Overlapping Worlds: The Religious Lives of Orthodox Jewish Women in Contemporary London
Though the exclusion of contemporary Orthodox Jewish women from active roles in public worship and other central religious activities has been condemned as patriarchal oppression by feminists and lauded as freeing women for sacred domestic duties by Orthodox apologists, little research has been carried out on Orthodox women’s religious lives and self-understanding. This study uses participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and monitoring of community email lists and media to document women’s religious activities in London; to investigate the constraints that shape these activities; and to examine women’s exercise of agency and creativity within these constraints to shape a rich, changing, and sometimes contested set of spiritual opportunities. The study examines four spheres of action, defined by the intersection of two axes: communal-individual arenas and culturally sanctioned-innovative practices. Alongside culturally sanctioned activity such as synagogue attendance and observance of the sexual purity system, innovative and hitherto unknown practices such as berakhah (blessing) parties exist, besides more controversial attempts to participate in public worship, both in women-only services and mixed services (partnership minyanim). The patterns and transmission of women’s individual customs are also examined, elucidating their religious significance for women. In addition to recording new practices, the study documents two periods of accelerated change, in the early 1990s and from 2005 onwards. It suggests that Orthodox women may be divided into three permeable groups—haredi (ultra-Orthodox’), identitarian/traditionalist, and Modern Orthodox—and examines the worldviews and innovative techniques displayed by each group. Factors such as education, community pressure, and norms of the non-Jewish community combine with differing group outlooks to give a nuanced explanation of the rich variation within Orthodox women’s religious lives. The study provides a basis for cross-communal research into Jewish women’s spirituality and models the complex interplay and impact of social and personal factors on religious life.
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Overlapping Worlds: The Religious Lives of Orthodox Jewish Women in Contemporary London. . 2016: https://archive.jpr.org.uk/object-uk398