John McCreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Fri, 5 Jul 1996 08:07:27 +0900

>I love this example but question your statement "we cannot
>> simply assume that a particular visible form of behavior reflects a given
>> set of ideas and meanings behind it." Do you mean to say: based upon our
>cultural value system and world view, that we cannot assume that what we
>believe is believed or held true universally, or cross culturally? I think
>that if you know enough about the ideas and meanings as held by the Jewish
>community (even being an outsider), then you can assume the meaning and ideas
>behind the bris ceremony. Yes? or No Go? :-)
>- Adrienne

I think that you'd have to be very careful. When I get back from the States
I'll put together a packet of stuff that I've written and send it off to
you. Here the relevant one is a piece called "Potential and Effective
Meaning in Therapeutic Ritual," where I point out that the possible
meanings, especially those available to a well-read anthropologist, may be
a different set from those available and salient to participants in a rite.
In the case you raise, I would speculate that there are details that a
rabbi could explain to me whose significance might escape the parents of
the child on whom the rite is performed. And the child? Asserting that it
"means" something to a newborn infant gets pretty tendentious. :-))

John McCreery
3-206 Mitsusawa HT, 25-2 Miyagaya, Nishi-ku
Yokohama 220, JAPAN

"And the Lord said unto Cyrus, 'Shall the clay say to him who moldest it,
what makest thou? Let the potsherd of the earth speak to the potsherd of
the earth." --An anthropologist's credo