Inventing Jewish Ritual

Jewish Publication Society  2007

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?

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