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“We Need to Worship Outside of Conventional Boundaries”: Jewish Orthodox Women Negotiating Time, Space and Halachic Hegemony Through New Ritual

Abstract

This article focuses on the experiences, practices and perceptions of the women who participate in the amen meal ritual. The primary goal is to determine what we might learn from them about the mechanisms and social processes in contemporary Israeli religious communities. The amen meal is practiced by a broad spectrum of Jewish women in communities from the Ultra-Orthodox to the secular. It has a ritualistic-religious intention of maximizing the number of blessings recited by the participants and thereby the number of “amens” responded. I conducted a qualitative-ethnographic-feminist study using in-depth interviews and participant observations. The central insight is that the amen meal ritual quietly undermines the gender regime. The practices and perceptions of the participants toward amen meals enable us to reach a new understanding of the terms “time” and “space” in the Jewish halachic hegemony. These relatively new rituals reconstruct these heretofore clearly defined hierarchic terms, transforming them into un-defined and non-hierarchic ones. Moreover, the participants’ very perceptive critiques of rabbinic/halachic attitudes indicate that they also perturb the underpinnings of the fundamental Orthodox rules of male halachic hegemony throughout their daily practice.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the editor, Prof. Harriet Hartman, and anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions, and Rena Bannett for her skillful editing. Renee Rabinowitz helped me to think - and then to delete many parts of the last versions, and I wish to thank her for this skill. 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. I would like to thank the Sapir Academic College for its help and support in financing the English editing process of this article. 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. Special and grateful thanks to Prof. Orit Avishai for your support, care, trust, and help.

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Correspondence to Rivka Neriya-Ben Shahar.

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Neriya-Ben Shahar, R. “We Need to Worship Outside of Conventional Boundaries”: Jewish Orthodox Women Negotiating Time, Space and Halachic Hegemony Through New Ritual. Cont Jewry 39, 473–495 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12397-019-09295-1

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Keywords

  • Ritual
  • Amen meal
  • Jewish women
  • Gender hegemony
  • Time
  • Apace