Invent­ing Jew­ish Ritual

Vanes­sa L. Ochs; Riv-Ellen Prell, fwd.
By – December 9, 2011
In Invent­ing Jew­ish Rit­u­al, Vanes­sa Ochs trains her anthropologist’s eyes and sen­si­bil­i­ties onto the pletho­ra of new and revised Jew­ish rit­u­als that have always been evolv­ing, espe­cial­ly in the past forty years. She is not only an observ­er and ethno­g­ra­ph­er, but also a par­tic­i­pant and cre­ator, and uses her own expe­ri­ences to invite the read­er into the process of invent­ing Jew­ish rit­u­al from the inside. Ochs weaves this unique com­bi­na­tion of per­spec­tives into a thought­ful tapes­try that will be of inter­est and acces­si­ble to a wide range of read­ers. She explores how fem­i­nism, the havu­rah move­ment, and the pub­li­ca­tion of the Jew­ish Cat­a­log books have con­tributed to cre­at­ing an envi­ron­ment that has proven to be espe­cial­ly fer­tile ground for cre­ative Jew­ish rit­u­al expres­sion by lay peo­ple as well as cler­gy. And, while the Recon­struc­tion­ist and Reform move­ments may have led the way, Ochs doc­u­ments many rit­u­al inno­va­tions that have been devel­oped with­in the Ortho­dox com­mu­ni­ty, par­tic­u­lar­ly by women search­ing for ways to increase their oppor­tu­ni­ties for learn­ing and express­ing them­selves with­in a halakhic frame­work. A num­ber of well-cho­sen case stud­ies effec­tive­ly expand the reader’s under­stand­ing of both the process and the con­tent of the cre­ation of new Jew­ish rit­u­als. Appendices.

Discussion Questions

1. Choose two Jew­ish objects that hold spe­cial mean­ing for you: one should express what you think of as con­ti­nu­ity with the Jew­ish past, and the oth­er should express new ways of being Jewish.

2. How does the object con­nect to the past, evok­ing sto­ries and memories?

3. What kind of feel­ings does the object evoke, and what kinds of acts does it inspire?

4. How does the object con­nect you to oth­er Jews?

5. What mean­ings do you hope the objects might con­vey if they were to be passed on to the next generation?

For addi­tion­al read­ing ques­tions, please visit