Podcast: Malka Simkovich on God's Maternal Love

A professor of Jewish studies joins us to talk about why the Hebrew Bible sometimes portrays God as a mother, and what that means.

Tikvah Podcast at Mosaic and Malka Simkovich
Feb. 24 2023
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A weekly podcast, produced in partnership with the Tikvah Fund, offering up the best thinking on Jewish thought and culture.

Podcast: Malka Simkovich

One of the great debates in the history of Jewish theology is about how to reconcile two contradictory truths. First, that God is beyond human comprehension, and—unlike pagan deities—does not have a corporeal presence and is not subject to human emotions. Second, that the Hebrew Bible often describes God in human, bodily terms, as do the liturgy and rabbinic elaborations on Scripture.

Thus, in one of the most poignant moments of the liturgical year, Jewish worshippers refer to God as Avinu Malkeinu, “our Father, our King.” This is but one of many Jewish prayers that, following the biblical text, describe God as a father. And God has long been thought of in paternal terms in the Jewish imagination.

Yet, as Moses Maimonides and other Jewish philosophers never tire of reminding us, God exists beyond such human categories as sex, and can’t fully be comprehended as a father. Therefore it is no contradiction that there are also aspects of womanhood and motherhood—specifically its creative, generative capabilities—that can be used in describing God. And perhaps that is why the Hebrew Bible sometimes portrays God not only a father but also as a mother. Malka Simkovich, whose essay on this subject was published in August 2022 in the Christian Century, discusses biblical portrayals of God’s maternal love with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.


More about: Hebrew Bible, Religion & Holidays