Vernacular Knowledge - Contesting Authority, Expressing Beliefs - Ülo Valk

Vernacular Knowledge - Contesting Authority, Expressing Beliefs - Ülo Valk

10. Practices of Niggunim: Contemporary Jewish Song in a Vernacular Religion Perspective

Vernacular Knowledge - Contesting Authority, Expressing Beliefs - Ülo Valk

Ruth Illman [+-]
The Donner Institute for Research in Religion and Culture
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Dr Ruth Illman is the Director of the Donner Institute for Research in Religion and Culture in Turku, Finland. She holds the title of Docent in the study or religions at Åbo Akademi University (ÅAU) and in the history of religions at Uppsala University, as well as doctoral degrees in the study of religions (2004) and Jewish studies (2018). Her main research interests include cultural encounters and diversity, contemporary Judaism, religion and the arts (especially music) and ethnographic research, primarily by developing the analytical approach of vernacular religion. Illman acted as Co-PI for the Centre of Excellence Young Adults and Religion in a Global Perspective at ÅAU (2014–18). Currently, she leads the research project Boundaries of Jewish Identities in Contemporary Finland and acts as Editor-in-Chief of the open access peer-review journal Nordisk judaistik / Scandinavian Jewish Studies with Svante Lundgren. Recent publications are found at: https://research.abo.fi/en/persons/ruth-illman

Description

Gershom Scholem argued in his momentous book Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941, 34) that as the traditional Hasidic way of life was extinguished by the Holocaust, the last ‘authentic’ form of Jewish mysticism came to a close: “it has become again what it was in the beginning: the esoteric wisdom of small groups of men out of touch with life and without any influence in it”. Nevertheless, practices stemming from Kabbalah and Jewish mystical sources have since the turn of the millennium become more popular than ever inside as well as outside Jewish communities in Europe and North America, relocating and reframing traditional practices for a late-modern, urban, liberal and inclusive spiritual milieu. But are such vernacular practices to be seen as ‘authentic’ continuations of the tradition, or merely as vulgar commodification? Here, the views of contemporary researchers differ significantly. This chapter’s point of departure is this controversy over ‘authenticity’ in research on Jewish mysticism. A vernacular religion perspective is applied as a means of untying the knot that has formed through the unfruitful juxtaposing of classic and contemporary Jewish mysticism. Discourses of authenticity are exemplified by a case study dealing with contemporary practices of niggunim singing: (mainly) wordless melodies sung as a means of elevating the soul to God, repairing the world and strengthening the divine presence in the world. Niggunim is a practice with roots in Hasidic Judaism, which is currently experiencing a renaissance within contemporary Jewish spirituality. Ethnographic material has been gathered among Jews from progressive milieus in London to shed light on the practice in general, and this chapter analyses how the practitioners reflect upon authenticity.

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Citation

Illman, Ruth. 10. Practices of Niggunim: Contemporary Jewish Song in a Vernacular Religion Perspective. Vernacular Knowledge - Contesting Authority, Expressing Beliefs. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. Oct 2022. ISBN 9781781792377. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=29210. Date accessed: 12 Aug 2022 doi: 10.1558/equinox.29210. Oct 2022

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