An Orthodox Revolution?

Reviewed by Aharon Rose

Internal Popular Discourse in Israeli Haredi Society
by Kimmy Caplan
Zalman Shazar Center, 2007, 346 pages.

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srael’s Haredi minority has an ambivalent relationship with secular Israeli society. On the one hand, Israel is witnessing the emergence of a new generation of Haredi politicians and journalists, a generation that no longer speaks “diaspora Yiddish,” but rather fluent sabra Hebrew, and maintains strong ties with its secular surroundings. On the other hand, most Israelis still tend to identify Haredi culture with a cult of elderly rabbis, zealously guarding the embers of the old world’s traditions. This duality is also evident in the apparent contradiction between the Haredi community’s involvement in and contribution to wider Israeli society through political parties and charitable organizations, and the anti-Zionist ideology to which it continues to adhere. To be sure, this duality does not only confuse and perplex secular Israelis; the Haredim themselves often find such contrasts difficult to explain.
Enter the new book Internal Popular Discourse in Israeli Haredi Society by Kimmy Caplan. Caplan, a lecturer in Jewish history at Bar-Ilan University, sets out to provide an in-depth and comprehensive analysis of shifts in Haredi society. In doing so, he chooses to abandon the traditional role of the historian in favor of that of the sociologist, documenting social changes occurring in the field. He takes as his premise the idea that important parts of the Haredi community “are undergoing a selective process of Israelization, that is to say, an internalization of cultural values and patterns of behavior, the source of which is the surrounding society.” According to Caplan, “this process is at odds with the separatist and isolationist goals that continue to characterize official Haredi rhetoric.” In other words, Caplan believes that there is a gap between the day-to-day life of Haredim and the ideology that purports to represent and define it. To expose and analyze this dissonance is the primary goal of Internal Popular Discourse in Israeli Haredi Society—and the book makes a praiseworthy, if only partly successful, attempt to do so.

Aharon Rose is a graduate of the Belz yeshiva and a Masters student in the department of Jewish thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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