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Yeshiva Fundamentalism

Piety, Gender, and Resistance in the Ultra-Orthodox World

Nurit Stadler

Publication Year: 2009

2009 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

The ultra-Orthodox yeshiva, or Jewish seminary, is a space reserved for men, and for a focus on religious ideals. Fundamentalist forms of piety are usually believed to be quite resistant to change. In Yeshiva Fundamentalism, Nurit Stadler uncovers surprising evidence that firmly religious and pious young men of this community are seeking to change their institutions to incorporate several key dimensions of the secular world: a redefinition of masculinity along with a transformation of the family, and participation in civic society through the labor market, the army, and the construction of organizations that aid terror victims. In their private thoughts and sometimes public actions, they are resisting the demands placed on them to reject all aspects of the secular world.

Because women are not allowed in the yeshiva setting, Stadler's research methods had to be creative. She invented a way to simulate yeshiva learning with young yeshiva men by first studying with an informant to learn key religious texts, often having to do with family life, sexuality, or participation in the larger society. This informant then invited students over to discuss these texts with Stadler and himself outside of the yeshiva setting. This strategy enabled Stadler to gain access to aspects of yeshiva life in which a woman is usually unable to participate, and to hear "unofficial" thoughts and reactions which would have been suppressed had the interviews taken place within the yeshiva.

Yeshiva Fundamentalism provides an intriguing — and at times surprising — glimpse inside the all-male world of the ultra-orthodox yeshivas in Israel, while providing insights relevant to the larger context of transformations of fundamentalism worldwide. While there has been much research into how contemporary feminism has influenced the study of fundamentalist groups worldwide, little work has focused on ultra-Orthodox men's desires to change, as Stadler does here, showing how fundamentalist men are themselves involved in the formulation of new meanings of piety, gender, modernity and relations with the Israeli state.

Published by: NYU Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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Contents [Includes Dedication]

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p. v


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pp. ix-xi

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pp. xiii-xviii

When the Zionist state was created, a new form of ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) fundamentalism developed as well, a postwar variation of fundamentalism invigorated by devotees struggling to defend a Jewish lifestyle destroyed in the Holocaust. in this rejuvenated religiosity, all men are...

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1. Introduction: Redefining Male Piety and Fundamentalism

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pp. 1-34

As a result of and in response to the challenges of modernity, male piety is now being reconsidered and reconstructed in the fundamentalist world. Piety has always been at the heart of religion and is expressed in a variety of ways: through abstinence and mourning, with a...

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2. Yeshiva Fundamentalism in Israel’s Haredi Community

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pp. 35-51

The Haredi community in Israel today comprises between 6 and 10 percent of the country’s population (Berman 2000; Dahan 1998). There are two main Haredi centers: the Mea She’arim neighborhood in Jerusalem, and Bnei Brak in central Israel. ...

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3. On the Edge of Transgression: The Study of the Talmud and the “Evil Inclination”

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pp. 52-73

After a long interview with Moshe about yeshiva life, I asked him about its many prohibitions. Moshe asked me whether I was familiar with the writings on the evil inclination and explained his view of these restrictions: ...

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4. Challenges to the Fundamentalist Denunciation of Work

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pp. 74-95

During a long interview with Abraham, a Lithuanian yeshiva student, about life in the study hall, he enthusiastically explained why yeshiva studies were more important than the labor market and why they were central to Haredi life. ...

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5. The Idealization of Soldiers’ Masculinity

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pp. 96-116

In contrast to the practices of withdrawal associated with work, a model of piety is being constituted in the yeshiva that includes an idealization of soldierhood and this worldliness.
The Haredi disapproval of military service in Israel is a modern development, formulated by the...

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6. The Domestication of Masculine Piety

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pp. 117-134

In the yeshiva community, the challenges to traditional norms of masculine piety are directly influencing and affecting the relationship between husband and wife. Accordingly, scholars studying the influence of contemporary feminism on fundamentalist groups and piety have found...

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7. A Case Study: Terror, ZAKA, and the “Soldiers of Piety”

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pp. 135-157

On October 4, 2003, twenty-nine-year-old Hanadi taysir Jaradat, a Palestinian attorney and a new member of Islamic Jihad, entered Maxim, a well-known restaurant in Haifa, and blew herself up. Nineteen people were killed that day, and more than fifty were wounded. ...

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8. Conclusion: A Reconstruction of Fundamentalism and Piety

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pp. 158-164

Piety, as I have argued throughout this book, is not a permanent pattern of belief; it is always shifting, being revised, reinterpreted, and contested. As we have seen, in the Jewish fundamentalist world, male piety is being reconsidered and reconstructed as a result of, and in...


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pp. 165-171


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pp. 173-187


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pp. 189-196

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About the Author

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p. 197

Nurit Stadler is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814708927
E-ISBN-10: 0814708927
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814740491
Print-ISBN-10: 0814740499

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 647699968
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Yeshiva Fundamentalism

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Jewish religious education of adults -- Israel.
  • Orthodox Judaism -- Israel.
  • Jewish fundamentalism -- Israel.
  • Ultra-Orthodox Jews -- Israel.
  • Jewish men -- Religious life.
  • Yeshivas -- Israel.
  • Spiritual life -- Judaism.
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