Universalism and Particularism in British Orthodox, Reform and Liberal Jewish Prayerbooks and Ritual

Kowalska, Katarzyna (2021). Universalism and Particularism in British Orthodox, Reform and Liberal Jewish Prayerbooks and Ritual. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0001263b


Shabbat day with its ritual phases and liturgies, chosen as a focus for this study, presents an ideological paradox, with notions of both particularism and universalism (P/U) in the core of its narrative. Ritual with all its elements, such as participants, objects, space, music, body gestures and style of service, provide additional meaning to what is embedded in the words, and this needs to be taken into consideration while examining the ideology of a prayerbook. The ritual process may affect or alter their P/U meaning.

Thus, to advance the debate in discussing P/U in the contemporary British Jewish Orthodox, Reform and Liberal prayerbooks and ritual, I engage here with Judaism as a vernacular religion. Because it is not enough to examine only verbal expressions of the prayerbooks, I also consider the verbal, behavioural and material expressions of religious belief. I identify and critically assess various strategies, which depend for their effectiveness on the approach to change of specific worshippers and prayer leaders, and that are deployed in order to remove or minimize the impact of undesired particularistic formulations.

Drawing these threads together, I triangulate the reading of Shabbat texts with ethnographical methodologies, thereby providing a better understanding of the way in which Jewish liturgy works as lived religion. The thesis contributes to further discussion of P/U notions within Jewish liturgy and serves to advance methodological thinking about siddurim and Jewish ritual.

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