As a feminist dad who is well aware of the male gender ascribed by many to God, often as a default, I try to stay away from such descriptions. Using the name “Hashem” has made this easier, because even though “Hashem” is generally thought of as male, my 5-year-old daughter does not know that. So using “Hashem” allows me to keep our discussions gender neutral.
Of course, it is entirely nonsensical and utterly limiting to ascribe a gender to God. If God is different from and greater than all of humanity, how can we restrict God to a particular gender? It makes much more sense for God to be un-gendered or, at least, multi-gendered and fluid in form.
Yet, having grown up in a radical feminist household myself, I am also more than comfortable with thinking of God as female. My childhood home was filled with goddess statues and feminist and lesbian hagaddot, and, in it, we held feminist seders and many other holiday meals, which were led by women and during which God was referred to as female. But this was understandable given the disappearance of women and the female from Jewish traditions and holidays. It was a way of ensuring women had a presence in Judaism after years of ignoring and erasing them.
My daughter has no such concerns though, as my family offers everyone a place in how we celebrate and practice our Judaism. And yet, it is logical that we want to see God made in our image, and for my daughter that has meant God is female. Which, given how often God is referred to in male terms, I actually find pretty impressive.
It began as I was walking my daughter to school one morning. We were discussing the story of Passover and my daughter informed me that God was female. I had asked her why God brought the plagues on the Egyptians and her certainty about God’s gender was clear.
“She was so angry at Pharaoh for being mean to the Jewish people that she brought the plagues,” she told me.
Wanting to clarify the gender of God I asked, “God is a she?”
“Oh, yes,” she replied.
In the weeks leading up to this Passover, and during and after the holiday, we had countless discussions about Passover and even engaged in many reenactments of the story. We also watched “The Prince Of Egypt” about 40 times, which, not surprisingly, gave God a male voice. I wondered whether that would impact by daughter’s view of God. It did not.
During bath one night, we were going over the story again. While I rarely use gendered pronouns when talking to my children about God, I slipped up and used “he.”
“You meant she, right?” my daughter quickly interjected.
“Sure, yes,” I responded, accepting her terms fully.
For a while after that bath, I exclusively used female pronouns when talking about God with my daughter. However, after having so many conversations about this, and seeing how sure my daughter seemed about God’s gender, I wanted to find an appropriate time to question her further. And then the conversation fell into my lap.
One night as we all sat around the dinner table, my wife mentioned that a few other girls we knew who were my daughter’s age had been discussing whether God was male or female.
“What did they say?” I asked.
“Their teacher asked them what they thought, and they also thought God was a she,” my wife informed me. “And their teacher did not challenge them,” she added.
“What do you think it really is? Is it a he or she or something else?” I asked, turning to my daughter.
“I think it’s really both,” my daughter replied, to my surprise. And that was that.
So, what should you do when your child tells you God’s gender? First, accept their conclusions. Later, challenge them to think about how they reached their conclusions. And, when the time is right, check in to see if they still feel the same way.
In the end, there is no finality to their determination, and whatever words you use, God, well, she’ll be pleased you’re thinking about her.