Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

New book focuses on secularization in Israeli life

BEERSHEVA, Israel—Dramatic secularization changes have occurred in significant aspects of Israelis’ public and private lives, according to a new book, “Between State and Synagogue” (Cambridge University), by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) professor Guy Ben-Porat.

“Rather than adopt a coherent religious or secular identity, the majority of Jewish Israelis continue to maintain at least some beliefs, identities and practices that can be described as religious,” says Ben-Porat, author and lecturer in BGU’s Department of Public Policy and Administration in the Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management. “This is often occurring alongside those who describe themselves as the secular ones, in which they are the minority.”

In “Between State and Synagogue,” Ben-Porat discusses how a thriving, yet small, liberal component in Israeli society has frequently taken issue with the constraints imposed by religious orthodoxy, largely with limited success.  However, secularization has occurred in recent years, largely because of demographic changes and the influence of an increasingly consumer-oriented society. Israelis, who describe themselves as secular or non-religious have either begrudgingly accepted the rules and regulations imposed by the Orthodox, or attempted to defy religious authority in various ways described in this book as “secularization.”

Entrepreneurial activity and individual choices that make up this secularization process are often unrelated to a secular worldview or identity and are not considered to be political by those undertaking them. In addition, this process occurs outside formal political channels and is not registered in formal changes. Yet, they have amounted to new secularized spaces that affect everyday life.

“Even though these fissures often have more to do with lifestyle choices and economics than with political or religious ideology, the demands and choices of a secular public and a burgeoning religious presence in the government are becoming ever more difficult to reconcile,” Ben-Porat observes.

The evidence, which the author has accrued from numerous interviews and a detailed survey, is nowhere more telling than in areas that demand religious sanction, such as marriage, burial, the sale of pork, and business operation on the Sabbath.  This book makes an important and timely contribution to the study of contemporary Israeli society as new alliances are being forged in the political arena. It discusses the impact and limitations of this secularization process in regard to the liberalization of Israeli society.

Ben-Porat has been with the Department of Public Policy and Administration at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev since 2001. He is also the author of “Global Liberalism, Local Populism: Peace and Conflict in Israel/Palestine and Northern Ireland;” a co-author of “Israel Since 1980;” and co-editor of “The Contradictions of Israeli Citizenship: Land, Religion and State.”


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