Jewitches and Jew-U's

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From bagels and lox to black-hats, Judaism comes in all different brands, styles, and colors. In the U.S., where we are fortunate to have religious choice, there is a rich diversity of Jewish life and Jewish practice; something to please almost everyone. But as smaller Jewish movements are becoming more established and gaining membership -- including Renewal Judaism, Reconstructionism, Secular Humanist Judaism, and Earth-Based Judaism -- and as interfaith marriages are becoming increasingly common, another phenomenon is also on the rise: the melding of Judaism with other faith traditions. “Jewitchery” and “Jew’Uism” (the fusion of Judaism with Unitarian Universalist ideology) are among these new Jew(ish) identities.

Jewitchery, whose members identify as “Jewitches” or “Judeo-Pagans” or “JAPs” (Jewish American Pagans… ha!) are Jewish women who practice witchcraft, Wicca, or other “goddess-directed worship.” Examples of Jewitch practice include the incorporation of magic into Jewish rituals, welcoming the shekhinah (the divine feminine), and lighting yahrzeit candles to honor the dead. Jewitchery.com offers Jewitches—or “witchy Jews” as some prefer to be called—a space to explore Judeo-Pagan ideas such as the Shabbat Bride or Queen as an actual goddess and a Jewitch’s perspective of deity. One woman who wrote an essay entitled

Nice Jewitch Girl describes herself as a “Jew on an eclectic feminist path.” And Jennifer Hunter, author of “21st Century Wicca”, explains that “Goddess is just Yahweh dressed in drag.” Sounds good to me.

Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness identify Jew’Uism as “the explicit interactions between Judaism and Unitarian Universalism in everything from theology to ritual to life experience.” A significant number of Unitarian Universalists are of Jewish descent (which I learned after attending a UU retreat in Belgium last year) and many of them departed from organized Judaism because of its patriarchal origins and God-centeredness. So, a Jewish “feel” or resonance within the UU community isn’t uncommon.

Unitarian Universalism seeks to draw upon the wisdom of the world’s religions in an effort to ethically and spiritually affirm the dignity of every person. Many Unitarian Universalist congregations, for instance, have Passover seders and incorporate Jewish texts and Jewish values along with those of other traditions into their religious education. Even though UU’s hold many different “God” concepts, some Jews would question whether a synergy between Unitarian Universalism and Judaism is theologically possible because of Unitarianism’s historical origins. Unitarianism arose within and in dialogue with the Christian tradition. But today, the majority of UU’s in the United States center their faith upon humanistic teachings, a pursuit of social justice, and environmental ethics -- beliefs that are shared by Jews and are, in many ways, central to Jewish identity.

These new religious/spiritual identities intrigue me. While many leaders of the organized Jewish community see Jewitchery and Jew’Uism as either a threat to Jewish survival or inconsistent with Jewish religious principles, I think these communities provide valuable opportunities for expression for people whose Jewish experiences do not exist in isolation from other religious, cultural, or spiritual identities. And since the Jewitch and Jew-U communities are intentional, not inherited, they carry a certain mindfulness and introspection that is sometimes lost in mainstream Jewish communities. Jewitches and Jew-U’s also shatter the assumption that those who do not identify with the Jewish “status-quo” are Jewishly unaffiliated.

But here’s a question to consider: would a Jewitch or a Jew-U walk into a synagogue and identify herself as Jewish? Or is her Jewish “self” only manifest in spaces populated by those who share the same kind of pluralistic interfaith identity? Is there a chance that many of these Jewitches and Jew-U’s could, in fact, fully express themselves and find fulfillment in liberal Jewish spaces but are under the assumption that such spaces don’t exist? Just how compatible or congruent are these blended identities? Are the Jewitch and Jew-U communities a socio-cultural-spiritual phenomenon or are they, in fact, transforming religion entirely?

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