Bending, Breaking and Adhering to Rules of Contemporary Jewish Practice in Finland



This article draws on an ongoing research project that seeks to document ethnographically everyday Jewish life in Finland today. Based on the framework of vernacular religion, it approaches religion “as it is lived” (Primiano 1995) and analyses the many expressions and experiences of rules in day-to-day Jewish life as part of complex interactions between individuals, institutions, and religious motivations. Historical data, institutional structures and cultural context are put in dialogue with individual narratives and nuances, described as “self-motivated” ways of “doing” religion.

In this article, we seek to investigate what a vernacular Jewish approach to making, bending, and breaking rules amounts to in a community where increasing diversity and deep-reaching secularity contest and reshape traditional boundaries of belonging. What rules are accepted, adopted and appropriated as necessary or meaningful for being and doing Jewish? Our analysis traces how static values and conceptions of “Jewishness” give way to more flexible subjective positions as our interviewees struggle to find religiously and culturally significant models from the past that can be subjectively appropriated today. Both everyday quandaries and existential questions influence their ways of crafting vernacular religious positions. Focusing on formal and personal rituals related particularly to family life and foodways, the article shows how rules are revisited and refashioned as the traditional boundaries between sacred and secular, gendered practices and ethnic customs, are transgressed and subjective combinations are developed.

Keywords: vernacular Judaism; Jews in Finland; ethnography; religion and rule; kashrut; Jewish family life; Jewish rituals

How to Cite

Illman, R., Czimbalmos, M., & Pataricza, D. (2022). Bending, Breaking and Adhering to Rules of Contemporary Jewish Practice in Finland . Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society, 46(3), 32–51.