Ethnography of the Sh’ma Yisrael Prayer: A Jewish Performance of Gender and Queer Introspection

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Abstract

Prayer is a performative act to construct religious identity, express faith in God and sense of belonging to the community. In Judaism, reciting the Sh’ma Yisrael prayer is one of the most important commandments which identifies commitment and belief. It is practiced by the worshiper twice a day. According to the Jewish law, women are not obligated to recite the Sh’ma, but non-Orthodox communities, which support gender equality, view this issue differently and promote their participation. In this ethnographic study, I demonstrate how Sh’ma Yisrael prayer, conducted by women and LGBTQ members in Reform Jewish congregations, is constructed as a performance of gendersexual recognition and empowerment. By changing the text of the prayer, experiencing the setting, and performing various bodily gestures, this religious declaration is charged with a political call for gender equality. Reciting the traditional prayer is not only dedicated to express religiosity or faith, but also an egalitarian ideology of excluded sexual-gender identities and life experiences. It transforms the focus from God to the self.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-171
Number of pages25
JournalFieldwork in Religion
Volume16
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 9 Dec 2021

Keywords

  • LGBTQ
  • Reform Judaism
  • Sh’ma Yisrael
  • gender
  • prayer
  • sexuality

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