Bulletin: Religion in Israel

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ToC: Israel Studies Review 29.2 (2014): New Age Culture in Israel

Guest Editors’ Introduction: New Age Culture in Israel
pp. 1-16
Authors: Werczberger, Rachel; Huss, Boaz

Articles

This article focuses on the concept of identity by juxtaposing New Age philosophy and nationalism in the Israeli context. Based on my qualitative research, I deconstruct the Israeli New Age discourse on ethno-national identity and expose two approaches within this discourse. The more common one is the belief held by most Israelis, according to which ethno-national identity is a fundamental component of one’s self. A second and much less prevalent view resembles New Age ideology outside Israel and conceives of ethno-national identities as a false social concept that separate people rather than unite them. My findings highlight the limits of New Age ideology as an alternative to the hegemonic culture in Israel. The difficulty that Israeli New Agers find in divorcing hegemonic conceptualizations demonstrates the centrality and power of ethno-national identity in Israel.
In this article I examine eschatological beliefs and practices among channels in Israel and abroad, and show that they demonstrate an avoidance of traditional, group-oriented political action, and an embrace of alternative, spiritual action performed individually. This is linked to Israel’s shift to a neo-liberal economy and culture in the last few decades, where self-accountability has become the norm. Channeling teaches an extreme version of self-divinity, claiming that a person creates all aspects of his or her life and objecting to outside authority and regulation. It believes in a coming of a New Age of light and that the means to achieve it are personal quests for individual empowerment, which are anticipated to affect the whole world via the “virtual aggregate group,” an energetic reservoir that replaces the traditional group. Channels are engaged in alternative political action, attempting to change the world by virtually pooling spiritual resources.
This article charts the recent development of Modern Paganism in Israel (1999–2012) and analyzes the discourse maintained by Israeli modern-day Pagans when discussing questions of organization and of religious-political rights. As such it deals with the complexities of identifying oneself as a (Jewish-born) Pagan in Israel, the nation state of the Jewish people. I argue that although Israeli Pagans may employ a community-building discourse, they constantly fear the perceived negative consequences of public exposure. They see the bond between (Jewish) religion and the state in Israel as a main factor in the intolerance and even persecution that they expect from the government and from Haredim (“ultra-Orthodox” Jews). The result of this discourse during the first ten years or so of the presence of Modern Paganism in Israel can be seen through the metaphor of a dance, in which participants advance two steps, only to retreat one.
The notion of consciousness change as a political concept has re-emerged as a central issue in recent Israeli political discourse in diverse and seemingly remote groups. The following is a study of some of the contexts and implications of according primacy to consciousness change in political thought, through the tensions between the highly individualistic character of this discourse and its collective language and aims. I focus on one study case, Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, a key figure in both extreme settler groups and current New Age Hasidic revival. Analyzing his political writings, I explore his notion of consciousness as the true place of politics. Finally, I return to the question of the context in which Rabbi Ginsburgh’s binding of the political to consciousness should be read, and propose liberal individualism, and the direct line it draws between the individual’s consciousness and that of the state, as an alternative hermeneutical perspective.
The quest for personal and inner spiritual transformation and development is prevalent among spiritual seekers today and constitutes a major characteristic of contemporary spirituality and the New Age phenomenon. Religious leaders of the Bratslav community endeavor to satisfy this need by presenting adjusted versions of hitbodedut meditation, a practice that emphasizes solitary and personal connection with the divine. As is shown by two typical examples, popular Bratslav teachers today take full advantage of the opportunity to infuse the hitbodedut with elements not found in Rabbi Nachman’s teachings and to dispense with some elements that were. The article addresses the socio-political rationale at the root of these teachers’ novel interpretation of Bratslav hitbodedut and the ways they attempt to deal with the complications that arise out of their work.
This article describes the new “field” of Sufi ideas and practices in Israeli Jewish society and analyzes the mutual relations between new Western Sufi influences and traditional Sufi orders of the Middle East. It focuses on the role of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in this evolving field. While the current rise of interest in spirituality is often described as emphasizing an apolitical approach, the evolving Sufi field in Israel is an example of a field that cannot detach itself from the overarching conflict. Moreover, efforts are made by some of the actors in this field to present Sufism as representing a different Islam and, hence, as a potential bridge between the rival parties. These approaches, as this article shows, have their own complexities and influences on the emerging Sufi field in Israel.
Review Essay

Book Reviews

Book Reviews
pp. 153-170

Daniel Bar-Tal and Izhak Schnell, eds., The Impacts of Lasting Occupation: Lessons from Israeli Society

Review by Ned Lazarus

Alan Craig, International Legitimacy and the Politics of Security: The Strategic Deployment of Lawyers in the Israeli Military

Review by Ariel L. Bendor

Joel S. Migdal, Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East

Review by Aharon Klieman

Miriam Fendius Elman, Oded Haklai, and Hendrik Spruyt, eds., Democracy and Conflict Resolution: The Dilemmas of Israel’s Peacemaking

Review by Jay Rothman

Eyal Levin, Ethos Clash in Israeli Society

Review by Gabriel Ben-Dor

Danielle Gurevitch, Elana Gomel, and Rani Graff, eds., With Both Feet on the Clouds: Fantasy in Israeli Literature

Review by Ari Ofengenden