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Contemporary Jewry

, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 153–172 | Cite as

“At ‘Amen Meals’ It’s Me and God” Religion and Gender: A New Jewish Women’s Ritual

  • Rivka Neriya-Ben ShaharEmail author
Article

Abstract

New ritual practices performed by Jewish women can serve as test cases for an examination of the phenomenon of the creation of religious rituals by women. These food-related rituals, which have been termed “amen meals” were developed in Israel beginning in the year 2000 and subsequently spread to Jewish women in Europe and the United States. This study employs a qualitative-ethnographic methodology grounded in participant-observation and in-depth interviews to describe these nonobligatory, extra-halakhic rituals. What makes these rituals stand out is the women’s sense that through these rituals they experience a direct connection to God and, thus, can change reality, i.e., bring about jobs, marriages, children, health, and salvation for friends and loved ones. The “amen” rituals also create an open, inclusive woman’s space imbued with strong spiritual–emotional energies that counter the women’s religious marginality. Finally, the purposes and functions of these rituals, including identity building and displays of cultural capital, are considered within a theoretical framework that views “doing gender” and “doing religion” as an integrated experience.

Keywords

Rituals Jewish women Amen meals Gender Religion 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This article was written with the generous support of a Fulbright Foundation post-doctoral grant, Hadassah-Brandeis Institute’s scholar-in-residence research grant, and a Memorial Foundation research grant. The wonderful year I spent in the United States provided me with the rich resources necessary to write this article. I would like to thank the Sapir Academic College, my second home, for its help and support in financing the long English editing process of this article. I also thank Dena Ordan, Renee Rabinowitz, and Helene Landau for their hard work on this article. Prof. Tamar El-Or and Prof. Yoram Bilu read older versions of this article and provided incisive comments and corrections. Thanks to Dr. Nissim Leon for his support and for his helpful insights. The women who took part in the “amen meals” opened their hearts and homes to me for this research; I would like to thank every one of you. My spouse, Meir, did everything possible to support my research and is my best critical reader. My children—Ora, Shira, and Yonatan—did everything possible to remind me that academic life is not the whole of life. And a very special and grateful thanks to Prof. Marc Brettler. I will always remember your help, trust, support, and the extensive time and effort you invested in helping me realize my dream to receive a Fulbright grant and spend a year in the United States. This article is devoted to you.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sapir Academic CollegeD.N. Hof AshkelonIsrael

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