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Secularism, Education, and Emotions

Cultural Tensions in Hebrew Palestine (1882–1926)

Yair Seltenreich

Secularism, Education, and Emotions: Cultural Tensions in Hebrew Palestine (1882–1926) aims to explore the sources of secularism, its social and emotional significances, its various expressions, and its thorny frictions with different religious environments during the first decades of modern settlement of Jews in Eretz-Israel (Palestine). Accordingly, this book develops four main concepts about secularism in Eretz-Israel: (1) Secularism was, in large part, a reaction against religion; (2) Secularism was not an isolated local occurrence but rather a product of the wider European cultural stage, influenced by ideas of contestation against religious dominance and nascent nationalism; (3) Secularism was essentially an emotional phenomenon in Europe and in Eretz-Israel likewise; (4) In the struggle between religious and secularists in Eretz-Israel, education occupied a major place as the main vehicle for the promotion of ideas.
Utilizing these four main concepts, Yair Seltenreich analyzes the general European frameworks of secularism. His studies illuminate secularist features within European Jewry and its subsequent translation into the Zionist movement and the Eretz-Israeli arena. Lastly, he examines the specific struggles between religious and secularist teachers in Galilee, where the culmination of tensions and of emotional expression allows a deeper understanding of secularism as a cultural issue.
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The encounters between secularism, education and emotions have proved fascinating in the Eretz-Israeli arena. In my conclusion I would like to refer again largely to the Galilee moshavot as that particular environment let hidden tensions, such as anxieties or hatreds, to surface and allowed therefore clearer and more precise observations which might be projected on the Yishuv society as a whole. Yet opting for secularism did not allow the luxury of disregarding religion. On the contrary, it initiated unending dialogues with it. Emotions reflected the responsive phase in which those dialogues took place. Secularist emotions necessarily, fatally even, were formed as emotional responses to religion, whether they were expressed in emotional suffering, in transmitting emotives, through navigation of feelings, in seeking emotional refuges or in creating emotional communities. While emotions represented responses to personal needs, education became the tool, or perhaps the weapon, in justifying to oneself the correctness of his choice by converting the others. It became the sublimation of self-conviction, so to say. This too was accentuated in the condensed atmosphere of the moshavot, where both sides tried to win the hearts of the younger generation.

Religion and secularism had much in common, imbued in the impact of their adapted philosophies, which translated and simplified abstract notions of ‘God’ or ‘netherworld’, or alternatively ‘nature’ or ‘progress’, into hopes, fears, cravings and life-stiles. In both religion and secularism this could be discerned through several ← 209 | 210 → phases, always existing in religion and often in secularism....

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