Volume 13, 2008 : Between Tradition and Modernity : The Plurality of Jewish Customs and Rituals

Ethnic Synagogues of Mizrahi Jews in Israel:
Ethnicity, Orthodoxy, and Nationalism

Nissim Leon
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Bar-Ilan University, Israel


This paper sheds light on the phenomenon of ethnic synagogues of Mizrahi Jews in Israel. I discuss two salient trends in congregational sociology in the “generation of the State,” i.e., the second and third generations following the mass immigration from Islamic countries. The first trend is the heterogenization of congregations. It stems from geographic mobility, secularization, and the evolution of a Mizrahi discourse that reflects the common sociocultural experience of many Jews from Islamic countries in the environments in which they grew up. Heterogenization has led to a more complex model of an ethnic synagogue, changing it from a place that expresses the culture and heritage of a single ethnic group into a multi-ethnic place. The second trend is the religious homogenization of the Mizrahi ethnic synagogue. This trend originates in haredization and Orthodox socialization processes among some of the Jews from Islamic countries, as well as local responses to these processes. This trend has resulted in four types of ethnic synagogues, distinguished not by place of origin but by religious character: synagogues based on traditionalist Jews, spiritual centers of the teshuva movement, batei midrash (prayer and study centers) of Sephardic bnei Torah (haredi yeshiva graduates), and Sephardic synagogues in religious Zionist communities.

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