The Border Within: Examining the Role of Group Boundaries in Mixed-Observance Families in Israel

Kineret Sadeh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article re-examines the social role of group boundaries in mixed families. While most studies depict, resonate, or even endorse a progressive vision of mixed families, characterized by the crossing, blurring, or challenging of group boundaries, this paper portrays a vision designated by the reinforcement, safeguarding, and tense management of group boundaries. This vision arises from the lived experience of religious educators who belong to a non-liberal group in Israeli society – the ultra-Orthodox Mizrahi community. As I will demonstrate, many Mizrahim in Israel (Jews originating from Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa) live in mixed families. Yet, these families are significantly unlike those often described in the literature. First, their mixedness is not conjugal; instead, it is forged through differences between parents and children, siblings, cousins, etc. Second, the dissimilarities between these family members are not ethnic, racial, national, religious, or class-based, but rather stem from differences in observance. By this, I refer to disparities in religious ways of life, stringency of observance, and openness to modernity of family members who belong to distant, sometimes even hostile, sub-groups in Jewish society in Israel: ultra-Orthodox, religious, traditionalists, and secular. I will show how ultra-Orthodox Mizrahim who live in mixed-observance families maintain their bonds with their non-ultra-Orthodox relatives by safeguarding the boundaries that separate them. Hence, the tolerant vision that arises from their experience invites reconsideration of how living together differently is possible in societies in which liberal and non-liberal groups share a joint political space.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)580-603
Number of pages24
JournalThe American Sociologist
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Group boundaries
  • Israeli society
  • Mixed families
  • Tolerance
  • Ultra-Orthodox Jews


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