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Final Report Summary - JST (BASIC MODELS OF JEWISH SECULAR THOUGHT)

BASIC MODELS OF JEWISH SECULARISM

The study of Jewish secularism is a growing field. Following the recent collapse of the predominant master narrative of secularism as a homogeneous process rooted in Christianity, scholars have turned to explore the unique characteristics of Jewish secularism which distinguish it from other types of secularisms. Moreover, even within Jewish culture itself, different historical and intellectual settings have created varied manifestations of secularism. Fin de siècle Eastern Europe, for example, gave rise to a widespread Jewish secularity that differs significantly from the elitist character it acquired at the same time in North Africa and the Middle East. And both of them diverge radically from contemporary nation-based Israeli secularism.
The object of this study is to mine the rich and diverse legacy of Jewish Secularism in light of a threefold typology that encapsulates key patterns of secular worldviews and lifestyles underlying Jewish existence in modernity: (1) the Radical Model attempts to completely secularize Jewish culture by purposefully excluding religion and religiosity from that culture; (2) the Pluralistic Model aims to ensure open discourse between individuals and communities, each contributing to Jewish culture according to their respective religious or secular dispositions; and (3) the Semi-Religious Model aims to offer a secular substitute for religion without excluding the religious impulse (as the radical model does), but by diverting it from religious objects to secular ones such as peoplehood or state.

My work on various aspects of secular Judaism strengthens this analysis and categorizes various central figures of Jewish culture in its light. The Role of Contradictions in Spinoza's Philosophy: The God-Intoxicated Heretic (Routledge, 2016), examines Spinoza, the seminal figure widely considered to be the first secular Jew, in light of the notion that his secular identity is constituted through a dialectical dialogue with the religious tradition he renounced. The Role of Contradictions in Spinoza's Philosophy explores both the contradiction between Spinoza’s secularism and his religiosity, as well as several other profound and pervasive contradictions in Spinoza’s system. As opposed to the prevailing understanding of Spinoza and his work, this book argues contradictions are deliberate and constitutive of his philosophical thinking and the notion of God at its heart.

A second book, Women of the Wall: Navigating Religion in Sacred Sites, co-written with Nahshon Perez (under contract with the Oxford University Press), explores tensions raised by the encounter of orthodox forms of Judaism with modern secular, feminist ideals. The Women of the Wall (WoW) have been, for more than twenty five years, leading a groundbreaking struggle, attempting to gain the Israeli authorities’ permission to pray according to their manner at Judaism’s holiest prayer site, the Western Wall. The WoW transcend the dichotomy between Jewish secularism and Jewish religion by seeking to undermine the monopoly of the religious orthodoxy over a site of immense significance not only to Jewish religious worship but also to Jewish nationalism in its modern, secular form. While the WoW’s determined activism has been gaining widespread media coverage, this book is the first comprehensive academic study of their struggle and seeks to place it in a comparative and theoretical context. It explores various dimensions of the group’s struggle, including an analysis of the women’s attempts to modify Jewish-orthodox mainstream religious practice from within and invest it with a new, egalitarian content; a comprehensive survey of the numerous legal rulings of various courts about the case; and considerations of the broader political and social significance of the WoW’s struggle.

This analysis enables, in turn, to address several wider problems in religion-state relations; How should governments manage religious plurality within their borders? How should governments respond to the requests of minorities—in this case, religious women— that conflict with the mainstream interpretation of a given tradition? How should governments manage disputed sacred spaces located in the public sphere? These questions and others are of great relevance to any effort at managing the tensions between the secular and religious aspects of cultures in general and Jewish culture in particular.

Alongside these books, I have also published several articles that focus on legal, educational, philosophical and literary aspects of Jewish secularism, exploring the work of several important secular Jewish thinkers such as A.D. Gordon, and S. Yizhar. I also published an article which examines the wider question of secularism, through an analysis of universities as secular institutions in American society,

The pioneering typology described above, as well as the various research projects that take place within its framework, seek to contribute to a new understanding of current Jewish secularity, as well as assist in the re-shaping of its future trajectory in light of the recent reassertion of power by religious forces in the spheres of politics and culture worldwide.

Related information

Contact

Lea Pais, (Director of the Research Authority)
Tel.: +97236408774
Fax: +97236409697
E-mail

Subjects

Life Sciences
Record Number: 192748 / Last updated on: 2016-12-14
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