“Your goal is to demystify Religion, right?� the bookseller named Esther asked me. “You want to take the power of religion out of the hands of experts and put it into the hands of the people, right? That is our philosophy here at Hesperian, with healthcare.�

I was at the Hesperian offices, purchasing a book co-authored by my friend Julia Watts Belser, who is a soon-to-be-ordained Rabbi, and illustrated in part by my friend Mary Ann Zapalac. If you buy it from Hesperian’s website they donate part of the cost to distribute the book free of charge in countries that cannot afford to purchase it. (It’s a health manual for disabled women, not a Gideon Bible.) I had just told Esther how I knew Julia, which was through our school, the Richard S Dinner Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. And as I nodded to explain to her that “demystifying religion� was indeed what my pursuit of a master’s degree in Jewish Studies was about, I had to wonder if it were in fact true.

Am I not educating myself in order to serve the Jewish people as a writer, a teacher, a curriculum developer, — in short, as an “expertâ€?? I am. But the purpose of writing, teaching, and building curriculum is not to establish or maintain a hierarchy with an Educator at the top, but to locate myself as one learner among a community of learners who share information and tools and questions and, in all that, because of all that, God emerges, between us. That’s the why of it. To bring about God and live there in the shared spaces, exposed to the Holy Presence. Education is about community. Community is the Mishkan. The Mishkan is the awareness of the collective.

In any situation I find myself teaching, I learn more from my students than they learn from me. But I have to admit that I do want to be the “expert� – I want to be able to package the teachings of people like Fonrobert and Boyarin for people who are not expert in the field of sexuality or gender or Jewish Studies. I want to be able to use my special abilities and gifts to bring ideas to birth in new ways. I want to be an expert not for lessons of gender and sexuality in and of themselves, either, but because the techniques my role models employ have the potential to change the world. This is cool stuff and I am hopping up and down to share it with everyone. I am a toddler who has vocalized the word “Bus� for the first time, and how can you not share my joy in the gift of communication? I tell you, God is here.

If, after reading Boyarin, I can internalize the idea that Leviticus 18:22 is about gender transgression rather than “homosexuality� I have learned a valuable lesson about the invisible structures that support Rabbinic society. If, after reading by Fonrobert’s “against the grain� methodology, I can hear the faint but persistent echo of a woman’s voice in Niddah, I am presented with a sense of reality that differs from that presented by a straight reading of the text.

I love that what is not written, or what is “written between the lines� can teach us, that silence can shout for our attention. How cool is that, to a hearing impaired person, that silence is critically important and has been neglected by the difference-engines in our brains? How cool is that, to a visually impaired person, that the white fire of the page reveals as much as the black fire of the text?

Once I know about the invisible and the silenced, once I name them and thus bring them to my consciousness, not only can I change my own damaging way of understanding a particular text, but also I can use the pattern as a template for locating the invisible sturcutres gender norms create in other texts, and in my own cultures. The history of Jewish thought cultivates this kind of pattern matching abstraction.

Esther the bookseller’s notion of “demystification� has me thinking two things. First, I am not “deMYSTIFYing� but my goal is rather to “RE-MYTHIFY� religion. Rather than applying the old heterosexual patriarchally normative myths that underlie Jewish ritual practice, I am trying to find new ways to read that gets PAST the issue of specific bodies and individual lessons, myths that get to the idea of communal learrning and transformation. I have started to read Genesis in this manner, and my reading is yielding some interesting ideas. (See my former posts on Jvoices for early versions of some of these ideas.) I want to show that the Emperor is naked, to learn the lesson of binaries so the Universe can get on to the next cool thing.

The other thing that Esther’s use of the word “demystification� brings uncomfortably to mind for me is the fact that my new readings keep leading my rational self right up to the brink of mysticism. It makes me uneasy to think that I may be “MYSTI(C)fying�.

The final thought relates to Esther’s offhand comment about “putting the power into the hands of the people�. In one sense, this seems to me a Christian comment, originating from Esther’s understanding of Church hierarchy. (Or, now that I think of it, the medical hierarchy). My first thought, of course, was that Judaism isn’t shaped like that, when in fact it is. Rabbis, Cantors, Jewish Educators and Jewish Communal Leaders educate themselves Jewishly to a higher degree than the ordinary Jeiwsh person. There are hierarchies, even though they aren’t centralized and distributed through priestly nodes like the Vatican.

We are not empowered by priests or rabbis. God is not mediated for us through humans. The religious empowerment of the Jewish people was given to each of us, to all of us, by God. No human can take it away.

All the best to you.