Item description for Beyond the Text: A Holistic Approach to Liturgy (Jewish Literature and Culture) by Lawrence a. Hoffman...
This unique and groundbreaking study moves "beyond the texts" of prayers to carefully study the worshipping community from an anthropological perspective. Hoffman's innovative approach opens up the world of prayer to the academy and the community at large. With the publication of this book, the study of liturgy will never again be the same.
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Studio: Indiana University Press
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 9.06" Width: 6.04" Height: 0.54" Weight: 0.8 lbs.
Release Date Dec 1, 1991
Publisher Indiana University Press
ISBN 0253205387 ISBN13 9780253205384
Availability 148 units. Availability accurate as of Oct 28, 2016 06:24.
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More About Lawrence a. Hoffman
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Reviews - What do customers think about Beyond the Text: A Holistic Approach to Liturgy (Jewish Literature and Culture)?
An important book on Jewish liturgy, but is its own worst enemy Feb 25, 2007
I've been reading this book for a course in Jewish liturgy at a Conservative seminary. Hoffman is an important scholar of liturgy [see his "Canonization" book], and this book captures his particular approach, so it's worth a careful read. The book goes far deeper than, say, Hammer's "Entering Jewish Prayer." Problem is that whoever edited the book let us [the readers] down: my fellow students are having a very difficult time trying to figure out what Hoffman's approach really is. I had years of graduate work studying Victor Turner, Mary Douglas, and Clifford Geertz, so when Hoffman states that his "holistic" approach to liturgy is inspired by their methodologies [though he doesn't describe, nor distinguish them from each other], I had a foothold in what he was talking about. Hoffman accurately claims that the study of Jewish liturgy has been based on the Wissenschaft approach of describing the historical development of the texts, and then by tracing the development back to an identification of the origins of prayers, we, by axiom, arrive at the discovery of an Ur-text, or of an Ur-experience, which delivers the "true" meaning of the prayer, and hence the goal of scholarship. To be fair, I think that's what I wanted out of a course on liturgy, and Hoffman's book has been an important corrective in my thinking. For example, perhaps the greatest Jewish liturgy scholar, Elbogen, claims that the Havdalah originated as part of a meal setting, where the spices "originated" as a way to cover up the smells of the cooking, and the fire was the cooking flame. Hoffman, by contrast, wants to approach liturgy in what I take to be two ways, though he never explains himself at all on the matter. First, he wants to take a Geertzian, cultural anthropologist, thick description, holistic approach: what is it like to participate in the havdalah ritual? What are people experiencing? What moods and thoughts are cultivated as one goes from step to step through a liturgical experience? What distinghuishes a wink from a blink during a prayer experience? [For example, when we sing the Kedushah, what is it like to mimic the angels? How does the participant feel it? What does each successive verse accomplish?] Second, he wants to take a Douglas/Turner quasi-structuralist approach, whereby each prayer devides up the world categorically. So, one the one hand, Hoffman tells us that really he's looking at "the field of meaning for those engaged in praying" the havdalah prayer. Two paragraphs later, he tells us that his thesis is that "havdalah functions as a presentation of the Jewish categorization of reality." [Page 31] He doesn't seem to understand that these are two different things, unless I am wrong and you can see them being the same thing. (I am giving the best possible example here, since one might see the experience of holy and profane categories as the experience of the havdalah ritual, but, again, I see a Douglasian approach and a Geertzian approach as very different.]
The book is important and could be brilliant, if someone had forced Hoffman to clarify what his approach is, and how it leads to his conclusions. He can't have expected his readers to know the philosophies of the three thinkers he says inspire his approach. Indeed, he states in the introduction that the book is a "memory dump" of his thoughts on liturgy, and it reads that way. In fact, most confusing to my peers, he often writes approvingly of the historical development descriptions of the liturgies by Elbogen and Baer and others, so that my colleagues think he's endorsing them, when he's actually trying to go beyond them. It gets confusing.
So Hoffman is not his own best explicator, but at the same time, he's absolutely right that an historical development approach to liturgy masks an assumption that "earlier" is better, and that does not jive with the idea -- probably best gleaned from Geertz, as Hoffman does-- that there's a social experience going on during a ritual performance that is not illuminated by tracing textual origins. The book is an important step in a corrective direction.