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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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Secularism was, and still is, at the same time a practice and an idea, a formation and a formulation of worldview and lifestyle, a personal and a collective experience, struggle and acceptance. As such it was an important factor in cultural life of Hebrew society in Palestine during its first decades. This book will examine how educational activities and emotional manifestations have influenced the particular turn of secularism in that arena. In other words, the book will focus essentially on the reflections of struggles and management of sensitivities in secularism. What did secularism mean for its proponents and why did it become so provocative? The reason may be because secularism was obliged to find its justification in relating itself to religion in a negative manner. This forceful attachment and the need for incessant legitimization consequently put forward an emotional expressivity. Indeed, as emotionality seemed to be a common denominator for most phases of secularism, theories of the history of emotions will be at the base of many analyses in this book.

The idea for this book evolved while I was writing a different book concerning the origins of nascent Hebrew education in which I was focusing on a micro-historical test-case about eleven specific rural settlements, moshavot (singular: moshava), totaling less than 3000 persons, most of them downtrodden and non-sophisticated farmers, in the peripheral region of Galilee during the first decades of the Twentieth century. I soon discovered that writing about education meant in fact writing ← 1...

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