Sunday, June 15, 2008

Forced Ritual

I haven't posted in a while as I've been busy working at Camp Tamarack, getting ready for the campers to arrive later this month. However, I couldn't resist commenting on S.L. Price's wonderful column in the June 2, 2008 issue of Sports Illustrated titled "Seafood for Thought".

Yesterday morning at Shabbat morning services at Tamarack I spoke to the camp supervisors about Jewish prayer ritual. I also compared the morning tefillot (prayer services) to playing a sport as the flow of the service moves from "suit-up" to "warm-up" to "practice" to "game-time" to "cool-down". I spoke of how much of the ritual within prayer is spontaneous and that is precisely how it should be.

Al Sobotka OctopusIn S.I., Price remarks how the Detroit Red Wings ritual of octopus throwing during the playoffs at Joe Louis Arena (and Al Sobotka's octopus twirling) is a spontaneous crowd ritual that should be preserved, contrary to the reprimands of commissioner Gary Bettman. Price contrasts this fifty-year-old ritual with the forced rituals of the 21st Century National Basketball Association where fans have to be instructed to yell "Dee-fense" by the JumboTron monitor.

I'll take a Zamboni driver twirling an octopus on the ice any day over a halftime show of dancing clowns. And there is certainly something to be said of spontaneous rituals during the Jewish prayer service over a congregation of robots all being told that they should all point their pinky finger at the Torah (see Noam Neusner's Jerusalem Post article "The Pinky Paradox"). There is room for directed ritual behavior, but there's also something beautiful about spontaneity -- whether at a prayer service at synagogue or camp... or on the ice at the "Joe".

Congrats to the 2008 Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings!

1 comment:

Noam Neusner said...

Thanks for the shoutout! But I dont think the pinkie raise during the hagbah is "forced" -- just peer-pressure driven.

The challenge is: When is forced ritual too forced? Sometimes, much of Jewish ritual is forced -- that's why it's ritual. Even saying kaddish, while in mourning, takes exceptional stamina and concentration, and as Leon Wieseltier pointed out in Kaddish, there are many days when you just go through the motions. So the forced ritual is there to push us to do what we otherwise would not do. I agree the Octopus is great, and the jumbotron exhortations not so much, but in Judaism, the repetition of the same thing, day after day, week after week, is essential. We can't just "do it" when we feel like it. -- Noam