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Wrestling with Tradition

Reconstructing Jewish Community through Negotiating Shared Purpose

Chantal Tetreault


This article analyzes how congregants in a lay-led Reconstructionist synagogue discursively contest and perform sharedness through active engagement, interpretation, and public disagreements about how to create and sustain Jewish community. I argue that such ‘wrestling with tradition’—that is, questioning, negotiating, and (re)creating traditions in the context of countercultural and eclectic Jewish community—is achieved through collaborative and often conflictual discursive engagement with Jewish tradition. ‘Wrestling with tradition’ does not involve shared beliefs, shared Halakhah (Jewish laws and rituals), or even a shared spiritual practice. Instead, it is in the discursive ‘wrestling’—for example, in debating rather than necessarily following Halakhah—that a communal enactment of sharedness persists in affective and intellectual engagement with Jewish tradition.

Open access


Communities Reimagining Sharedness in Belief and Practice

Sarah Hillewaert and Chantal Tetreault


In this introduction, we bring together diverse anthropological considerations of community, belonging, and belief to argue for a reconsideration of the notion of ‘sharedness’ that often underlies these concepts. Scholars have long critiqued the use of ‘community’ for its broad application and vagueness, and most now recognize communities to be newly emerging rather than pre-existing. Despite this critical approach to scholarly uses of ‘community’, forms of unity often continue to be viewed as undergirded by a seemingly more self-evident idea of sharedness, in practice, belief or purpose. In this special section, we question this self-evidency to focus on how sharedness itself needs to be discursively and semiotically co-constructed and fostered by people who imagine themselves as belonging to communities of apparent mixed beliefs and practices. We propose that a focus on discourse and semiosis can provide insights into the innovative ways in which individuals negotiate, co-construct, and enact sharedness.