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Jews in the Age of Authenticity

Jewish Spiritual Renewal in Israel


Rachel Werczberger

In this book, Rachel Werczberger takes stock of the Jewish New Age spirituality scene in Israel at the turn of the millennium. Led by highly charismatic rabbis, the Hamakom and Bayit Chadash communities attempted to bring about a Jewish spiritual renewal by integrating Jewish tradition – especially Kabbalah and Hasidism – with New Age spirituality. Having spent over two years in field research, Werczberger presents a comprehensive ethnographic account of these two groups, examining their rise and fall after only six years of activity. At the core of their aspiration for Jewish spiritual renewal, claims Werczberger, was the quest for authenticity. She investigates the ways in which the language of authenticity was embraced by the members of the communities in their construction of a new spiritual Jewish identity, their re-invention of Jewish rituals, and their failed attempt at constructing community. She concludes that all these elements point to the dual form of politics of authenticity and identity with which the Israeli Jewish New Age is involved.


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Chapter 3: An Identity of Choice, a Spirituality of Search


· 3 · an identity of choice, a spirituality of search Many people raise an eyebrow at me.…Decide if you’re in or out; [if] you’re “reli- gious” or not. But the thing is…that all the “religious/secular” labels are irrelevant in my case. I am apparently just a ḥi-dati. I drive on Shabbat like every secular person, believe in equality between women and men, do not condemn someone that has chosen different sexual preferences. Succinctly put, I identify myself from an ethical standpoint as a member of Western civilization. At one and the same time, I pray. My language is different, completely different from the mainstream. And to whom do I pray, in essence? Who is this “God”? Is it my inner spirit… like the human inspiration of a poet? I really don’t know, and it is evidently not important in the least. The main thing is that I possess an inner spiritual life that stems from my inner identity, [a different form] of Jewish life.…And there is such a thing! —Nadav, a member of Hamakom Stories We Tell Ourselves This chapter’s opening quote, taken from an online article, was written by Nadav, a member of the Hamakom community for a number of years. In this text, Nadav attempts to explicate his unique spiritual-Jewish identity. Nadav’s family and friends are surprised by his lifestyle and beliefs. To most 82 jews in the age of authenticity Israelis, his kind of religious identity is inconceivable. On the one hand, his non-observant lifestyle...

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