Shouldering the Weight of the State: Religious Zionist Citizenship, National Responsibility, and Jewish Conversion in Israel

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Abstract

Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted with Jewish conversion agents and activists in Israel between 2004 and 2007, this article argues that state-run Jewish conversion provides a constructive institutional arena for religious Zionists to rework their active citizenship, in both the Israeli state and the religious Zionism movement. To the extent that Israel offers a compelling case for understanding how and why the politics of religious conversion intersect with the legal and bureaucratic dynamics of the modern nation-state, it also allows us to unpack the identity work of those who take it upon themselves to embody the morals and ambitions of the Jewish state. I draw on anthropological writing on the state and citizenship to argue that, by working institutionally on behalf of the state and investing itself in a goal assumed to secure its future, the religious Zionist community attempts to reaffirm the idea of “national responsibility” —a discursive construct that underwrites its interdependent relationship with the Israeli state. Such a reaffirmation is of particular importance in light of the volatile struggles it has had with and within the state over Israel's political and religious policies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-50
Number of pages16
JournalPolitical and Legal Anthropology Review
Volume41
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2018

Keywords

  • Citizenship
  • Israel
  • Jewish Conversion
  • National Responsibility
  • Religious Conversion
  • Religious Zionism
  • State Persons
  • The nation-state

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