Volume 14, 2009 : Women in Israeli Judaism

Women as Leaders of Religious Change in a Karaite Community

Inbal E. Cicurel
Department of Sociology and Anthropology,
Ashkelon Academic College, Israel


Taking the example of Karaite Jews in Israel, this paper looks at the ways in which women alter religious practices to aid their social adjustment as immigrants. Current literature deals with two alternative practices by immigrant women: magnifying their role in institutionalized religion or secularization that facilitates their social inclusion in the mainstream. The first practice aims to offset social isolation by in-group support while striving to maintain the group's unity by emphasizing its uniqueness. Enhancing women's religious roles seemed appropriate for the Karaite women; yet, their marginality in the Israeli society led them to prefer religious change, or secularization. Had they done so publicly, they might have achieved a greater social impact, but would have encountered men's resistance. Instead, the immigrant women chose to pursue change through private domestic acts, justifying them to the men on the grounds of convenience. Thus they managed an adaptive religious change without facing internal objection within their community.
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