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.
Ruth Berger Goldston is a licensed psychologist in Princeton, NJ and a long-time havurahnik.