Rituals known as “amen ceremonies,” which involve group prayer and sharing of personal stories, needs and alleged miracles, have caught on among both observant and non-observant women in Israel and more recently Europe and the U.S., writes Rivka Neriya-Ben Shahar in the journal Contemporary Jewry (July). Amen ceremonies consist of women sitting in a circle, sharing food and praying, specifically in the form of each woman asking for a blessings related to a particular food group and the others responding “amen.” For example, the blessing for baked goods is related to earning a livelihood; wine is related to marriage and fruit to children. This leads into a period when women recite the names of people who require prayer and assistance and share their own problems. The ritual is based on biblical and Talmudic injunctions to recite 100 blessings daily.
The ceremonies were originally designed for children but young women and then their parents gradually participated. Today, the amen-meals “industry” includes at least five rabbis who work throughout Israel and many others who conduct local ceremonies on a national and international level. Most participants in Israel are from Sephardic communities and show diverse levels of observance. Ben Shahar, who observed the ceremonies and interviewed 53 participants, writes that women who get involved in these groups feel a strong sense of spiritual connection to God and with one another, but they also believe their prayers have the ability to change reality and offer practical help to people. The author concludes that even if participants are not feminists, these rituals “offer a space that enables the women to experience a sense of empowerment and self-realization” apart from men that counters their marginality in many other aspects of Jewish life.
(Contemporary Jewry, http://link.springer.com/journal/12397