Kohenet: the Hebrew Priestess Institute, Launches its first Training Institute in Accord, NY
Rabbi Jill Hammer (featured on jwa.org) and Holly Shere founded the Kohenet Institute on November 23, 2005, based on a shared vision of Jewish women’s spiritual leadership in an embodied, earth-honoring, and feminist mode. Hammer and Shere, both deeply committed to revitalizing “the Jewish connection with the Divine feminine” and to reclaiming the ancient role of women as facilitators of sacred experience, met through a mutual friend (Jay Michaelson, founder of Zeek and Nehirim). Within a week, they had laid the foundation for the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute, with the following mission:
Through its programs and resources, Kohenet advocates and nurtures embodied Jewish spiritual leadership, creativity, and community from an earth-honoring, feminist perspective. Drawing on midrashic and mystical teachings from the Jewish tradition, Near Eastern myth, and women’s wisdom across the generations, Kohenet reclaims and innovates uniquely feminine models of Jewish spiritual leadership.
Kohenet’s first Hebrew Priestess Training Institute took place August 14-20, 2006, at the Elat Chayyim Retreat Center in Accord, NY, and has gathered for a week each winter and summer since then. The initial training consists of four retreats over one and a half years, focusing on 13 priestess paths: Maiden, Mother, Matriarch, Midwife, Wise Woman, Mourning Woman, Prophetess, Shrinekeeper, Shamaness, Seeker, Lover, Fool, and Weaver.
The expression of these archetypes in Jewish text and mystical imagination, Jewish women’s history, and ancient priestess work, is the framework for exploring and engaging sacred text, mystical writings, ritual craft, creative liturgy, thealogy, midrash (creative interpretation of sacred texts), sacred song and movement, spiritual journeying and dreamwork, as well as earth-honoring and mystical practices for Shabbat and festivals. The Kohenet Institute sees the Hebrew priestess as a woman who has chosen the practice of consciously embodying the Shekhinah, the indwelling Divine Presence, and trains women toward the goal of being catalysts for the sacred.
The training concludes with an initiation ceremony where students receive the title of tzovah or keeper of sacred space and time. Students who choose an additional year of advanced ritual and lifecycle training work toward smicha (ordination) as kohanot, Hebrew priestesses. This training program is sponsored by the Elat Chayyim Center for Jewish Spirituality at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center as well as by Kohenet: The Hebrew Priestess Institute.
On July 19, 2009, 11 women received smicha (ordination) as kohanot, becoming Kohenet's first priestess ordainees. These women are serving in their communities as lifecycle officiants, keepers of new moon and other ritual circles, writers of creative liturgy, members of chevra kadisha (burial societies), storytellers, teachers, and rabbinical students. They are heirs to a tradition of women spiritual leaders that is thousands of years old.
See also: Jewish Women in Environmental Activism.
Sources: "Priestly Caste", Tablet Magazine; “Kohenet Institute Herstory,” courtesy of the Kohenet Institute.