After 13 offerings were made among the wooded hills of Falls Village, Conn., and at the conclusion of a two-hour ceremony where hands were laid and new names were given, Keshira haLev Fife became a Hebrew priestess.
The ordination, which was conferred by teachers from the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute, was a “powerful and beautiful” event, said Fife, a part-time Pittsburgh resident, in an email.
“Ordination is a culmination; it is the end of our formal studies and is also the beginning of the next stage of our journey,” added Fife, who, with ordination, accepted the name Choveret Chever v’Kohelet b’Midbar, or Tier of Magical Knots, Gatherer of People at The Origin.
Prior to becoming a kohenet, or priestess, Fife and a dozen classmates spent more than three years attending “seven intensive retreat weeks” of “rigorous experiential learning and exploration,” she said. “During those sessions, we learned about the 13 netivot through which women served.”
Such study was rooted in an exploration of biblical expression and understanding.
The Hebrew word netivot, which can be translated as paths, is derived from the book of Proverbs in which a variant of the term is used in 3:17: “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.”
“We use this word to refer to priestess paths: archetypes or ways of being that embody a particular form of the sacred feminine,” according to the Kohenet Institute.
As it’s taught to the studying priestesses, examples of the netivot, which also correspond to the various months in the Hebrew calendar, include shamaness, lover, seeker, midwife, maiden and fool.
These characteristics are reflected by women recounted in the Bible and Talmud and in rabbinic literature.
Specifically, to appreciate the shamaness, students of the Kohenet Institute are encouraged to return to the biblical story found in 1 Samuel 28, in which a female medium facilitates a conversation between the deceased Samuel and the living King Saul.
The shamaness, “embodies our connection to our ancestors, our ability to journey to the other world and our power to heal and to shift reality,” explained the Kohenet Institute. “We see her in the enchantresses and sorceresses the prophets condemn, and in the mother of Abaye, a Talmudic woman who is an amulet-maker and charmer. Her gifts are healing, spirit awakening and inner sight.”
As with personifying the shamaness, the goal is that “each of us is able to embody the various [netivot] and step into service,” said Fife.
Yet, how the latter is imparted will vary.
Included among the 2017 graduates, the fifth graduating class of the nearly decade-old organization, are a wise-woman ritualist, a social worker, a spiritual-care provider for prisoners, a board certified holistic registered nurse and a member of the Guild of Holy Drummers.
For Fife, a self-described “community shepherdess” and “ritual creatrix,” functioning as a priestess may include officiating events to mark the birth of a baby, the onset of menarche, retirement, uncoupling or even a change in residence. Mostly however, Fife perceives her role via Kesher and its satellite communities in both Sydney, Australia and Pittsburgh. Through Kabbalat Shabbat, Havdalah and Rosh Hashanah gatherings, Kesher seeks to provide participants with ways to “celebrate, pray and learn with the cycles of earth, sun and moon,” by creating “a thread adding texture and sparkle to the already rich Jewish tapestry in each place,” she said.
And while Fife largely led Kesher prior to becoming a priestess, with her new designation, she will be better able to reclaim “women’s leadership roles in ways that are simultaneously nurturing and strong,” she explained.
“Kohenet ordination stands as significant in a world where women have been denied their rightful place as leaders, as Jews and as humans.”
Through its study and practices, the Kohenet Institute is able to “create a Jewish experience that is transformative, reverent and inclusive, noted Rabbi Jill Hammer, co-founder of Kohenet and director of spiritual education at the Academy of Jewish Religion, in a news release.
Because of the emphasis on the role of women prior to rabbinic times, “I was encouraged to reclaim my voice and my power from that place,” said Fife. “It was a brilliant opportunity to exercise my feminism and rail against the patriarchy in a way that’s deliciously subversive while also being generative in my wholehearted contribution to my communities and the future of Judaism.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at