Hizky Shoham (Bar-Ilan University): "Israeli Grassroots Culture as a new strand of Judaism"

Department: Jewish Studies

Date and Time: February 13, 2017 | 5:00 PM-6:30 PM

Event Location: Humanities Gateway 1010

Event Details

Hizky Shoham (Bar Ilan University, Israel)

Israeli Grassroots Culture as a new strand of Judaism


February 13, 2017 at 5pm
Humanities Gateway 1010

Did Israel develop a new strand of Judaism?  Dominant scholarly trend has all too often advanced the simplistic claim that Zionism rebelled against Jewish tradition, thereby overemphasizing the artificial opposition between Israeli culture and Jewish culture (which is frequently misidentified with Orthodoxy). But the historical anthropology of Jewish holidays and life cycle rituals as celebrated in mainstream Israeli culture throughout “the long twentieth century” of Zionism and on to the present demonstrate that a new Judaism emerged in Israel from the grassroots. The first part of the lecture deals with historical-anthropological questions such as: Why do most Israeli Jews bother to observe the complicated seder ritual at their annual family gatherings, while conspicuously demonstrating their alienation from it? How and when did Yom Kippur become a carless day on Israeli roads? Why do so-called “secular” Israeli Jews bother to celebrate bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah? In the second part, I will probe political implications of these minutiae of life: does the grassroots Jewish culture of Israel function as the Israeli civic culture? Could it develop a shared symbolic space for both Jews and Arabs? I will argue that this popular culture might come to define Jewish identity in Israel of the 21st century.

Hizky Shoham is a senior lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Program for Hermeneutics and Cultural Studies at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, and a research fellow in the Kogod Institute for Advanced Jewish Studies at the Shalom Hartman institute in Jerusalem. His book Carnival in Tel Aviv: Purim and the Celebration of Urban Zionism was published by Academic Studies Press (2014), and His book Israel Celebrates: Festivals and Civic Culture in Israel is forthcoming in Brill.