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The Life of Judaism

The Life of Judaism

Edited by Harvey E. Goldberg
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Pages: 267
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  • Book Info
    The Life of Judaism
    Book Description:

    Approximately thirteen million people around the world define themselves as Jews, with the majority residing in the United States and Israel. This collection portrays the diversity of Jewish experience as it is practiced and lived in contemporary societies. The book's attention to material culture offers a much-needed addition to more traditional views advanced in the study of Judaism. Through ethnographic and autobiographical perspectives, the essays provide an appreciation of Judaism in daily activities, from domestic food preparation to worshipping; Jewish attachment to the cultures of specific communities, be they in Russia or Morocco; the impact of the Holocaust; the place of the State of Israel in Jewish life; and the role of women. Harvey E. Goldberg, a leading scholar in the anthropology of Judaism, provides an introduction to each chapter that demonstrates the links among the various themes. Ease of communication and travel has resulted in frequent contact--and at times, conflict--between Jews of similar and diverging backgrounds around the world. Visiting distinctive Jewish spaces has become a way of cultivating specific identities and senses of a Jewish past. As ritual, prayers, and attitudes toward authority undergo new constructions and interpretation, Judaism of "the book" also takes on new forms. These essays go a long way in helping us understand a contemporary and multifaceted Judaism, along with its history and texts.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93572-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    Jewish life has diverse faces. The six-pointed star of David appears in synagogue design, on the flag of the State of Israel, and as a pendant on a necklace. Some aspects of Judaism seem closed to the outside world, such as the practices of ultraorthodox Jews garbed in black. Others may receive extensive exposure; in recent years the president of the United States has participated in lighting Hanukkah candles. Judaism has its own calendar—its New Year is in the fall—and its own lifecycle markers—the circumcision of boys at eight days after birth and the celebration of bat...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Ethos of an Eastern European Community
    (pp. 15-27)
    Ghitta Sternberg

    In the nineteenth century, the largest concentration of Jews in the world was in Eastern Europe. It was a time of extensive social change and of migration from rural towns to large cities. Still, many Jews continued to live in small communities, known by the Yiddish term “shtetl.” The shtetl, by no means isolated from change, was a place where many traditional patterns of religious and social behavior were preserved or modified gradually. In the late nineteenth century, the shtetl became the subject of satirical portrayal in the writings of Yiddish authors such as Sholom Aleichem. After much of Eastern...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Preparing for Passover in North Africa
    (pp. 29-39)
    Irene Awret

    Traditional Jewish life took many forms. This excerpt portrays the life of Jews in Nabeul, a small town on the Tunisian coast. It is based on the memories of Rafael Uzan (Fallu), who moved to Safed, Israel, in the 1950s, as he looks back at his boyhood with amusement and affection. While describing the preparations for celebrating Passover, the chapter also gives us a glimpse into the family, a focus of that festival. Jewish family life reflected, but was not identical to, the surrounding North African culture. Uzan points out the active relationships between the Jewish and Muslim families in...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Religious Roles of Elderly Women
    (pp. 41-49)
    Susan Starr Sered

    Local practices, like those distinguishing Jews in Eastern Europe from those in North Africa, may complement, and sometimes even conflict with, authoritative interpretations. One need not compare different geographical areas to discover this. Susan Starr Sered has examined the religious understandings of elderly Middle-Eastern (mostly Kurdish) women in Jerusalem, highlighting the way that their views of religious practice, such as those connected to holidays, differ from that of the men in their families and communities. Sered met with these women over the course of a year at a municipal Senior Citizen’s Day Center in Jerusalem. These women had immigrated to...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Synagogue Life among American Reform Jews
    (pp. 51-61)
    Frida Kerner Furman

    Reform Judaism developed in nineteenth-century Europe as Jews there sought to prove that they could fit into the wider society that had formally accepted them as citizens. They therefore stressed aspects of Judaism that it shared with Christianity, the ethical values of monotheism, and downplayed rituals that separated them from their non-Jewish neighbors. This trend in Jewish life came to America with immigrants arriving from Central Europe in the middle of that century. Frida Kerner Furman illustrates how these sets of values continue in a Reform synagogue, on the West Coast of the United States, which supports social action as...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Orthodoxy in an American Synagogue
    (pp. 63-77)
    Samuel C. Heilman

    Beginning in the 1880s, hundreds of thousands of Jews from Eastern Europe reached America. This immigration introduced significant variation into the forms of Judaism practiced in the New World. One of these forms was orthodoxy, and it was bolstered by ultraorthodox immigrants who reached the United States after World War II and by the Holocaust. Samuel Heilman analyzes the synagogue life of what he calls modern Orthodox Jews who live in an East Coast city. They adhere to orthodoxy while assuming that Jews have to fit into the American way of life in the sphere of work and in other...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Worship in the Havura Movement
    (pp. 79-91)
    Chava Weissler

    American Jews continued religious trends that had evolved in Europe but also refashioned them in response to new historical developments. In this chapter, Chava Weissler presents a case of ahavura, a form of prayer group that emerged among young people whose background was in Conservative Judaism but who sought to create a meaningful and intimate religious experience that did not depend on large synagogues or on formal institutional affiliation. They drew on traditional forms of davening (an Americanized form of the Yiddish word meaning to pray) but also expressed the values of the counterculture in the United States of...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Turning to Orthodox Judaism
    (pp. 93-103)
    Lynn Davidman

    In the United States the 1960s, with its burst of ethnic consciousness, provided the setting for a variety of Jewish expressions. Among them was the activism of the Lubavitch Hasidic movement, with its roots in East European orthodoxy, in reaching out to young Jews and making them come home to Orthodox Judaism (those who have doneteshuva, from the Hebrew stemshuv, meaning “return”). Lynn Davidman has shown the variety within theteshuvamovement in the 1980s, by comparing women in the process of becoming modern Orthodox, blending their new religious commitments with higher education and careers, with those who...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Tradition and Innovation in the Marriage Ceremony
    (pp. 105-119)
    Einat Ramon

    Some developments within American Judaism have had an impact outside that country. Einat Ramon is the first Israeli woman to become a rabbi, receiving ordination from the seminary of Conservative Judaism in the United States. This religious setting enabled her to combine distinct values, including her commitment to rabbinic Judaism and feminism. Merging these influences, however, meant modifying them, and in the selection that follows, Ramon explains how she and her husband preserved some of the basic ideas of rabbinic culture regarding marriage while altering the specific contents of theirketubba, or marriage contract. She describes her detailed engagement with...

  13. CHAPTER 9 A Bat Mitzvah among Russian Jews in America
    (pp. 121-135)
    Fran Markowitz

    The largest demographic change within world Jewry in recent decades has been the emigration from the Soviet Union and the individual states that remained in its stead. The immigrants, most commonly called Russian Jews, have reached both Israel and the United States in the hundreds of thousands. The Soviet Union had prevented them from gaining a systematic religious or cultural education, but many of them still maintained a sense of connection to the Jewish people. After migrating, they came in contact with a variety of religious forms that had developed in their new countries. Below Fran Markowitz describes dilemmas faced...

  14. CHAPTER 10 Books as a Path to Jewish Identity
    (pp. 137-147)
    Claudio Segrè

    Alongside migration, the Holocaust was a major external factor reshaping Jewish life in the twentieth century. Its impact reverberated far beyond the experiences of those whom it touched directly. Claudio Segrè was the son of an eminent physicist who left Italy for the United States in the 1930s, under the pressure of Fascism. He grew up in Berkeley and Los Alamos, in a milieu of international scholars, and was barely aware of his Jewish background. Eager as a child to fit into normal American life, he first saw himself as Protestant but later, after sampling different American religions, reclaimed his...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Memory and the Holocaust: Two Perspectives
    (pp. 149-171)
    Ismar Schorsch and Jackie Feldman

    The Holocaust took not only the lives of its victims but also their cultural creativity and religious sensibilities. What we are left with is major questions about thememoryof that rupture in human history. How is it to be remembered, made sense of—if at all—and who is to guide future generations in giving an adequate place to both the pain and resolve for the future evoked by its recollection? This chapter presents two personal accounts that confront these questions. Both are written by people whose parents knew well the developments of Nazi-dominated Europe and against the backdrop...

  16. CHAPTER 12 Meanings of the Western Wall
    (pp. 173-193)
    Danielle Storper Perez and Harvey E. Goldberg

    The Holocaust has become a factor in contemporary Jewish identities because of its powerful external negativity, but expressions of rebuilding a sense of Jewish peoplehood have also grown from within. One of these was Zionism, a political movement that developed in the late nineteenth century claiming that Jews, despite their Diaspora existence in diverse regions, were in fact a nation and should have a country of their own. Although there were Jews who opposed Zionism, and there were vigorous debates among pro-Zionists, the idea of a return to a revived center in the Land of Israel struck chords in the...

  17. CHAPTER 13 A Moroccan Jewish Shrine in Israel
    (pp. 195-211)
    Yoram Bilu

    Zionism called for the movement of Jews from their Diaspora communities to the Land of Israel. The State of Israel now contains about 40 percent of world Jewry. Migration to Israel, however, did not mean that people abandoned their cultural and religious attachments, but rather, they often reinterpreted familiar religious forms to take on new meanings in the Jewish State. Below Yoram Bilu provides a detailed example of this process with regard to Jews who came from the mountainous regions of southern Morocco. A central feature of their religious life was devotion totzaddikim—sainted rabbis whose graves were found...

  18. CHAPTER 14 Religion, Study, and Contemporary Politics
    (pp. 213-225)
    Tamar El-Or

    One of the major changes in Jewish religious life in this century has been the extension of Torah literacy and education to include women. This is not a single trend, however, and its implications vary according to the group within which it has taken place. In the United States, the term “religion” typically connotes “spirituality,” while when an Israeli Jew hears the word “religion,” the sphere of “politics” immediately comes to mind. Tamar El-Or depicts the study of Torah in one specific setting in contemporary Israel, a class of women in a university identified with Religious Zionism. The setting is...

  19. CHAPTER 15 Ethiopian Jewry and New Self-Concepts
    (pp. 227-240)
    Hagar Salamon

    Although Jews in Israel and Jews in America often experience and shape Judaism in different ways, some issues arise that connect them. One such issue is the Jews of Ethiopia who became known to the European Jewish world in the middle of the nineteenth century. With the encouragement of American Jewish organizations, they reached Israel en masse in the 1980s and early 1990s. These Jews differed widely from other Jewish groups because their religious tradition was not affected by rabbinic Judaism and because their skin pigmentation is “black,” making them different in appearance from the majority of contemporary Jews of...

  20. Glossary
    (pp. 241-246)
  21. Sources of the Selections
    (pp. 247-250)
  22. Contributors
    (pp. 251-254)
  23. Index
    (pp. 255-258)