Celebration & Renewal: Rites of Passage in Judaism

By Rela M. Geffen | Go to book overview
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It was nearly fifteen years ago that the late Dr. Daniel Isaacman, then president of Gratz College in Philadelphia, suggested that I develop courses in the Jewish calendar and life cycle. That suggestion led to a library search to design the most comprehensive, exciting, and informative courses possible in both of these areas. I soon learned that the study of the life cycle, in particular, provided a dynamically relevant framework within which one could introduce students to the development of Jewish law and practice. The multigenerational, multidenominational composition of the student body at Gratz College further enriched the learning experience.

The biggest challenge was to find basic texts around which to organize undergraduate, and later graduate, courses. Many of the available books were denominationally oriented mini-encyclopedias or in-depth treatments of individual issues, such as birth control or divorce. In addition, new texts of ceremonies, and responsa were being written each year that I taught the course. Birth ceremonies for girls; organizations to free agunot (anchored women); redefinitions of the moment of death; the legitimacy of abortion, on the one hand, and of surrogate mothering, on the other--the 1980s were years during which the study of life's passages and the related Jewish law was a constantly expanding, dynamic experience. And providing students with the tools to prepare for class required the compilation of a constantly expanding ad hoc reader.

In the mid-eighties, the then executive vice-president of the Jewish Publication Society, Mr. Nathan Barnett, was a student in the life cycle course. It was he who first suggested that I create an edited volume that would remedy some of the deficiencies of currently available books, both by being transdenominational in scope and by including subject matter areas not usually covered. I wish to express my thanks to the editorial committee of JPS, under the chairmanship of Chaim Potok, for approving the original proposal; to Sheila F. Segal, for the title Celebration and Renewal, for guidance in formulating the structure, and for help in


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