Cover image for Jewish passages : cycles of Jewish life
Jewish passages : cycles of Jewish life
Goldberg, Harvey E.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xiii, 379 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Being Jewish -- Beginnings: birth, circumcision, and naming -- Rituals of education -- Marriage -- Pilgrimage and creating identities -- Death, mourning, and remembering -- Bonds of community and individual lives.
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BM700 .G613 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
BM700 .G613 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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American or Middle Eastern, Ashkenazi or Sephardi, insular or immersed in modern life--however diverse their situations or circumstances, Jews draw on common traditions and texts when they mark life's momentous events and rites of passage. The interplay of past and present, of individual practice and collective identity, emerges as a central fact of contemporary Jewish experience in Harvey E. Goldberg's multifaceted account of how Jews celebrate and observe the cycles of life. A leading anthropologist of Jewish culture, Goldberg draws on his own experience as well as classic sources and the latest research to create a nuanced portrait of Jewish rituals and customs that balances the reality of "ordinary Jews" with the authority of tradition.

Looking at classic rites of passage such as circumcision and marriage, along with emerging life-milestone practices like pilgrimage and identity-seeking tourism, Jewish Passages aptly reflects the remarkable cultural and religious diversity within Judaism. This work offers a new view of Jewish culture and history with the individual firmly situated at their center by blending anecdote and historical vignettes with rabbinic, midrashic, and anthropological insights; by exploring Sephardi and Ashkenazi traditions as well as modern ideologies; and by bringing into sharp relief the activities of women and relations with Gentile neighbors. As such, this book provides a unique window on the particulars--and the significance--of personal and communal acts of identification among Jews past, present, and future.

Author Notes

Harvey E. Goldberg is Professor of Anthropology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the editor of The Life of Judaism (California, 2001). He is the author of Jewish Life in Muslim Libya: Rivals and Relatives (1990), and Cave Dwellers and Citrus Growers: A Jewish Community in Libya and Israel (1972).

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

The cycles of Jewish life that Goldberg examines are beginnings (birth, circumcision, and naming); rituals of education; marriage; and death, mourning, and remembering. Goldberg writes that life-cycle ceremonies are one of the axes around which Jewish life is organized. He points out that Jewish practice is also shaped by an ancient textual tradition, expressed in the Bible and elaborated in the Talmud, which has continued through the Middle Ages up until the present. Goldberg, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, explains the roots of an anthropological approach to Jewish culture, offering readers a distinct portrait of rituals and customs. A glossary will help readers not familiar with Hebrew words, and four appendixes explain the circumcision ceremony, the ceremony for naming a daughter, the tefillin, and the elements of the marriage service. --George Cohen Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this often fascinating book, Hebrew University anthropologist Goldberg uses his discipline to shed light on the tremendous diversity within Judaism regarding various passages of life. Drawing on ancient and modern texts and rituals, he examines the stages along life's way from its beginnings (birth, circumcision and naming) to its center (marriage, pilgrimage and the creation of identity), and its end (death, mourning and remembering). For example, Goldberg traces circumcision to its most ancient meanings in biblical times and then examines the ways that various Jewish communities through history have retained the meaning of circumcision while adapting the practices associated with it to their own cultural milieu. For example, Goldberg writes that circumcision among Libyan Sephardim is an elaborate ritual in which the infant boy's eyes are made up with cosmetics, like a girl's, but a rigid gender separation is otherwise preserved. In his comments on birth ceremonies and rituals, he restores the role of women to a central place within the Jewish community by looking at how those ceremonies connect with other aspects of Jewish life. Goldberg concludes that passages and rituals along the way of the Jewish life cycle not only mark individual identity but also tie that identity closely to a community. Four appendices contain an outline for a circumcision ceremony, a ceremony for naming a daughter, a commentary on the tefillin and the shma' [the Shema; Deuteronomy 6:4-9] and elements of the marriage service and blessing. Despite a sometimes dense academic tone, Goldberg's richly detailed book offers a marvelous tour of the markers of Jewish life and community. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Goldberg (anthropology, Hebrew Univ.; The Life of Judaism) adds his voice to the discussion about Jewish life cycle ceremonies (see also Ari Goldman's recent Living a Year of Kaddish), writing from his own experiences and from a sociological point of view. Along with birth, marriage, and death, he writes about education, pilgrimage, and communal and individual life in the United States and in Israel. Bringing together biblical, historical, and current practice, Goldberg provides an anthropological study that ponders Judaism's worldview and lifestyle rather than doles out advice for leading that lifestyle. His purpose is to discuss and portray religious events that draw people into a community. Consequently, this is recommended for libraries that serve serious students of Jewish religious observance. (Illustrations and index not seen.)-Naomi Hafter, Baltimore, MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Scholars from various disciplines have long debated the meaning, practice, and role of Jewish passages in the history of the Jewish people. Some say that these rites of passage are divided into two branches: the "learned" religion of functionaries, Jewish law, and sacred tradition, and the "popular" religion of assimilation and acculturation. Goldberg (anthropology, Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) disputes this bifurcation between official and popular religion and contends that heterogeneity, not homogeneity, existed within and between communities of Jews in every clime and time. In this vein, Goldberg proposes a setting in life beyond the pale authorized by Halakha (Jewish law), chiefly expressed in biblical and rabbinical texts. He unravels a complex interdependence of orthodoxy and heterodoxies that requires life-cycle rituals to be viewed as cultural anthropology. For Goldberg, this finds expression in official tradition (textual and historical), interreligious influence, and innovative personal and communal expressions inspired but not restricted to the tradition. Impeccably researched and joyously portrayed, this study explores the gamut of Ashkenazi and Sephardi cultural and religious diversity pertaining to birth, education, puberty, marriage, and death; and new rites, such as pilgrimage and gender identity. It is a wellspring of ethnographic Jewish data. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. General readers; lower-level undergraduates through faculty. Z. Garber Los Angeles Valley College

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
1 Being Jewish
2 Beginnings: Birth, Circumcision, and Naming
3 Rituals of Education
4 Marriage
5 Pilgrimage and Creating Identities
6 Death, Mourning, and Remembering
7 Bonds of Community and Individual Lives
Appendix 1 Outline of a Circumcision Ceremony (Brit Milah)
Appendix 2 Ceremony for Naming a Daughter (Zeved Ha-bat)
Appendix 3 Tefillin and the Shma
Appendix 4 Elements of the Marriage Service and Blessings
Glossary Index