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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences




Rituals and Ritual Theory in Ancient Israel by Ithamar Gruenwald (Brill Reference Library of Ancient Judaism, 10: Brill Academic) in many ways the first of its kind, addresses the issue of rituals and their embedded ritual theory, in the religion of ancient Israel. The leading idea of the book is that rituals are a autonomous form of expression of the human mind. The human mind expresses itself in rituals, as it does in language, the arts, and mathematics. Rituals are not performative translations of symbols and ideas, and in religion, of any kind of theology. Theology does not explain how rituals are done and how they accomplish what they claim to do.
The book begins with a general discussion of what rituals are, and argues that the ritual theory of each ritual is not in any general theory of ritual but embedded in the ritual act itself. Every ritual is structured in such a way that its details create the behavioural logic that makes ritual work. The difference is explored between the early and institutionalised phases of the religion of ancient Israel. Here the role of the economic ethos is the focus of the discussion. The book explores the links between myth and rituals, arguing that the connectedness with ritual endows a story with a myth essence. Detailed discussions of various rituals exemplify the major theoretical discourse.
The book is of interest to scholars in the areas of Halakhah (law and ritual), religious studies, and the anthropology of religion.

Environment in Jewish Law: Essays and Responsa edited by Walter Jacob, Moshe Zemer (Studies in Progressive Halakhah, 12:  Berghahn Books) Environmental concerns are at the top of the agenda around the world. There is hardly a newscast or a newspaper that does not mention them on a daily basis. The issues range from the chang­ing global climate to how those changes affect a nearly extinct owl in the forests of the western United States . Global climate change is a worldwide phenomenon, but concern on such as air quality in congested cities will differ greatly in Los Angeles and Mogadishu . Thus some responses to environmental problems need to be inter-national or national, while others will be highly localized.

The broad issues deal with our approach to the natural world. To what degree do we really understand it and the inter-actions of the various forces of nature? The decisions that we make are not abstract; rather they involve the underlying philoso­phies of different groups and religions. Are we to live with nature, or shall we dominate it and place it at our service? With either approach, or several others that are possible, the precise meaning of these concepts needs to be identified.

If nature is to be preserved, then the question of what is enough is instantly raised. Do minor species, about which, granted, we know very little, deserve to be taken into considera­tion? If we preserve large areas primarily for future recreation, how sacrosanct shall they be and when can they be considered for some development?

Economic considerations play a major role in all environ­mental decisions. Global issues bring about a conflict between the developed lands and those of the Third World . Can the lat­ter develop without going through the polluting stages of industrialization? On the local level, there is always a price to be

paid for cleaner water and air or reduced levels of noise. The struggle between different economic groups is continuous and often quite bitter.

Human welfare is always at the core of the discussion, but the term has very different meanings for those who are well-off and those who are hungry. Shall food production, cheap trans­portation, and basic housing take priority over a declining infant mortality rate, longer life expectancy, and better medical care?

These questions have not been raised in a significant manner till the last half century. Some concerns were always expressed, but in a very limited and localized fashion. As major portions of the world remained unexplored, and relatively untouched by modern developments there was no need to deal with these issues till the latter part of the nineteenth century. Such ques­tions are endless, and we know that the answers will determine the quality of life for future generations. As we seek answers, we naturally turn to our religious heritages. Each tradition has been asked the same questions by its adherents, and each faces some-what the same predicament.

Judaism has been no different from the other world reli­gions. Our tradition dealt with small segments of these issues, but they were secondary or even peripheral to earlier genera­tions. Although there is some isolated appreciation of the natural world and concern for it in the midrashic literature, the halakhic tradition has even less. As this latter tradition depends largely on questions asked, in other words on real-life situations rather than on speculation, little material is available as no one raised the issues or asked the questions.

This means that modern Judaism must build on a slim foun­dation of the few issues that have been raised and then look at the underlying principles to see what guidance may be given. This requires a major effort and new approaches. It may also require an entirely new and different outlook upon the natural world from what we followed in the past.

The essays in this volume seek to make a beginning in this direction. They wish to go beyond the hortatory rather vague approaches of others who have written about Judaism and the environment. We need an underlying philosophy and a halakhic approach that will develop into detailed guidance. Discussions on these issues is vital as questions on these matters continue to be raised with increasing urgency.

The Freehof Institute of Progressive Halakhah is a creative research center devoted to studying and defining the progressive character of the halakhah in accordance with the principles and theology of Reform Judaism. It seeks to establish the ideological basis of Progressive halakhah, and its application to daily life. The Institute fosters serious studies, and helps scholars in various parts of the world to work together for a common cause. It provides an ongoing forum through symposia and publications, including the quarterly newsletter Halakhah, published under the editorship of Walter Jacob, in the United States . Our Academic Council includes the foremost halakhic scholars in the Reform, Liberal, and Progressive rabbinate as well as a number of Conservative and Orthodox colleagues, and university professors.

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