Blogging Religiously

From a New York point of view

More on the androgynous name of God

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Androgynous name of God, Dual-gendered God, Pleasantville Community Synagogue, Rabbi Mark Sameth, Reform Judaism magazine, Tetragrammaton on Mar 05, 2009

Last summer, I wrote an article about Rabbi Mark Sameth from Pleasantville Community Synagogue, who was about to publish a provocative scholarly piece about the Hebrew name of God that is known as the Tetragrammaton.

It is the four letters Yud-Hay-Vov-Hay and it appears 6,823 times in the Hebrew Bible.

Sameth developed a “theory” that the four letters should actually be read in reverse. When they are, he said, the new name makes the sounds of the Hebrew words for “he” and “she.”

As I wrote at the time: “God thus becomes a dual-gendered deity, bringing together all the male and female energy in the universe, the yin and the yang that have divided the sexes from Adam and Eve to Homer and Marge.”

I got a huge reaction to my article about Sameth’s article. People from many, many religious traditions found meaning in Sameth’s ideas.

I mention this now because Sameth has written an article in the Spring 2009 edition of Reform Judaism magazine, further explaining his theory.

He writes:


He-She, I believe, is the long-unpronounceable Name of God! This secret has been hiding in plain sight for all these years, for it explicitly states in the Torah: God created the earth-creature in God’s own image, male and female.

Needless to say, the notion of an androgynous God creating essentially androgynous human beings has profound implications. Long ago the Zohar, the book of Jewish mysticism par excellence, declared, “It is incumbent on a man to ever be male and female”—a strange statement especially in the 13th century. But recently our society has begun to show signs of being able to understand, and willing to accept, this message.


He later writes:


It is time for us to consider changing our most sacred prayers, in particular those which refer to God as Lord. The early rabbis employed the word “Lord” (Adonai in Hebrew) as a respectful substitute for the unpronounceable Tetragrammaton, and recently some Reform Jews—including the editors of The Torah: A Women’s Commentary—have chosen not to use it. With this new cognition of the Tetragrammaton, we can confidently revisit our faithful declaration: “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echad—Hear O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4) and affirm instead: “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echad—Hear O Israel: He-She is Our God, He-She is One.”

It is time for us to affirm that Reform Judaism’s tradition of gender equality—which has empowered women to become rabbis, cantors, and congregational lay leaders—is not a modern and somehow less authentic invention, but emblematic of Judaism’s most ancient conception of God.