Nashim is the Hebrew word meaning women.
Excerpt from Stained Glass Quarterly article dated Fall 1989
Nashim is the Hebrew word meaning women. Nashim deals with the laws governing the relations between husband wife and children. Marriage is regarded by Judaism as natural in purpose but divine in origin. The natural purpose of marriage is the propagation of the human race. But, at the same time, marriage is an ideal state for the promotion of sanctity and purity of life.
The Hebrew words recited by the groom at the wedding ceremony, "By this ring you are consecrated to me as my wife in accordance with the Law of Moses and the people of Israel." are written in the upper portion of the Nashim window. The ring (symbol of the eternal consecration of marriage) is pictured in the lower area of the window composition. Also pictured are two wine glasses symbolizing the blessings of the marriage. The huppah (wedding canopy) symbolized in this window signifies the voluntary entrance of the couple into the marriage in the presence of their community.
The glowing gold's and reds are warm and soothing colors of expression; of a loving, nurturing mother. They are colors of passion and sensuality. These qualities are the embodiment of the divine feminine. The divine feminine exists, to some degree within all men & women. The divine, when allowed to come forth, holding the fabric of all humanity as one; as one, collective, whole, creation—all for the one purpose to be loved.
THE TWO FACES
Judaism holds a tension between the transcendent—the unknowable, the infinite, the separate, the “container” of the world—and the immanent—the tangible, the indwelling, the world itself. In Jewish thought, though physical images are discouraged, images of God may be drawn from human forms. The transcendent God is generally depicted as male (though God may have feminine qualities such as rachmanut, compassion, literally wombfulness). In later mystical tradition, the immanent qualities of God become feminized, but in the Bible these qualities too belong to God. The transcendent God is creator, father, judge, and warrior, but also healer and gardener. In later rabbinic thought, God is rabbi, scribe, and scholar. Other biblical images of the transcendent God are non-gendered and drawn from nature—the rock, the spring of water, the soaring eagle. In the Talmud God is sometimes simply called “makom” (the Place).
In kabbalah, the highest form of transcendence is literally formless—the ein sof or “without end.” We can know virtually nothing about this aspect of God. We can only imagine God through more finite metaphors–the wise creator, the good father, the tree of life, the Lady Wisdom, and so forth. The scholar Tikvah Frymer-Kensky and others have reminded us that we need multiple metaphors to fully describe our experience with God.
The “Holy One blessed be He” (Kadosh baruch hu) is a common rabbinic name for the transcendent God that humans can pray to and attempt to imitate. The Holy One is a wise teacher, an artist, a fighter, and sometimes a mysterious absence. The kabbalists identified the Holy One with the sefirah (Divine aspect) of tiferet, a masculine aspect of God that symbolizes the heart or sacred center, and also represents compassion and balance. Tiferet is the prince, the lover of Shekhinah, the tree of life, the sun, and the place where all opposites come together.
Where can we find a powerful image of the Divine feminine within Jewish sources? One name for Her which has been with us for centuries is the Shekhinah, the “dweller within.” In ancient times, the Shekhinah was a Talmudic word for the glory of God that rested on the mishkan (the mishkan was the Tabernacle), God’s sacred dwelling space in the wilderness (see Exodus 26-28). The Israelites saw the “glory of God” (kavod adonai) as tangible, powerful, and sacred, a pillar of fire or cloud guiding the Israelites through the wilderness.
According to the Talmud, the Shekhinah, the Indwelling, is the Divine that resides within the life of the world, dwelling on earth with the Jewish people and going into exile with them when they are exiled. While the traditional Jewish image of the transcendent God is male, in the kabbalah, that image has been accompanied by the feminine image of the Shekhinah—the inner glory of existence.
In the Zohar (a medieval mystical work), there are ten facets or sefirot of the Divine, and the Shekhinah (also known as malchut) is the tenth and final one, closest to the created world. She is a mystical embodiment of the feminine, earth-centered presence of God, and was also called the bride of God, the Sabbath, the Torah, the moon, the earth, and the apple orchard. Mysticism depicts the Shekhinah as female, but she can be both female and male. Two biblical figures who symbolize her are Rachel (wife of Jacob and mother of the Israelite nation) and David (shepherd, psalmist, and king of Israel). The Shekhinah rests on those who study, pray, visit the sick, welcome the new moon, welcome guests, give charity to the poor, dwell in the harvest booth called the sukkah, or perform other sacred activities.
The Shekhinah embodies joy, yet she is also a symbol of shared suffering and empathy, not only with a nation’s exile, but with all the hurts of the world. Mystics believe that in messianic times She will be reunited with her heavenly partner and that they will become one. Many Jewish poets of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries have reclaimed her as a powerful feminine image of God. Yet the Shekhinah as She is portrayed by Jewish sources is not a panacea for all that ails the way we look at God. Until recently kabbalists have considered Her the lowest and most inactive part of the Godhead, the last and least in a series of ten steps of creation.
The Shekhinah embodies traditional feminine traits like passivity and nurturing, and at the same time she is associated with death and darkness. These images, taken uncritically, can be damaging to women and to the male conception of the feminine. To discover the Shekhinah as the full embodiment of the feminine Divine, we must transform her from a stereotype into a living divinity who speaks to us in many different kinds of voices: mother and daughter, old and young, light and dark, compassion and anger, revelation and mystery.
We can rediscover the Shekhinah throughout Jewish text, throughout history, and throughout the natural world. God in the Bible is sometimes mother eagle and sometimes Holy Wisdom crying out in the streets. In the Talmud and midrash, the Divine is sometimes portrayed as a nursing mother or as the (female) twin of Israel. In the Zohar, there are multiple feminine God-images, such as Binah (understanding), also known as Immah Ilaah (the higher mother), who is called the womb and palace of creation, the fountain of understanding, the well of souls. Then there is Lilith, a mythic figure whom the tradition demonized but who for some is the embodiment of sexuality and freedom. We also cannot forget that the images and stories of the Shekhinah are connected to traditions of the Divine feminine around the world, from the ancient goddess Inanna, who is described as a warrior for her people just as the Shekhinah is in the Zohar; to the Virgin Mary, who is an intercessor in matters of Divine judgment like the Shekhinah; to Kuan Yin of Asia, who embodies compassion for those who suffer, just as the Shekhinah does. Jews have been afraid to acknowledge the Shekhinah’s relationship to goddesses and goddess-like images because of the traditional Jewish prohibition against idolatry. Yet to deny our connection to the Divine feminine as it is expressed and loved by others is to deny our connection to the human, and feminine, religious experience, and to render invisible some of the sources of our own spirituality.
Today feminist theologians and earth-centered Jews have reclaimed the Shekhinah as a unified deity in her own right, dwelling within living things and the earth, seeking peace and promoting human connection, speaking through women as well as men, working through the neglected and invisible, promoting change and healing brokenness. She is the Goddess—an image of the forces of life and the mysteries of creation.
As a rabbi, a feminist scholar, and a seeker, I have been looking for the Divine feminine for many years. In my own dreams, I have seen the Shekhinah as a pregnant woman glowing with light, as a great bird, as an old, secretive woman in a black robe, and as a stone with feathers. While I constantly look for her in texts, I believe that our own experience of Her will guide us toward Her, if we can open our eyes and ears.
The Shekhinah, for some, is a reminder that there is no division between creation and divinity. The Shekhinah allows us to break through the exclusively male and hierarchical visions of God and imagine a God that changes as we change, that evokes nature as well as the supernatural. Melissa Weintraub writes: “Shekhinah, Mother of all being, you are the stream that runs through our veins, and dances through the soil....” When we speak to the immanent Shekhinah, She speaks not to us, but through us, and through all the varied facets of the world.
The section which follows is a chapter from Fred P Miller's book, Zechariah and Jewish Renewal
Prophecies of the return of the "Shekinah," which had left the Temple and city of Jerusalem in the days of Ezekiel, are repeated in Zechariah. These same prophecies are also fulfilled in the historical period and record of Zechariah. To better understand these prophecies it is necessary to have an acquaintance with the history of the "Shekinah." Objection is made that the word "Shekinah," is not found in the scripture in its noun form and that it describes a concept that is not scriptural. It is said that the word is coined by Post-biblical Rabbinic scholars. While it is admitted that the Rabbinic concept of God being a hovering non-personal force is an unacceptable extension of meaning, the concept of a physical manifestation of God's localized dwelling is none-the-less scriptural. We have chosen to use the word "Shekinah," (shknh) , to name this "presence" since this meaning is in general distribution among many Christians, albeit ignorant of the origin of the word.
The word was coined from verbal cognates in the Bible which describe the "presence" of God in a locality. The verbal cognates are copiously used to describe the "Shekinah" appearances. The word "Shekinah," itself is not in the biblical text but the concept, as I have defined it, clearly is. The word most certainly is derived from "shakan," and whoever first used the word "Shekinah" coined it as a substantive (noun form) from the verbal forms used to describe the "abiding, dwelling, or habitation" of the physical manifestations of God described in Ex 24:16; Ex 40:35, Nu 9:16-18; and numerous other places where "shakan" is used. The word is also used to describe the mystical "Shekinah" presence in the tabernacle. The word "mishkan," a derivative of "shakan," is often translated "tabernacle." The Hebrew for tabernacle is more often simply "ohel," or tent. "Mishkan" means "dwelling place." That is, the "dwelling place" of "Him who dwells" or "Shekinah."
"Shekinah" in Hebrew is a feminine noun, It is interesting that Isaiah refers to the Shekinah using feminine pronouns. Especially in Isaiah 51. Particularly in Isaiah 51:9 and 10 and its context the pronouns are feminine. In verse 10 the KJV uses thou and it to refer to the Shekinah. Both pronouns are feminine in Hebrew. The Qumran text makes the feminine form certain by adding a yod to 2fs. Literally feminine "you she" translated in KJV "thou it." Without doubt this is why the inter-testament Rabbis coined the word Shekinah to describe the events where the physical presence performed miracles to guide and protect Israel. In the same passage (Isa 51:9) there is a phrase "arm of YHWH" that is used exclusively for the Messiah.
“Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
The "feminine Jewish divine presence, the Shekhinah, distinguishes Kabbalistic literature from earlier Jewish literature."
A personal experience
My personal experience with my Beloved: The Shekhinah; The Holy One; is that most beautiful, tender, gentle, all loving, infinitely kind and nurturing mother and guiding father; my Beloved is love itself.
The Seven Blessings (Sheva Berakhot) and Other Wedding Rituals
Kiddushin: The opening section, called kiddushin (betrothal), is where all of the legal business takes place, including the formal betrothal blessing and the ring ceremony.
Ketubah: Often couples include a reading of their ketubah (marriage contract) as a bridge between this first part of the ceremony and the next part, called nissuin (nuptials).
Nissuin (Nuptials): Nissuin includes the chanting of the sheva berakhot (seven blessings), the breaking of a glass, and yihud, in which the bride and groom depart from under the chuppah (marriage canopy) to take some time alone before joining guests for wedding festivities.
The sheva berakhot are the real heart of the Jewish wedding ceremony; it is in this liturgical moment of the ceremony that themes of joy and celebration and the ongoing power of love are expressed. Taken from the pages of the Talmud (Ketubot 8a), the blessings, from one to seven, begin with the kiddush over wine and increase in intensity in their imagery and metaphors. It is no accident that there are seven of these blessings, since the number seven brings to mind the seven days of creation. Poetic echoes of creation and paradise abound in the blessings, as does the age-old yearning for return to Jerusalem. Significantly, the final blessing culminates with imagery of the entire community singing and celebrating with the couple, reminding all present that the pair standing under the chuppah are a link in the chain of Jewish continuity.
The blessings are:
Under the Chuppah
During the ceremony, the blessings are traditionally chanted in Hebrew and may also be read in English. In the Sephardic tradition, a parent will often wrap the bride and groom in a tallit (prayer shawl) before the recitation of the blessings begins, to recognize the intimacy and significance of the moment. Many contemporary couples use the theme of “blessing” to creatively interpret the reading of the sheva berakhot: they may invite seven friends or family members to each recite one of the blessings or have the traditional blessings sung in Hebrew while friends or family members offer seven non-traditional blessings in English. There are many English interpretations of the sheva berakhot available
The Creative Jewish Wedding Book, some of which use neutral or feminine God language instead of the traditional male imagery. Often couples will include the sheva berakhot in Hebrew and/or English in their wedding programs so that guests can fully participate in this important moment in the ceremony. Traditionally, everyone present joins with the leader in singing parts of the final blessing.
At the Wedding Celebration
It is customary for the sheva berakhot to be recited again during the wedding celebration over a glass of wine, following the birkat hamazon (grace after meals). This second sharing of the blessings gives couples an additional opportunity to honor their loved ones by inviting them to offer one of the blessings. Another beautiful custom for this sharing of the sheva berakhot is for the wine to be divided into two different cups–representing bride and groom–that are then poured together into a third cup. The wine that has been mixed together is poured back into cups for the bride and groom, and also poured into the third cup, shared by the community. This ritual shows how the couple is now connected, and how their life together is intertwined with community.
The Week After the Wedding
While today most newly married couples are eager to sneak away for honeymoon time alone (and often to de-stress from their wedding planning marathons), Jewish tradition held that the bride and groom needed time with the community to help start their marriage out on the right foot. For the seven days following the wedding, the bride and groom were treated like a queen and king, and were invited to dine at the home of a different friend or relative on each night. These festive meals were called “sheva berakhot.” Following dinner, the seven blessings would be recited again–as long as a minyan of 10 men were present and there was at least one new person (who hadn’t been at the wedding) present. The idea of the dinners was to have real community celebrations for the couple, and parties often went into the night. During generations when marriages were arranged and couples may have met just before marriage the sheva berakhot meals served as a way for the couple to get to know each other, while being supported by the community.
Today the sheva berakhot festive meals are still an important custom, though observed more regularly in traditional circles. Some couples postpone their honeymoon trips so that they can celebrate with their community first and then celebrate their marriage together later. Other Jewish couples are choosing to engage in the custom for some of their first week of marriage or will even celebrate a week of sheva berakhot when they return from their honeymoons.
Traditionally, only Jewish men are counted in a minyan and only Jewish men can recite the sheva berakhot, both under the huppah and during the festive meals following the wedding. In liberal Jewish communities, both men and women are welcomed and encouraged to recite the sheva berakhot. Some Orthodox feminists have challenged the halakha (Jewish law) surrounding this debate, but have largely not made ground in changing this tradition. Other Orthodox and some Conservative women, though, in a desire not to challenge the halakha but to still include women friends and family members in their wedding honors have created a new tradition: the sheva shevahot, or seven praises. These seven praises are recited before, rather than after, the wedding meal, and emphasize the psalms and poems which celebrate the accomplishments of Biblical women.
The seventh praise is often the shehecheyanu blessing.
Rabbi Dov Linzer, a modern Orthodox rabbi, has written largely about another halakhic compromise: calling both men and women up to the chuppah in pairs for a sheva brakhot honor, with the man reciting the blessing in Hebrew and the woman reading an English translation. Rabbi Linzer also notes that in terms of halakha, the reciting of the sheva brakhot after the meal at the wedding celebration is the obligation of the community, rather than the groom himself, and so since women are part of the community, they may participate in sharing those honors in Hebrew.
The Tradition Continues…
As with so many Jewish rituals, the expression of the sheva berakhot has evolved over time, but their place and importance as the central celebratory liturgy in a Jewish wedding ceremony holds fast.