusing…
And I was also wondering, is it “Orthodox” to think this way? I remember having read somewhere that when we address Hashem in the male form, it is based on convention. What do you think?
— Rivka N.
The fact that God, we believe, has no physical form or body, and is largely referred to in our Torah and Scriptures in masculine form, is a profound philosophical question discussed by our sages.
The Kabbalists explain this to reflect upon the relationship between God and the world. In the creation of new life there is a partnership between a husband and wife. In this act of God-like creation, the man gives of himself to the woman; she receives his seed which is ‘’planted’’ in her and in this way life is formed.
Many references in Jewish sources compare the Al-mighty’s connection to the world, as well as the way He sustains it, to the relationship between a man and a woman. He pours down His bounty physically such with rain, and spiritually, from the heavens down to the earth, which is the recipient. Like the female, when the earth receives the bounty from above, its fertility allows and enables new life to be borne out, in the diverse flora and fauna of the planet.
At times there are references to God in the feminine, such as in certain prayers recited during the days of repentance around Yom Kippur and certain fast days. These prayers are tapping into God’s trait of mercy. The woman’s womb, in Hebrew, is called “rechem,” which is the root of the word “rachamim,” or mercy.
The main thing to keep in mind is that these subtle nuances in Jewish sources are masking very deep messages. Continue asking questions so you will unmask those messages and delight in the amazing world of our tradition.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.