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Jewish Liturgy and Comparative Ritual Studies

Photo: privat

Prayer and liturgy have structured the rhythm of Jewish life and its sound for centuries, providing it with orientation and texture. Feasts and fast days as well as the permanent cycle of weekdays and Shabbat shape the flow and the experience of Jewish time. Prayer books are testimonies of a multifaceted and ever-changing Jewish history; like collective diaries, they trace the theological and sociological developments of the past centuries into the present.

Liturgy is more than just the words of the prayers, however. Halakhic, aggadic, kabbalistic, and philosophical texts are important sources of Jewish liturgic studies, too, as they deal with what is going on in the synagogue as much as the prayer books do. The synagogue as the space of encounter, prayer, and study, but also as architectural experience, vessel of sacred music and of history is itself a text that is being read as part of liturgical studies. So are the Jewish home, the mikveh, summer camps, and public places: spaces of Jewish life, as it expresses itself in often much more flexible ritual patterns.

Ritual and practice reflect and determine many important life cycle events. Yet, liturgy does more than just mark moments of collective memory; liturgy is also the ritualistic shaping of highly personal moments of experience. Liturgical studies therefore contextualize rituals in history, critically reflect on them, and allow its practitioners to offer liturgical companionship on important life cycle events and to lead such rituals.

Photo: privat