Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism

Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism

Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism

Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism

Synopsis

When non-Orthodox Jews become frum (religious), they encounter much more than dietary laws and Sabbath prohibitions. They find themselves in the midst of a whole new culture, involving matchmakers, homemade gefilte fish, and Yiddish-influenced grammar. Becoming Frum explains how these newcomers learn Orthodox language and culture through their interactions with community veterans and other newcomers. Some take on as much as they can as quickly as they can, going beyond the norms of those raised in the community. Others maintain aspects of their pre-Orthodox selves, yielding unique combinations, like Matisyahu's reggae music or Hebrew words and sing-song intonation used with American slang, as in " mamish (really) keepin' it real."

Sarah Bunin Benor brings insight into the phenomenon of adopting a new identity based on ethnographic and sociolinguistic research among men and women in an American Orthodox community. Her analysis is applicable to other situations of adult language socialization, such as students learning medical jargon or Canadians moving to Australia. Becoming Frum offers a scholarly and accessible look at the linguistic and cultural process of "becoming."

Excerpt

This book is intended for multiple audiences: scholars, students, and anyone else who is interested in language, identity, or Jews. While the primary fields that have influenced my research are sociolinguistics, anthropology, and Jewish studies, I have also written this book with other academic fields in mind, including sociology, religious studies, folklore, cultural studies, and American studies. I have tried to keep the writing accessible not only for scholars but also for educated adults, using technical terms only when necessary and adding explanations that most academic work would omit.

While many distinctive Jewish words and phrases are used throughout this book (translated at first use), the three most important are frum, FFB, and BT. The Yiddish word in the title, frum, means religious. Many Orthodox Jews use this label to describe themselves in contrast to those who are not Orthodox. Those who grew up in Orthodox families are known as “frum from birth,” often abbreviated “FFB.” And Jews who were born into a non-Orthodox family and chose to become frum are known by the Hebrew label ba’alei teshuva (literally “those who return/repent,” masculine singular ba’al teshuva, feminine singular ba’alas/ba’alat teshuva), sometimes shortened to “BTs.” Other Hebrew, Yiddish, and academic terms are defined at first use, as well as on the book’s website, becomingfrum.weebly.com. This site also includes audio and video samples of Orthodox language (especially useful for chapter 4), discussion questions for university courses and book clubs, and an interactive blog, in which readers are encouraged to participate.

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