The Female Side of God

Is God Possibly a Woman? Jewish Museum Hohenems is Joggling Religious Taboos.

Profil (Online)/ Wolfgang Paterno – June 12, 2017
German original:

The woman storms into the foyer. „What the Jews dare again is a scandal“ the visitor fumed, because she is certain that „god is a man!“ Is he? „The Female Side of God,“ the new exhibition of the Jewish Museum in Hohenems (Vorarlberg), is resorting to the traces of female-godly elements of monotheistic religions, with a focus on Judaism, starting in antiquity.

A conspicuous installation in the museum’s garden advertises the exhibit. “Grüß Göttin” [roughly translated as “God’s Greetings and traditionally the way many Austrians greet each other] read the letters framed in pink on the sign designed by artist Ursula Beiler. Before, the sign was installed next to the Inntalautobahn (Interstate highway) at Kufstein, where it was repeatedly damaged and sprayed by unknown persons. The Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) and the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) called for the dismantlement of the sign, the Tyrolean Riflemen scented blasphemy. The emotional blasting force of god’s unmanly side seems unbowed.

Hanno Loewy, 56, has been directing the Jewish Museum in Hohenems since 2004. The cultural scientist from Frankfurt has never had a problem with the greeting “Grüss Gott,” which is common in the state of Vorarlberg; he was more irritated by the “Heil” that locals also use by acclamation. “The idea that there exists only one god does not develop from one day to another,” explains Loewy. “The biblical myth, on the other hand, tells the emergence of monotheism as a story of sudden inspiration and arduous awareness: Abraham, whose father dealt with religious devotional objects, smashes the graven image. This is when, according to mythology, Jewish history begins. But the way towards worship of one single and true god took centuries, with the people adoring its old gods also after Abraham.


“It takes two to tango”

The quest for the image of the highest power is the prism through which Catholics, Jews, and Muslims view the world – which is clearly male-dominated. How do we contact god? Who is allowed to do that? The real hierarchies of society are continued in the religious sphere; the image of god is legitimized and modelled after the male dominance in society. “Despite all the patriarchal power, incongruity remains,” says Loewy: “It takes two to tango. It takes male and female.”

Many creation myths speak of a godly couple, who are birthing the new in a more or less sexually explicit manner. It evolves around male and female principles, which create the world through erotic interaction, and keep it in a yearly cycle. Countless ideas of a godly wedding exist in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: god and the Christian religion, portrayed as a woman; male Judaism and the female law – the Torah. “Any attempt to breathe life into the image of god eventually leads to images of sexuality.”

“The Female Side of God”, cleverly staged through mirrors and coloring, compiled knowledgeably and with fine irony by the curators Felicitas Heimann-Jelinek and Michaela Feuerstein-Prasser, wants to critically illuminate normative notions of authority and unambiguousness rather than renarrate a complete history of religious gender segregation.

Cultic objects up to 3,000 years old are presented next to textile amulets from 1900 and aureated wood madonnas; the U.S. Army –designed Kippa lays not far from the “Prayers” – volume owned by Bertha Pappenheim, who was one of Sigmund Freud’s early patients using the synonym “Anna O.” A Torah writer reports about the “grace and honor“ of being allowed to write the words of the Hebrew bible by hand, a task that is traditionally reserved for men. The Aria of the Queen of the Night can be heard through another pair of headphones; Mozart’s figure has been interpreted as a symbol for the Catholic church and as a loving mother.


Discrepancy of Monotheism

The bible already talks about two tales of creation that contradict each other: “God said: Let us make the human.” But who is “us?” Behind this is the old belief that a male and a female god can by all means be intimate with each other and thereby create man. Only afterwards a male god forms man in the Book of Genesis after his own image: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” These words of the almighty do not just confuse Loewy: “The only god creates man first after his own image, then as a man and as a woman – after which this first woman disappears from the text and is replaced by Eve. The whole contradiction of monotheism can be found in this primary scene.”

Eve consumed the forbidden apple. So begins the story of prudency, sexual lust, morals and free will – all in one single act. From this moment on, man is responsible for his actions: he is like god – by no means almighty but able to distinguish between good and evil; he attains the ability to take responsibility. “ Man can now longer hide behind the dilemma that he is just following god’s will. The paradise scene harbors the contrariness of male-female gender relations because Adam carries with him the memory that there already existed a woman before Eve, who reappears as the demonic Lilith.

What has the “Female Side of God” (which will be shown in Washington in 2018 and in Frankfurt in 2019) to do with our world? Currently, many are occupied looking for borders and clarity and they terrorize the world to death while doing it, even if they proclaim to do it for the “fight against terrorism,” Loewy explains: “But any of these ambiguities claims human lives. We prefer to show the divine as a world of ambiguity.” Every answer to a question about a god has consequences beyond religion.