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

"A House of Prayer for All Nations": Unorthodox Prayer Houses for Nonreligious Israeli Jews
Naama Azulay and Ephraim Tabory
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Bar-Ilan University, Israel


The establishment of houses of worship for non-religious Israeli Jews by the Jewish renewal movement entails a disconnection between religious identity and religious belief, as well as between religious belief and religious worship. Individuals involved in this initiative are thus redefining the field of Jewish cultural identity in Israel. Our analysis of the transformation of the Jewish renewal movement from its focus on intellectual study of Jewish texts to prayers and ceremonies is based on participant observation, document analysis, questionnaires completed by the leaders of the prayer groups, and interviews with thirty informants involved in the creation of these groups. The data indicate that secular prayer houses that incorporate new religious practices lay the foundation for a hybrid secular Jewish-Israeli identity. This development has important implications for the ongoing ideological struggle to define the Jewish cultural-religious sphere in Israel.

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