For She is a Tree of Life: Shared Roots Connecting Women to Deity: An Organic Theological Inquiry into Identities, Beliefs and Practices among South African Lemba and European-American Jewish Women

Abstract (Summary)

This work, in exploring rituals and beliefs shared by women of Jewish ancestry, seeks to learn what unites women of different Judaisms. In demonstrating the multiplicity of Judaisms and spiritual practices found among participants, it also shows the varied yet equally meaningful ways women have of connecting with God.

Working in the field with a Lemba co-researcher, Dr. Rudo Mathivha of Johannesburg and the Northern Province, I look at commonalities and differences between women of the Lemba tribe, Diasporic Jews living in Southern Africa, and Jewish women of diverse traditions living in the United States.

The study is grounded in feminist and organic research principles, these and a metaformic theology are my guiding methodologies. I examine my own life experience and my relationship to God, Judaism, and my communities as I go through the process of discovering Lemba and American women’s relationships with God, Judaism and their communities.

Through this dissertation, I hope to make valuable contributions to our understandings of feminist theology, and women’s beliefs and ritual practices. How are women’s relationships with deity expressed?

What role does prayer play in women’s lives? How does our faith affect the rituals we create; how is it in turn affected by them? This exploration, then, seeks to unearth and look at some of the influences shaping women’s religious practices and to learn what informs our spiritual authority, beliefs and identities. In talking with women who construct God from multiple perspectives–and with several women who identify as Jewish but do not believe in any omnipotent deity–this work is a call for compassionate dialogue and more open minds.

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