Inventing Jewish Ritual by Dr. Vanessa L. Ochs

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Vanessa Ochs invites her readers to explore how Jewish practice can be more meaningful through renewing, reshaping, and even creating new rituals, such as naming ceremonies for welcoming baby girls, healing services, Miriam’s cup, mitzvah days, egalitarian wedding practices, and commitment ceremonies. We think of rituals—the patterned ways of doing things that have shared and often multiple meanings— as being steeped in tradition and therefore unalterable. But rituals have always been reinvented. When we perform ancient rituals in a particular place and time they are no longer quite the same rituals they once were. Each is a debut, an innovation: this Sabbath meal, this Passover seder, this wedding—firsts in their own unique ways. In the last 30 years there has been a surge of interest in reinventing ritual, in what is called minhag America. Ochs describes the range and diversity of interest in this Jewish American experience and examines how it reflects tradition as it revives Jewish culture and faith. And she shows us how to create our own ritual objects, sacred spaces, ceremonies, and liturgies that can be paths to greater personal connection with history and with holiness: baby-naming ceremonies for girls, divorce rituals, Shabbat practices, homemade haggadahs, ritual baths, healing services. Through these and more, we see that American Judaism is a dynamic cultural process very much open to change and a source of great personal and communal meaning.

The ceramic “Tree of Life” spice container that appears on the cover of Inventing Jewish Ritual is by Susan Garson of Garson and Pakele Studios,


About Dr. Vanessa L. Ochs

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Vanessa L. Ochs is an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. She is the author of Inventing Jewish Ritual (JPS), winner of a 2007 National Jewish Book Award. Her other books include Sarah Laughed, The Jewish Dream Book (with Elizabeth Ochs) , The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices (edited with Irwin Kula), Words on Fire: One Woman’s Journey into the Sacred, and Safe and Sound: Protecting Your Child In An Unpredictable World. For her writing, she was awarded a Creative Writing Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Published May 7, 2007 by The Jewish Publication Society. 300 pages
Genres: History, Religion & Spirituality, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

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Publishers Weekly

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Words on Fire ) and professor of religious studies, is herself a ritual innovator, crafting ceremonies for teenagers who receive their driver’s licenses and office-warmings with “interactive mezuzot.” Ritual innovation, she says, remains based in texts, actions, objects and understandings about G...

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Project MUSE

Inventing Jewish Ritual is not just a thought-provoking and accessibly written analysis of the ways in which Jews from every denominational stripe (and beyond) are coming up with new rituals.

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