First Flowering of Redemption: An Ethnographic Account of Contemporary Religious Zionism in Israel Open Access

Stern, Nehemia Akiva (2014)

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This study explores the relationships between religious concepts and the dilemmas and challenges that animate those concepts within the everyday lives of Jewish Political Pietists (religious Zionists) in Israel. It argues that religious experience reflects particular modes of political practice. A focus on religious ideas and concepts must rest alongside the political, economic, and cultural factors that motivate or give 'meaning' to the daily lives of religious nationalists.

Using this paradigm, this analysis ethnographically reexamines the category of 'messianism' in relation to contemporary religious Zionism. For many religious Zionists in the era after the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, 'Messianic Redemption' referred to a social, religious, and political process that centered on the sovereignty of the State of Israel within the Land of Israel, coupled with the collective presence of the People of Israel on that land. Currently, however, Religious Zionism is being practiced and experienced in ways that do not expressly revolve around collective state sovereignty or messianic redemption.

This study will ethnographically document the ways in which religious concepts and sociopolitical practices interact with one another in the daily lives of religious Zionists in Israel. It will focus on issues of Jewish settlement, Torah study, violence, military service, travel, etc, to point to the ways in which values of collectivity, freedom, and state sovereignty manifest themselves within a political pietistic context. The ethnographic data presented here can be used to clarify certain political and social tensions that are occurring within religious Zionism, and which impact not only the State of Israel, but the region as a whole.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Religious Terminology...4
Political Terminology...6

Chapter 1 - Introduction...8
1.1 - Thesis...8
1.2 - Methodology...13

1.2A - Text Study...15
1.2B - Sabbath Fieldwork...17
1.2C - Special Events and Travel...18
1.2D - Personal Life and Military Service...19

1.3 - Freedom and Sovereignty...20
1.4 - Anthropology and the Discourse of Freedom...24
1.5 - Chapter Overview...27
Chapter 2 - Historical Background and Literature Review...31
2.1 - History...31

2.1A - Mizrachi and Rabbi Jacob Reines...33
2.1B - Messianic and Mystical...33
2.1C - Practical, Political, and Progressive Messianism...36

2.2 - Literature Review...38

2.2A - Theology Taken Seriously...39
2.2B - Scholarly Engagements...44
2.2C - Singular Focus on Settlements...49

Chapter 3 - Srugim: The Aesthetics of Religious Zionism in Israel...52
3.1 - The Aesthetics of Experience...52

3.1A - Dress - Males...54
3.1B - Dress - Females...59

3.2 - Family, Housing, and Employment...68
3.3 - Singles...69
3.5 - Education and Youth Groups...73
3.6 - Gender Separation...74
3.7 - Years of Service/Yeshiva...76

3.7A - Service/Yeshiva Options - Males...77

3.7A1 - View of Military Service...79

3.7B - Service/Midrashot Options - Females...83

Chapter 4 - "The 'Wackadoodles' are Over There": Interpretation and Experience of Normalcy within Israeli Religious Zionism...86
4.1 - Political and Territorial Context...87
4.2 - The Little Minivan That Could...88
4.3 - Yossi and Ezra...90
4.4 - A Normal Life: Rockets vs. Gardens...95
4.5 - "The 'Wackadoodles' are Over There"...97
4.6 - "You're Only Afraid of Things you're Not Used To": Attuning Oneself to Normalcy...100
4.7 - Freedom, Discipline, and Fear...104
4.8 - The Categorization of 'Normalcy'...106

4.8A - 'Normal' in This Study...108

Chapter 5 - Danger and Diversity: How Jewish Political Pietists Encounter the World Around Them...110
5.1 - "When My Kids Grow up I Want Them to be Religious"...110
5.2 - Danger and the Confrontation with the Wider World...112
5.3 - Are Religious Jews Allowed to Have Fun?...115
5.4 - Between Spiritual Sensitivity and Neutrality...120

5.4A - Pets...121
5.4B - Shu"t Sms...122

5.5 - "It can't be That God Created all this Beauty in the World Just for the Goyim"...127
5.6 - Social Tensions Surrounding Spiritual Sensitivity and Neutrality...131
5.7 - Settling into the Hearts of Israel: The Gar'in Dati and the Nature of Zionism...133
5.8 - A Constant Confrontation: Political Piety and the Challenge of Competing Messages...139
Chapter 6 - The Search for Sanctity: Political Fidelity and Religious Experience among Religious Zionists...142
6.1 - Three Methods of Prayer...143
6.2 - Mamlachtiyut: Transcendental Harmony and Political Unity among the Followers of Rabbi Kook...146

6.2A - Know Him in all Your Ways: Self Discipline and Self Realization in a Samarian Settlement...156
6.2B - The Army in Eli...161

6.3 - Immanent Sanctity...165

6.3A - Immanence through Study...167
6.3B - Immanence through Kindness...172
6.3C - Immanence through Power...174

6.3C1 - Sanctity, Power, and Moderation...179

6.4 - Between Power and Compassion...183
Chapter 7 - Between the Land and the People: Hebron and Kibbutz Reishit...187
7.1 - Hebron...188

7.1A - A Troubled History...190

7.2 - Jewish Life in Hebron...193
7.3 - Kibbutz Reishit...197

7.3A - "Gush Emunim Went to the Land, We Went To the People"...200

7.4 - Between Gush Emunim and Kibbutz Reishit...210
Chapter 8 - Like a Fire: The Challenge to Classical Religious Zionism...213
8.1 - A Protest Rally...213
8.2 - Yeled Kafot:The Challenges of Religious Zionism...214
8.3 - Disenchantment with Classical Religious Zionism...221
8.4 - Where does Talya Fit In? Individual vs. Collective...224
8.5 - The Impact of Hasidism on Religious Zionism...232

8.5A - The Tanya and Kahane...237

8.6 - The Theological Vectors of Neo-Liberalism...239

8.6A - Fabrengen in Yitzhar...239
8.6B - Escaped Sheep, and Stolen Bee Hives: Searching For Heroes and Villains...245
8.6C - Shabbat in Chomesh: Violence, Individualism, and the Neutralization of the Messianic Impulse...250
8.6D - Begging the Question: Political Critique, and Personal Experience in Beit Rimon...261

8.7 - Pedagogy, Politics, and the Loss of Mystical Certainty...268
8.8 - Anthropology and Individual Unpredictability...276

Chapter 9 - Hitchhiking and Ritual Ambiguity in the Daily Lives of Jewish Religious Zionists in Israel's West Bank...278
9.1 - Hitchhiking as Sacred Travel...278
9.2 - Hitchhiking, Religious Zionism, and Redemption...281
9.3 - A Note on Methodology...283
9.4 - Safety and Insecurity...286
9.5 - How to Hitchhike: Hand Signals, Bulletproof Glass and General Awkwardness...288
9.6 - Confronting Fear and Risk...292
9.7 - Gender and Political Ambiguities...293
9.8 - Ritual and the Production of Ambiguity...295
Chapter 10 - Conclusion...298

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