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Jewesses with Attitude

Jewitches and Jew-U's

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?

10 Comments

Hi, as a member of Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness, and the owner of a site called Jewish Voices in Unitarian Universalism, let me assure you I am Jewish first. Not Christian. Jewish and UU. And sometimes, many other faiths that inspire me, too.

I hope you will check out my website and sign the guest book. You would all be very welcome to blog there, too. Thanks so much for having this discussion. B'Shalom, Nancy

WOW, so much stuff here, an excellent resource. Thanks guys!

I mourn my own loss of heritage, in that both my maternal grandparents were descended from tribes native to North America that were ushered across the continent by hostile conquering Europeans. To escape forcible encampment on nonproductive land, they hid in the hills in what is now known as the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri. The only oral history I have - beyond the stories of how strongly my mother was chastised for even asking about her native linage and the warnings that they would be rounded up and forced to move, even as late as the 40Ì¢‰â‰ã¢s - is a charming story of how our family came to be both Crow and Blackfoot Ì¢‰â‰ÛÏ having to do with Tornado Ally and an erstwhile treaty of necessity to allow encampment on opposing sides of a river bank - that always ended with the conclusion of tornado season. The stories about keeping their race secret remind me of Mosaic, in which the author speaks of her life during the reign of HitlerÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s Third Reich, and how her family Ì¢‰âÒpassedÌ¢‰âÂå for catholic and how much of her heritage she lost as a result of that. As I type this I am looking at a picture of my grandparents, my own mother as an infant and her two older sisters. They are sitting on the running board of a WPA truck looking like a scene from the Grapes of Wrath Ì¢‰â‰ÛÏ barefoot, clean but poor. The 19 year old mother of three looks thin, exhausted and pretty darn white (sheÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s Cherokee) Ì¢‰â‰ÛÏ the fatherÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s dark complexion and hooked nose could, I suppose, pass for Armenian, maybe Italian... but only if you were willing to cross your eyes and pretend not to notice (again reminiscent of Mosaic). Like many children who were forced to pretend they were Christian, they never reclaimed their tribal affiliation and were lost to the tribe, and consequently, the tribe was lost to their children and their childrenÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s children. I feel that loss as a hole in my soul, almost physically palpable.

Anyway, all that above is background to my need to keep my youngest daughter from being disconnected from her birthright and heritage. Both sides of her fatherÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s family came from Odessa, Russia; one came to this land through Ellis Island, the other through Seattle. Their offspring met in Chicago and married. I will not deny my daughter the richness of her heritage.

I have studied the faith and the traditions of Judaism and I believe that it is more pantheistic than monotheistic Ì¢‰â‰ÛÏ which reflects and incorporates my own religious views. I am drawn to finding a way to keep my earth-based traditions that I have newly reclaimed from my mother and my fatherÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s familial lines that meet my spiritual needs and seek conversion to become fully recognized as being Jewish (well, at least by some) - to establish a single identity for our family and further empower my daughter to claim all that she is by birth.

Any suggestions on finding a Rabbi who wouldnÌ¢‰â‰ã¢t run screaming away at this notion?

i think a better question would be....

would a jewitch walk into a shul and identify herself as a jew and practicing witch.... hmmm... that would turn some heads....

You ask if a Jewitch would go into a synagogue and identify herself as Jewish - and the answer is, for most of us, including myself - absolutely. In fact, my interest in Jewitchery naturally EVOLVED from my traditional study of Jewish kabbalah from a Chassidic perspective. Not all Jewitches practice traditional Wicca divorced from traditional Judaism. I don't. I do, however, incorporate elements of Celtic witchcraft and Native American shamanism (both also among my natural ancestries along with my Jewish ancestry) into my traditional Jewish kabbalistic practice and study. I love being a Jewitch! It's a life-enhancing blend of all that I am.

Maybe I can answer your question...

My dad was raised Catholic, my mom was raised a barely practicing Reform Jew (her mother is an Italian Sephardi immigrant but keeps few Sephardi traditions). They joined a UU Church in the 80's and my sister and I attended UU Sunday School all our lives, while attending the Reform Temple on the High Holidays and hosting Passover seders and Chanukah parties. My mom identifies as a Jew but she loves the UU Church. I used to identify as a "Jewish Universalist" and even wore a chalice and a Magen David around my neck when I was a teen. I was always interested in exploring Judiasm and did some reading on my own, but never really became engaged in a Jewish community while growing up. The UU community I was a part of was warm and welcoming, while frankly the Reform community seemed pretty cold, materialistic, conservative, and uninviting. I do think that many culturally/ethnically Jewish folks become involved in UU life because they cannot find any vibrant, progressive Jewish communities in their area. In college and beyond I found liberal Jewish communities where people were more warm and there was more space for difficult questions, even about Israel/Palestine issues, and now I identify solely as a Reconstructionist Jew though I still believe UU principles and mostly do not keep Halakhah. Anyways...I definitely identify as a Jew when I enter a synagogue, and my sister and my mother do too, but there are definitely times when I feel more comfortable in a more pluralistic setting. In Jewish settings I sometimes feel like an outsider for being raised in a working class town with no other Jews, and for asking radical questions about Israel/Palestine, but in UU settings my Jewish identiy can also make me feel like an outsider (like when the minister wants me to light a chanukiah on a Sunday morning three weeks after Chanukah is over just because it coincides with the Christmas service). Honestly, I guess I feel most comfortable with "half-Jews" or Jews who have had a lot of interaction/exposure to non-Jews. Basically I feel like a little bit of an outsider in most religious settings. But I think my outsider status can give me a unique perspective on both Judaism, UU'ism, and to a lesser extent, Catholicism. It even led me to major in Religion in college.

Very interesting subject. I have often wondered why Judaism and Christianity and Islam as so "thou shalt have no other gods before me," while in China, for instance, it is common to mix a bit of Confucious, a bit of Taoism, a bit of Buddhism. For that matter, the JuBu community has not only been at the Jewish table for a couple of decades, but was immortalized to some degree in "The Jew and the Lotus".

We live very fractured lives - bits are spent in our religious community, bits in our work and family and friend communities, our TV-watching peers - it makes perfect sense that our religion should begin to resemble a patchwork quilt, as well.

Having said that, and Unitarianism aside, I think that the way that Judaism and Christianity, Judaism and Islam worked out who they were over several centuries, in part, by saying, "I'm not like THAT guy" precludes comfortable Jewish-Muslim or Jewish-Christian (or Christian-Muslim) fusions. There is too much emotional and historical baggage. And no Buddhist or Hindu ever forced Jews to convert, or burned Jews alive for refusing to do so.

This is an issue that has been upsetting people for a long time. Possible syncretism between American Judaism and Unitarianism arose first in the late 19th century. Some reforming rabbis believed that given what seemed like friendly Unitarian interest in Judaism, some of them might be attracted to a universalized form of Judaism. Solomon Sonneschein, a Reform rabbi in St. Louis, who believed that Judaism was, in its essence, a universal religion thought that Judaism and Unitarianism might be able to merge. In 1881, however, he announced that Unitarians were still too limited by prejudice to be able to accept Jews as equals or to consider adherence to a Jewishly identified faith.

In 1886, after an acrimonious departure from his St. Louis congregation, Sonneschein visited Boston where he met with two leading Unitarian ministers and spoke in a local Unitarian church. Back in St. Louis, the congregation considered rehiring Sonneschein but had to look into his seeming apostasy. Questioned by his congregation, he declared that his Boston discussions were meant Ì¢‰âÂåto ascertain how far I, as a Hebrew theologian, could conscientiously go for the advancement of that sacred cause which both the advanced American Jew and advanced American Christian have in common without losing the integrity and identity of my Hebrew affiliations of birth and conviction.Ì¢‰âÂå The scandal over SonnescheinÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s behavior and beliefs roiled the St. Louis Jewish community for many years and brought forth a general denunciation of Sonneschein by his rabbinical colleagues. Then as now, many Jews feel quite uncomfortable when someone suggests that there may not be clear boundaries between their faith and those associated with other religious traditions.

Sonneschein, by the way, was the husband of Rosa Sonneschein, beloved at the Jewish WomenÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s Archive, as the creator and editor of the American Jewess, the first English-language periodical for and by Jewish women, which is accessible and searchable on JWAÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s website. Her pioneering entry into publishing came after a highly publicized and difficult divorce from her Unitarian-leaning husband, though it probably had more to do with personal issues on both sides than with his religious inclinations.

Sources: Eric Goldstein, The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity and Walter Ehrlich, Zion in the Valley: The Jewish Community of St. Louis, Volume 1, 1807-1907.

JN, you raised some very interesting ideas. I know very little about Jewitchery and JewÌ¢‰â‰ã¢Uism, but I imagine that they are often criticized for not being aligned closely enough with traditional Jewish principles and for not being G-d-centered. Perhaps one of the best ways to avoid this criticism is to have an ongoing dialogue and exchange of information between these Ì¢‰âÒalternativeÌ¢‰âÂå Jewish communities and the more traditional communities. Furthermore, I think it is important for people who donÌ¢‰â‰ã¢t identify with traditional Jewish principles, or come from a multi-faith background, to be aware of the existence of these newer communities and their unique approaches to Judaism.

I donÌ¢‰â‰ã¢t think I would call the Jew-U and Jewitch communities a Ì¢‰âÒsocio-cultural-spiritual phenomenonÌ¢‰âÂå, a phrase that in my mind makes them sound like a trend or movement that at some point will go out of style. IÌ¢‰â‰ã¢d like to think (and hope) that these new communities are permanent Ì¢‰âÒadditionsÌ¢‰âÂå to the big Jewish umbrella, and are contributing to the breadth of Judaism. Moreover, these communities are a reflection of the diverse ways in which individuals appreciate their religious and spiritual experiences and connect to Judaism in ways that make sense to them.

IÌ¢‰â‰ã¢m a Unitarian Universalist, UU-Jew. Some would say IÌ¢‰â‰ã¢m Jewish and others would not because my mother is not Jewish. But I feel I am Jew(ish).

I grew up knowing my father's side really well, and my mom's not so much. It was just like that. My mom's family moved far away and many passed away, and my fatherÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s side was around.

IÌ¢‰â‰ã¢ve had the opportunity of fully experiencing Jewish weddings, dancing, singing, shovelling earth on my baby cousin's grave and reading a blessing at his funeral; creating rosh chodesh moon books with my aunt's group in NY, attending Shabbat services in different cities and lighting candles myself and in a community with others.

IÌ¢‰â‰ã¢ve also had my Easter basket blessed in a Polish Catholic Church in Michigan with my grandmother at about 6 years old, sang carols at midnight masses at church, and placed flowers and candles on graves of loved ones.

I grew up UU, yes in Rochester, NYÌ¢‰âÂå_ o.k. we can play the Jewish name gameÌ¢‰âÂå_ went to public school, had off from Jewish holidays and really didnÌ¢‰â‰ã¢t think much about that fact so many of my friends were Jewish. Practicing Jews.

When I was in middle school/high school I remember telling my friends I was going to a Seder at church that my dad was leading and didnÌ¢‰â‰ã¢t think anything of it. Or Ì¢‰âÒCome to our Winter fair and we will make tree ornaments and play the dreidel game with m&mÌ¢‰â‰ã¢sÌ¢‰âÂå. It all seems just right -- an amazingly spiritually-filled place; a community. My friends would come.

It was not actually until going to college that I was, like, "what? there is no one in this room who is Jewish? What do you mean? What about Unitarian?"

What do you mean people had a problem with kids growing up with 2 momÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s? YouÌ¢‰â‰ã¢re not vegetarian? You have not marched with your family against war? You donÌ¢‰â‰ã¢t take a day or an hour to make a space for a special Ì¢‰âÒisland in timeÌ¢‰âÂå during the week?

It was all very surprising to me. It still is.

But to this day, I love the fact that I have been able to celebrate my Unitarianness and my Jewishness with my Polish root, rituals, etc. I feel really special that I have all of this. I also feel pretty special to actually be in Warsaw, Poland where I have come even closer to my Jewish spirituality. Who would have thought it would happen this way?

I feel blessed. When I come back to the States, IÌ¢‰â‰ã¢m totally interested in doing some shul shopping but IÌ¢‰â‰ã¢m also looking forward to going back and attending Unitarian services knowing I can sing all the songs in the hymnal without opening the book.

Ok, got to go and get back to putting the Ì¢‰âÒFestival of LightsÌ¢‰âÂå Program together. Last year at the school where I teach in Warsaw, I was really freaked out with the whole Christmas overload singing and all. This year I worked hard with the Music teacher and staff to put on a diverse winter celebration.

Ì¢‰âÒDuring the dark months of the end of autumn and into winter, celebrations occur bringing in Ì¢‰âÒlightÌ¢‰âÂå to our lives, our families, and world community. Celebrations about the EarthÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s turning, Goddesses of Wealth, miracle births, and lamp oil burning brightly.Ì¢‰âÂå

I carry and hold in my heart the importance of activism, spiritual practice, understanding and showing that there is light in each and every one of us.

Shalom, blessed be, may it be so, to all from Laura in Warsaw, PL

May we all find peace in the paths we walk and the paths we form within our spiritual communities and around the globe.

How to cite this page

Namerow, Jordan. "Jewitches and Jew-U's." 29 November 2006. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 24, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/jewitches>.

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