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Title:Scaling down Judaism: The politics of tradition and change among liberal observant Jews in Israel
Author(s):Fuchs, Ofira
Director of Research:Dominguez, Virginia R
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Dominguez, Virginia R
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Orta, Andrew; Greenberg, Jessica; Kravel-Tovi, Michal
Department / Program:Anthropology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Religious change
Liberal Observant Jews
Political Anthropology
Jewish Tradition
Religion and State
Jewish Communities
partnership minyans
Abstract:This study depicts the nonrevolutionary revolution that has been unfolding in Israel’s Religious-Zionist society for the past two decades. It is based on ethnographic fieldwork in Israel between 2014 and 2017 among religious congregations and nongovernmental organizations that belong to liberal circles of Religious-Zionist society. The revolution is about shifting the locus of religious authority from formal institutions and rabbinical leaders to “the people.” I call it nonrevolutionary because the men and women who lead it care about “tradition.” This study ultimately demonstrates that endeavors to promote social and religious change are sites of struggles about what constitutes “tradition.” Historically, Religious-Zionist Jews in Israel have viewed themselves as embodying and enacting Israel’s Jewish and democratic ideal through their integration within Israeli society and state institutions. I study Religious-Zionists who identify as dati’im liberalim, liberal religious Jews, who re-envision the locus of religious authority and of public Judaism. Instead of state institutions and official rabbinical leaders, they designate “communities,” that is, voluntary organizations of citizens, as the places where questions of halakhic significance should be debated and determined. This process, which I call, the “scaling-down of public Judaism,” is inspired by past models of community-based Judaism as well as by research participants’ notions of public religious life in the United States. Ultimately, I argue, liberal observant Jews in contemporary Israel promote a model of Religious-Zionist citizenship that favors local and individualized frameworks of civil participation in accordance with their community-based outlook on halakhic Judaism. During my fieldwork I accompanied the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that propose community-based alternatives to the state’s Chief Rabbinate as well as residents of a south Jerusalem neighborhood who seek to transform religious practices and community life at the local-municipal level. My fieldwork activities included participant observations, interviews, informal conversations, and a survey of public discourse in Religious-Zionist journals, newspapers, and social media. My multi-sited fieldwork allowed me to identify ways that reform initiatives at the level of everyday life are interrelated with organized activism at the broader level of state politics. This study joins ongoing anthropological conversations about the entwining of religion and politics in the consolidation of citizenship, national identity, and social belonging in contemporary nation-states. This line of investigation has focused on the relations between secular state ideologies and public religions. The Israeli case furthers this conversation by contributing the perspective of a state that self-identifies as Jewish. Furthermore, while scholars have emphasized the central role of deliberate re-interpretation of religious texts, rituals, and objects in processes of religious change in Jewish communities, I demonstrate that bodily sensations, dispositions, affect, and social identifications are as important in the shaping of religious change. By showing how the interplay between tradition and innovation plays out on the ground in Religious-Zionist communities, this study proves that in today’s Israel, tradition is a valuable social and political currency in struggles between Jewish groups over the nature of public Jewish life.
Issue Date:2019-07-09
Rights Information:Copyrights 2019 Ofira Fuchs
Date Available in IDEALS:2019-11-26
Date Deposited:2019-08

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