Framing Sukkot

Framing Sukkot

Tradition and Transformation in Jewish Vernacular Architecture
Gabrielle Anna Berlinger
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 09/25/2017
ISBN: 978-0-253-03183-9
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The sukkah, the symbolic ritual home built during the annual Jewish holiday of Sukkot, commemorates the temporary structures that sheltered the Israelites as they journeyed across the desert after the exodus from Egypt. Despite the simple Biblical prescription for its design, the remarkable variety of creative expression in the construction, decoration, and use of the sukkah, in both times of peace and national upheaval, reveals the cultural traditions, political convictions, philosophical ideals, and individual aspirations that the sukkah communicates for its builders and users today.

In this ethnography of contemporary Sukkot observance, Gabrielle Anna Berlinger examines the powerful role of ritual and vernacular architecture in the formation of self and society in three sharply contrasting Jewish communities: Bloomington, Indiana; South Tel Aviv, Israel; and Brooklyn, New York. Through vivid description and in-depth interviews, she demonstrates how constructing and decorating the sukkah and performing the weeklong holiday’s rituals of hospitality provide unique circumstances for creative expression, social interaction, and political struggle. Through an exploration of the intersections between the rituals of Sukkot and contemporary issues, such as the global Occupy movement, Berlinger finds that the sukkah becomes a tangible expression of the need for housing and economic justice, as well as a symbol of the longing for home.

Author Bio

Gabrielle Anna Berlinger is Assistant Professor of American Studies and Folklore and the Babette S. and Bernard J. Tanenbaum Fellow in Jewish History and Culture at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


“...a compelling integration of the study of vernacular architecture and vernacular belief.”
 — Michael Ann Williams, author of Homeplace: The Social Use and Meaning of the Folk Dwelling in Southwestern North Carolina

“Berlinger's rich and nuanced ethnography sheds light on many sukkot from Bloomington to Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and Jerusalem, and back to Brooklyn; like the wandering in the Sinai desert, this journey is crucial, and although the Promised Land does not allow one to rest as it opens further questions, it is  Berlinger's wandering that helps us in framing such wonderings. ”
 — Journal of American Folklore

“The book is a clear and original contribution that considers Jewish folklore within wider sociopolitical contexts. It raises questions and offers insights previously unexplored in the field, within both Jewish Studies and vernacular architecture.”
 — Western Folklore

“While providing fascinating and abundant ethnographic detail about sukkah builders, their families, and their daily lives, [Berlinger] raises important theoretical questions that merit additional attention.”
 — Reading Religion

“This is an important and timely book: important because it contributes significantly to the expanding literature on Jewish history and culture; and timely due to its arrival just as many are questioning the relationship folklore as a discipline has to the field of vernacular architecture studies.”
 — Journal of Folklore Research

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Table of Contents

Note on Language Use
1. Translating Text: Sukkot in Bloomington, Indiana
2. Shchunat Hatikva, Tel Aviv: A Geography of Difference
3. Within Shchunat Hatikva: Values and Spaces
4. Sukkot in Shchunat Hatikva
5. Sukkot in Jaffa and Jerusalem
6. The Right to House and Home
7. Transcending Architecture: Sukkot in Brooklyn, New York
8. Conclusion
Appendix: Materials Chart and Sukkot Floor Plans