Gabriel Abensour


In contrast to strict secularism, secularization as a social paradigm does not negate religiosity but rather allows the existence of a multiplicity of equal intellectual ideas whose only purpose is to serve humanity. From this perspective, what has been described as hadata or religionization in Israeli discourse is thus an attempt by religious ideas to adapt to the secularization era and to compete in the marketplace of ideas. Eliezer Schweid described Israel’s inter-sectoral tensions as “the war of secular people of various kinds, each coping in his own way with the afflictions of secularization and with religion’s role as their solution.90 ”Shenhav-Shahrabani similarly maintains that in Israel the religious/secular dichotomy does not reflect actual reality but is, rather, an epistemic tool used primarily to determine cultural and ethnic hierarchies.91

Masortim and Datiim accept the assumptions of secularization, while secular people observe a fair number of religious practices. Were Israelis to dismantle this dichotomy, new analytical categories would likely bring about a change in perspective on the cultural, political, and national levels.

These insights can help us understand the late-1990s turning point of Masortiyut in Israel. As noted, there have been Masortim in Israel for as long as the state has been in existence. However, the discourse surrounding Masortiyut has intensified considerably since the late 1990s. The processes we described above – the weakening of secularism, the rise of secularization, and the end of the traditional/modern opposition – facilitate mobility between sectors and the emergence of more porous identities. The weakening of secularism as an ideological outlook has been accompanied by intensified secularization even within the religious sphere, with a direct line of passage opening between them. Also: over seven decades of Israeliness and the development of a living, vibrant Israeli Judaism have eased both the existential anxiety regarding the continuity of Jewish identity that lies at the heart of Orthodoxy, and the secular rebelliousness that had been necessary to establish a sustainable Jewish state. As Schweid has argued, a direct result of the above processes is that the secular faction no longer has exclusive ownership over secularization, just as the religious faction no longer has exclusive ownership over Judaism. This is a reality that challenges the old order of religious-secular relations in Israel, but which, at the same time, promotes the emergence of fresh Israeli-Jewish identities founded on broad consensus.

Masortiyut burst into the Jewish-cultural discourse during these years precisely because it was able to offer a new framework for thinking about the identity concepts central to Israeliness. First, in bemoaning the ideological rigidity of the secular-religious binary it completes or ratifies the decline of secularism. Furthermore, it makes dialogue with Jewish tradition possible without renouncing modern values.92

This is an identity that formulates itself from within the secularization paradigm and without challenging it, but at the same time is not secular in the ideological-identity sense of the word. This being the case, Masortiyut, especially in its non-ethnic form, can serve as an alternative identity framework for secular Israelis who are not ideologically anti-religious, as well as for religious people who have accepted the premises of secularization. This is a secularism that is capable of productive dialogue with Jewish tradition, without falling into the cognitive rigidity of religious fundamentalism, and without defining itself by negating other identities. 93