Feminine Imagery in the Bible

In a gender conscious society, people often ask if there are any specific references in the Tanakh and within Jewish tradition where God  is depicted in feminine terms. Without going into considerable detail, we will briefly one example:

In Isaiah 42:14, the prophet also depicts God’s biocentric passion for justice in feminine terms:

For a long time
I have held my peace,
I have kept still
and restrained myself;
now I will cry out
like a woman in labor,
I will gasp and pant.
Isaiah 42:14

The imagery of God acting as a mother giving birth to her child, portrays a Divine Presence that is present alongside those people who are trying to midwife a new world where human degradation, apathy and suffering no longer exist. This organic depiction of God does not portray the Divine Reality as being extrinsic or unaffected by the harsh presence of evil that is incarnated by malevolent people. The Talmud and the Midrash both describe the unfolding of the Messianic Redemption as the “Hevlay HaMashiach”–the birth-pangs of the Messiah.

According to the Talmud, the Messiah was born on the day of Tisha B’ Av, the Ninth of Av for the number nine symbolizes birth and new life. One of the most popular and intimate rabbinic names for God is Rachmana – “The Merciful One.”

The Hebrew word for “compassion” “rahameem” comes from the Hebrew word “rechem” for “womb.” God’s compassion and mercy are not extrinsic for in a metaphorical sense, we come from God’s womb. The womb is the place where all life is mysteriously conceived, carried and born. Throughout the Talmud and Midrashic literature, the Divine Presence as it is manifested among earthly mortals is called the “Shechinah.” The Talmudic depictions always convey a feminine quality that one does not find in the more traditional masculine metaphors of the Divine.

Perhaps one of the oldest Kabblalistic teachings dating back to the 2nd century posits the radical belief that the entire creation forms God’s own “mystical body” and are organically interrelated. All this suggests a profound mystical view: God’s Presence is wholly inseparable from the world. It was only later in the Kabbalah (and subsequently in Hassidut,) the creation of the physical and spiritual cosmos occurs through process of the Tzimtzum—Divine contractions. These contractions resemble the contractions and movements a mother has culminating in the birthing process of a human being. The bond between mother and child continues beyond pregnancy—a mother’s love never ceases to flow even when a child behaves disrespectfully. As a spiritual metaphor for the Divine, the mother/child imagery represents both interdependence and relatedness.

Lastly, for centuries, Kabbalists recite a special prayer before the performance of every mitzva (precept): “For the sake of the unification of the Holy One, blessed be He, and His Shekhina, behold I perform this mitzvah in fear and love, love and fear, through that Hidden and Concealed One, in the name of all Israel, and in order to give satisfaction to my Creator and Maker in order to raise the Shechina from the dust. For them, the unification of God’s Name requires the blending of the masculine and the feminine qualities of Divinity. Jewish mystics frequently refer to the earthly world as the Alma D’Paruda–the world of separation. The redemption of the world is thus envisioned as a unification of the divine feminine and the divine masculine aspects of God.