- VOLUME 10
- MY LIBRARY
Spiritual and Religious Culture
Spirituality and religious culture pervade contemporary popular culture. Fascination with religious practices and especially forms of mysticism has promoted the creation of contemporary rituals and new liturgies. Feminism has stimulated a burst of midrashic writing as well as alternative languages for traditional prayer. These spiritual practices often propose themselves as a counter-culture to established Jewish religious or secular life. In response, recognized religious authorities have published multiple religious guides. One area of widespread liturgical innovation, haggadahs for the Passover seder, attracts groups of Jews who see themselves as minorities, interpreting the holiday’s meaning as celebrating liberation. Even secular Jews have developed haggadahs in order to encourage dialogue with Jewish tradition.
Orthodox Judaism, especially in its more pietist forms, enjoyed a resurgence of popularity and authority. Beginning in the 1970s, a visible cohort of secular Jews abandoned secularism for religious practice, a movement that attracted thousands in the following decades. Religious stringency and a reliance on textual authority followed, leading to a diminished mimetic tradition. At the same time, outreach efforts by Chabad Hasidim expanded the Jewish religious repertory. Chabad introduced mitzvah mobiles to reach Jews in the streets of large cities to invite them to lay tefillin and sponsored telethons with celebrities to raise money; they developed one of the most elaborate pedagogical networks. All religious movements adopted new technologies to spread their message to their followers and returning Jews.
We divide spiritual and religious culture into two sections: commentary and liturgy. Commentary includes essays that address such controversial topics as abortion, intermarriage, and conversion, as well as halakhic interpretations of political questions, such as the proper dimensions of Jewish sovereignty, and ethical issues. This section also features examples of contemporary midrash, creative responses to Hebrew scriptures that reinterpret them for a new audience, occasionally in artistic terms. Under the rubric of liturgy, we present selections either written specifically for prayer books or as personal prayer and poetry that has been incorporated as part of public worship.