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Ritual and Ethnic Identity

A Comparative Study of the Social Meaning of Liturgical Ritual in Synagogues

by Jack N. Lightstone; Frederick B. Bird; Simcha Fishbane; Marc P. Lalonde; Victor Levin; Louise Mayer & Madeleine Mcbrearty

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category: Religion
published: 1995

In this innovative and comprehensive collection of essays Jack Lightstone and Frederick Bird document and interpret ritual practice among contemporary Canadian Jews. They particularly focus on the character and meaning of the public performance of the Sabbath liturgy in six urban Canadian synagogues, ranging from Orthodox to Reform, and from large congregations to a small house synagogue-yeshiva (rabbinic academy). Their examination of synagogue ritual is complemented with accounts of the ritual life of contemporary Canadian Jews outside the synagogue — amongst their families, within their homes and beyond.

In contrast with other studies of Jewish observance, Lightstone and Bird document not simply which rituals are practised and how often; rather they stress the meaning, including the social meaning, of these rituals and treat them as complex symbolic systems. Their multidisciplinary approach together with their openness to include a wide variety of phenomena in their study (for example, the organization of the physical setting of the Sabbath, dress codes and patterns of greeting and handshaking) place this work at the very forefront of current research.

Ritual and Ethnic Identity will be of great value to historians and sociologists of religion, anthropologists and all those concerned with religion, ritual and Canadian Jewish and ethnic studies.

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Editorial Reviews

''[T]he book is a valuable contribution to contemporary writing on the state of religion in Canada. It reminds those not burdened by prejudice that the problems are very similar in all religious communities today and it warns Jews what might happen if they are to declare God absent, or 'dead,' because of the carnage at Auschwitz or the triumph in Jerusalem, instead of trying to find the divine voice in their rich religious tradition.''

— Dow Marmur

''These theoretically sophisticated essays link solid ethnographic studies of Sabbath morning services at several synagogues to the larger discourse of symbolic anthropology....An important contribution to the study of contemporary Jewish life, it provides a solid foundation for exploring the meaning of prayer.''

''As a whole, Ritual and Ethnic Identity makes a contribution to our understanding of Canadian Jewish religious practice, ritual, and identity, thereby providing a companion piece to various related studies done in the U.S. and Israel in recent years.''

— Frida Kerner Furman
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About the Authors

Jack N. Lightstone

Jack N. Lightstone has been on the faculty of Concordia University in Montreal since 1976, where he currently holds the post of Provost and Vice-Rector, Research. His previous publications include Society, the Sacred, and Scripture in Ancient Judaism and The Rhetoric of the Babylonian Talmud, Its Social Meaning and Context.
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Frederick B. Bird

Frederick B. Bird teaches Comparative Ethics and the Sociology of Religion at Concordia University.

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Simcha Fishbane

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Marc P. Lalonde

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Victor Levin

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Louise Mayer

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Madeleine Mcbrearty

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