What is a Jewish Sensibility?

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Have you ever seen a piece of art, encountered a new project, or heard a snippet of conversation between two people and thought to yourself, ‘hm … that’s so Jewish’? Not because of particular images or words that were used, but rather the way thoughts were processed, the way connections were made, the way people responded to each other.

All cultures have particular mindsets that get passed on from generation to generation, shaping how its people make sense of the world, as well as the spectrum of possibilities for how one might respond to it. So too, Jewish culture exhibits features that, often on a subconscious level, inform how people take in what they experience, make sense of it and then act accordingly.

In 2003, Vanessa Ochs  used the term sensibilities to describe “particularly Jewish ways of thinking about what it means to be human, ways that guide and orient a person’s actions and choices.” Merriam-Webster defines a sensibility as “an awareness of and responsiveness toward something.”  Sensibilities are like mindsets through which the core activities of perceiving the world, processing those perceptions, and responding to them take place.They cut across categories of knowledge, emotion, valuing, relationships, and behavior… and are applied toward life situations in such a way that involves all four of those levels.

How does this happen? Why does it matter? Continue reading