BP2: Jewish Discourse Community

Blog » BP2: Jewish Discourse Community

Posted on 07 Mar 2013 19:33

At first, I thought it would be difficult to discover a discourse community that meets the criteria of the scholars in the field. I raced different ideas through my mind, stumbling upon gaming forums, sports newspapers, and such. Finally, I decided to choose a forum about Sephardic Jewish cantors, which was set up by people from my very own Syrian-Sephardic Jewish community. When talking it over with a friend, it was suggested that instead of focusing on such a specific aspect, why not just choose to research my community as a whole. After thinking it over, I realized this was a fantastic suggestion since I was raised in this community, have access to an unfathomable expanse of resources within it, and could count myself as a reliable source of information, as I am an active member of the community. Most of all, my home community fits in well with John Swales conditions of a discourse community:

1. My community most definitely has a broad (and sometimes broad is even too specific a term to use) set of goals. Some universal goals include: serving (praying to) God, following Halakhah (the laws of Judaism), living a life of morals in the modern world, and educating the youth.

2. Our “mechanisms” of communication vary widely. They can range from law books, forums, e-mails, personal communication, articles, newsletters, and such. Basically, since the community is so large and that we all live, for the most part, in close proximity to one another, almost every form of communication is used.

3. The participatory forms of interaction, when referring to the goals of the community, do always provide feedback and information. One way this can be observed is through the many books of She’elot U’Teshuvot (literally meaning “questions and answers”) written by the many rabbis of the community. These books provide actual questions raised by an individual pertaining to Jewish law and morals, and the rabbi’s intricate response and bottom-line of how to take action.

4. The genres that we use, such as the above-mentioned question and answer system, are definitely used to further the aims of our community. Just take the Q&A example I gave; the essential purpose of these questions is to further understand what to do in specific situations in order to effectively fulfill the ambitions of the community.

5. Our community, as I’m sure you already picked up on as you’ve been reading this piece, most certainly has acquired some specific lexis. In conversation, Hebrew words are thrown around as if they were English. Hebrew is an essential piece to the larger scope of communication in almost any Jewish community.

6. Lastly, our community contains different “levels of membership”, and each category of people feed off of each other. The “experts” can be referencing the scholars, spiritual leaders, organization heads and much more. There are many different types of “experts”, as there are so many different and relevant aspects to the community. An individual can be the chairman of a charity organization while at the same time he or she does not posses sufficient knowledge to answer a question about the Jewish law. Thus, this individual is an expert and a layperson all at once.

In addition to fitting well into Swales categories, my community also portrays very well what James Paul Gee defines as a primary discourse community. In other words it is a community we are born into, grow up with, and whose values we adopt as we grow.

Finally, I would like to briefly discuss a specific text that supports my claims of my community. The text is a book written by Rabbi Yosef Dweck called Birkhot Shamayim (literally meaning “Blessings of the Heavens). The goal of the book is to serve as a guide to the blessings made on foods and beverages according to the laws and customs of our community (criteria 1). The book is, by definition, a means of communication and provides information of community’s goals, as people read it to inform themselves about the laws of blessings (criteria 2,3, & 4). The book uses many Hebrew words throughout, displaying the lexis of the community (criteria 5). Lastly, the book is written by a rabbi, an expert, and is meant for anyone who does not know the laws of the blessings (criteria 6).

There are many more texts that can provide proof of fitting into Swales categories. Our community is diverse, complex, and massive. One may even consider us to be a large discourse community made up of many smaller discourse communities.

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