Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Blogging Elul Day 14: Remembering and Rituals

“Judaism is a dynamic, evolving tradition, one continuously sculpted by its loving practitioners. Jews keep Judaism alive through inventing new rituals-moving, fulfilling, and authentically Jewish rituals” 
“Rituals establish new communities and sustain existing ones; 
• They give us things to do and ways of being that help us to give sense and order to life; They carry us through changes and crises in life that might otherwise be unendurable; They coordinate our expectations of what we think is going to happen and how we are supposed to react;
• They create boundaries and necessary separations;• They create bonds and links between people that can transcend time and space;
• They allow us to recognize, experience, and be sustained through life's great joys and sorrows, and all the hard-to-categorize emotions in between;
• They allow us to remember, to mark time, to synchronize our psyches with natural cycles;
• They confirm a sacred presence in the world, and move us to live in ways that are more moral and more righteous.”“The rituals of Judaism encompass all those preparatory acts that come before the main event: inviting guests, the shopping, the trying on, and the kneading and chopping. Likewise, the rituals include the events that come after: cleaning up, writing down memories, and assembling photographs in an album.”“Listen to Jews interrogate each other. We do not typically ask, "Do you believe in God with all your heart and all your soul and all your might?" We will not ask, "Do you remember that God rested on the Sabbath day by keeping it holy?" Rather, we inquire about the materiality of enacted beliefs and habits of conviction: "Do you drive a car on Shabbat? Carry keys? In your house, do you separate your meat and milk dishes in different cabinets and have two sinks? Do you cover your head, wear a wig, put on tefillin, hang a mezuzah on your door, sleep in separate beds (to observe the laws of family purity), eat uncooked foods (like salad) at nonkosher restaurants, light menorahs, spin dreidels?" The objects tell the story.” 
“Any culture that prefers tradition to innovation and experimentation has complex strategies to obscure the novelty of a borrowed ritual object. As Goodenough explains, "The most successful religious reformers have invariably insisted that they were bringing in nothing new, but rather were discovering the true meaning inherent from the first in the symbols of the religion they were reforming." 
 “In the Talmud, when the Rabbis contemplated ritual behaviors they were unsure of, they advised each other, "Puk hazei mai amnia davar." Look around, and see what the people are actually doing. Then legislate it.” 
“Jewish tradition does not prefer either the guardian of continuity or the agent of change. It embraces the tension of their intermingling. This flexibility is vividly reflected in the chant that accompanies the return of the Torah to the ark after it has been read. Help us to turn to you, and we shall return, Renew our lives as in the days of old. The words are both poignant and paradoxical, blurring the past and the future, and mingling nostalgia and prophecy. The course of action it proposes-simultaneous restoration and renewal-is logically impossible. Only divine cooperation, it seems, makes it plausible.” 
“With these insights in mind, we can acknowledge that our ancestors-the leaders and the populace whom we encounter in the Talmud-had the capacity for ritual agency. They were able to revisit their past practices in light of new realities and understandings; they were able to stay connected to formerly dear habits that had come to define their identities while finding ways to institute, justify, and sanctify the practices of their present community. They also had the capacity, through the oral teachings of the Talmud, to transmit a narrative form of their own, sustaining the ever-transforming and still-authentic practices of their time and projecting them into the future. In inheriting the Talmud, which documents our ancestors' conversations and debates concerning practices of Judaism that had been established before their own time, we inherit the possibility of experiencing holiness through evolving ritual.”

(All texts by Vanessa Ochs, Inventing Jewish Ritual). 

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