Inventing culture: structure and symmetry in Jewish life and ritual

Samuel Cooper, Shlomo Guzmen-Carmeli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


This article describes how the culture of Jewish traditional literature inspires the shaping of laws, the emergence of new customs, and the changes that occur over time. We will begin by formulating what we will call “the rules of Jewish cultural grammar.” Through an analysis of several laws and customs such as kiddush and havdalah, breaking a plate at engagements and breaking a glass at weddings, washing hands with mayim rishonim before a meal and mayim aharonim after the meal, marriage and divorce ceremonies, we will demonstrate how laws and customs are shaped and performed, how they change, and how they reflect the rules of activity and cultural creation. This article joins the trend of re-examining structuralist theories, and with their help we will show how recurring patterns such as symmetry, inclusion and exclusion, covering and removal, are an analytical expression of “particular cultural order,” a kind of “Jewish cultural grammar” that comprises a significant component of the rules that direct, whether consciously or unconsciously, the relationship between the individual and his culture, cultural activity and creation, and even the ways in which Jewish culture changes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-46
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Modern Jewish Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2024

Bibliographical note

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  • Halakha and custom
  • Judaism
  • Structuralism
  • cultural change
  • “cultural grammar”


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