4 weeks... and helping to make ritual mean more

Monday night marked 4 weeks of no shopping. They say it takes 23 days to break a habit so I am, in theory, there. I am aware of a shift in how I am thinking about shopping - making a list of things I need (in April) rather than looking through every catalogue that lands on my doorstep to let them tell me what I 'need'. I'm also very embarrassed by how many emails I get a day reminding me to shop, and how easily my head is still turned by special offers. Perhaps there has been something ritualistic about shopping; using it to feel good and to nest, responding to emotions rather than need.

I have resisted temptation for some hours by learning a new skill: how to make beaded kippot (with thanks to a medical student who does more than would seem humanly possible!) This allowed me to upcycle an old necklace, and learn how to make a ritual item more meaningful. Ritual has been coming up a lot lately, whether by my choice; examining it with our Rosh Chodesh (new moon) group for Adar, or by invitation with RSY, or an All Faiths and None day at Eton-Dorney, or by chance in Pause for Thought when it seemed appropriate to reflect on how our mourning rituals helped me to cope with the suffering of loss.

I realised at university that I was a person who gets a huge amount out of ritual. Somehow involving my body in doing, helps my internal life process and engage with the spiritual. Often I find that engaging with a Jewish ritual expresses something about the ethics I want to imbibe into my life, or that they help me to work through some area of my life. One of the most rewarding parts has been making my own ritual items, and empowering others to do so too, after learning about the ritual of course! Making ones own tallit, or shabbat candle sticks, for example, imbibes the item with a meaning as much as understanding the roots and message of the ritual itself. Having taught a group of B'nei mitzvah students how to tie tzit tzit, one of the students took herself off to Camden, invested in a beautiful pink and gold table runner, and with her mum, sister and grandma, each tied one of the tzit tzit onto the tallit, embedding it with memories and meaning.

One of the fascinating questions that keeps emerging, is whether a ritual can be authentic if it is new, but also whether as women it is appropriate to adopt rituals that traditionally only men did (though actually when we explore most rituals we discover women have always done them somewhere e.g. BT Eruvin 96a - Michal daughter of the Kushite (and Saul) wore Tefillin; Rabbenu Tam in Teshuvot Rashi says women must say the blessing if they sit in the sukkah and wave the lulav because even though they are exempt from study, if they are called to the Torah they must make a blessing - remarkable as it acknowledges women having an aliyah to the Torah!), or whether they can somehow feminise them, or if we should just start anew. I suspect at different times each of these approaches has been mine, and each has felt right in it's place. Whatever the ritual I engage with, it is important to me that I understand what it means to me, but also what it has meant to those before me, either in order to liberate it from those meanings, or because they help me develop my own understanding, and often to surprise me out of a stereotyped view of what something must always have been. A really interesting article exploring all this was recommended to me: it comes from New Jewish Feminism by Elyse Goldstein. The article is entitled the Pink Tallit and can be found here if anyone is interested:

I want to sign off with a quote from the book (now film) Eat Pray Love. Here Elizabeth Gilbert has created a ritual to cope with a growing spiritual crisis born of unprocessed emotions and hurts around her painful divorce. Judaism offers us an incredibly rich tradition of rituals and rites, but perhaps occasionally we will need to change, adapt or even create, and here Gilbert might well have something:

"This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don't have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual or safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn't have the specific ritual you're craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet. "


  1. did you see this today? http://jwablog.jwa.org/trying-tallit-and-tefillin

  2. No I hadn't - lovely! Thank you! (Again!)


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