Jewish Feminist Judith Plaskow

May 3, 2013

I’ll be buying the book from which this quote is excerpted. Wonderful stuff that bears reading two or three times to get the full meaning. If you’re not used to it, this can be difficult to wade through, but it’s worth the effort. Don’t be daunted by it, but wrestle with it and wring the meaning out!

While the function of the male image of God in an androcentric religious system is the chief focus of the feminist critique, there is another problem with this image that is separable from and yet buttresses its role in supporting patriarchy. When particular symbols for God become deeply established and familiar, they lose their transparency as symbols and come to be seen as descriptions of God that provide unique access to the nature of divine reality. Though this can happen with any much-used symbol, the image of God as male seems especially to function in this unconscious way. God’s maleness has been so completely taken for granted that it is even exempted from the philosophical injunction against ascribing positive attributes to God. Maimonides, for example, considers it illegitimate ever to characterize God in positive terms, for this might imply that God is similar to other existing things, Yet throughout his discussion of negative and positive attributes, Maimonides continually refers to God as He and Him without ever taking note of the fact that maleness is a positive trait, or applying to this attribute his doctrine of negation. In recent times, the anger and fear awakened by feminist attempts to alter male God-language similarly bespeak a profound, often previously unarticulated, attachment to this image, and a dread of losing along with it the very nature of God.

Photo of Judith Plaskow

Judith Plaskow

When a metaphor is assumed and defended on this level, it has ceased to be an image and had become an idol. The metaphor is no longer simply a way of pointing to God but is identified with God, so that any change in the image seems to defame or disparage God “himself.” The claim that only male language can be used for God — whether defended explicitly or disguised behind a liberal “what difference does this make, anyway?” — attributes ultimacy to particular male symbols. It then becomes maleness that is worshiped instead of God. While Jews are used to thinking of idols as pillars and stones, verbal idols can be every bit as powerful as sculpted ones — indeed, more powerful for being less visible. What will dislodge male idols however, is not hammers or fire but structural changes in the patriarchal system and the concurrent creation of new metaphors that lead the imagination down untrodden paths.

(From “Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective” by Judith Plaskow, 1990, HarperCollins, pp127-8)

About Judith Plaskow
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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

anthony May 3, 2013 at 7:07 am

I got hung up on male being a positive image of God. But, i “get” the rest of it.

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David May 3, 2013 at 10:43 am

It’s difficult. It doesn’t mean “positive=good” and “negative=bad.” A positive statement ascribes to God a certain attribute, which Maimonides say we shouldn’t do, because by saying “God is this.” we, by default, say “God is not that.” Maimonides asserted that we should never describe God except by action. That also goes well with the thought that “God is a verb.” Language intends to clarify, but lots of times only obscures, eh?

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