Yoav  Peled Author of Evaluating Organization Development

Yoav Peled

Professor Emeritus of political science
Tel Aviv University


Areas of Research / Professional Expertise

    Citizenship, ethnic relations, Israeli politics, Israeli-Palestinian conflict



Featured Title
 Featured Title - Religionization Israeli Society Peled Peled - 1st Edition book cover


From Maniv and Benziman's article in Israel Studies.

By: Yoav Peled
Subjects: Education, Middle East Studies, Other, Philosophy and Religion, Religion

“Yoav Peled and Horit Herman Peled[‘s book is] the most comprehensive research on religionization in Israeli society to date” (Omri Maniv and Yuval Benziman, “National-Religionization (and not Religious-Religionization) in Policies of Israel’s Ministry of Education,” Israel Studies 25.2: 2020, p. 116.

Review by Hayim Katsman

By: Yoav Peled
Subjects: Area Studies, Art & Visual Culture, Middle East Studies, Other, Philosophy and Religion, Political Science, Politics & International Relations, Religion, Sociology, Sociology, Criminology and Criminal Justice

Yoav Peled, Horit Herman Peled. The Religionization of Israeli Society. Oxon:
Routledge, 2018. 250 pp. $150.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-138-95479-3.

Reviewed by Hayim Katsman (University of Washington)

Published on H-Judaic (October, 2019)

Secular Israeli journalists, publicists, and academics
have recently expressed their concerns with the increasing
influence of religion on Israeli society and politics.
In The Religionization of Israeli Society, Yoav Peled and
Horit Herman Peled aim to explain the sociopolitical origins
of this process and describe how religion influences
various spheres of Israeli society. The authors identify
religionization as replacing secular civil religion in Israel
with traditional religion, a process which has been
taking place since the decline of the Labor Zionist Party,
starting with its fall from power in 1977. The religionization
of Israel entails the increasing representation of
Religious Zionists in state institutions, as well as cultural
fields, such as fine arts and cinema. This process is analyzed
by the authors through the Gramscian concept of
cultural hegemony. They describe how the Labor Zionist
hegemony has gradually been replaced by a new historic
bloc consolidated around the Religious Zionist (or
National Religious) movement. The authors argue that
the Religious Zionist nationalist worldview is now supported
by broader parts of the Israeli society, which can
eventually lead to the theocratization of the Israel state.
The main contribution of the book lies in the first
three chapters, which discuss secular-religious relations
within the Zionist movement and the state of Israel.
In the first chapter, the authors give an overview of
some of the scholarly work on the tensions among religion,
modernity, and nationalism, and how these tensions
were dealt with in the Zionist context. The authors
show how the Zionist movement’s reliance on Jewish religious
symbols later served as an ideological foundation
for the Religious Zionist hegemony, enabling other secular
groups to support the Religious Zionist worldview.
The second chapter explains the economic factors that
led to the rise and fall of the hegemony of Labor Zionism.
The third chapter briefly describes the ideology and history
of the Religious Zionist movement and how its political
alliance with the existing Labor Zionist hegemony
shifted to a direct challenge of that hegemony during the
1960s and 1970s.
The fourth chapter is intended to present groups that
are not part of the Religious Zionist movement, but still
can be considered as falling under its “sphere of influence”
the movement of “return” to religion (teshuvah)
and the movement for “Jewish renewal.” The rest of the
book is dedicated to various domains of Israeli society, in
which the authors identify growing religious influence,
mainly due to the increasing presence of Religious Zionists.
The book focuses specifically on the influence of religion
in the education system, Israeli military, and visual
fine arts. One more short chapter discusses the rise of Orthodox
feminism, although it does not account for many
of the recent developments in the movement. The last
chapter analyzes television and film productions created
by Religious Zionists and haredim, or the ultra-Orthodox.
How do the authors define “religionization”? It is not
understood in terms of increasing adherence to religious
law; indeed, religious observance has not grown in Israeli
society. Religionization for them, rather, is the increasing
influence of the Religious Zionist ethnopolitical
worldview on the Israeli public. This influence, in turn,
appears to be measured primarily by the growing numbers
of people associated with religious groups present in
various domains of Israeli society: their mere presence is
defined as “religionization.”

It is of course important not to overlook these processes,
since religion consists of a social dimension and
cannot be reduced to piety and adherence to religious
obligations. However, this emphasis on social representation
and cultural influence raises some analytical problems.
Since the authors argue that the mere fact that
Religious Zionist individuals fill certain influential roles
in society constitutes religionization, how do we understand,
for example, the increasing enlistment of Religious
Zionist women in the Israeli army? It certainly increases
the representation of Religious Zionists in the army. At
the same time, as the authors note, these women are explicitly
disobeying rulings by prominent Religious Zionists
rabbis prohibiting women’s army service. As a result,
a phenomenon that clearly indicates a decline in religious
authority is paradoxically considered to constitute an example
of religionization.
While the authors note some political diversity in
the Religious Zionist movement, they also consider it as
“very strongly correlated with right-wing nationalist political
positions” (p. 216). They emphasize that since
the 1960s and 1970s a group formed around Rabbi Zvi
Yehudah HaCohen Kook became the dominant ideological
force within the Religious Zionist movement. This
group’s explicit political agenda challenged the Labor
Zionist hegemony and argued that political considerations
must be subject to religious considerations. The
main consequence of this idea was the formation of Gush
Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful), a social movement that
began settling Jews in the territories occupied by Israel
in the 1967 war. The authors successfully show how
this ideology and system of symbols became increasingly
dominant in Israeli society, replacing Israeli civil religion.
However, research has also shown that the influence of
this group within Religious Zionist circles has been declining,
opening space for alternative Religious Zionist
interpretations.[1] Therefore, merely pointing to the increasing
participation of Religious Zionist individuals in
the Israeli public sphere misses the internal diversity of
the movement and the growth of alternative ideological
The authors describe the religionization of Israeli society
through an analysis of Religious Zionist values, focusing
on their influence on the broader Israeli society
and its dominant social symbols. This influence, they
argue, comes about through the increasing participation
of Religious Zionists individuals in various public
domains. However, the authors’ normative standpoint
against what they consider to be Religious Zionist values,
together with the choice to avoid a positive description
of “religionization” is problematic. The book does
not provide us with analytical tools to interpret more ambiguous
cases, such as the non-Orthodox movements for
Jewish renewal, in which the increasing influence of religion
does not necessarily promote an ethnonationalist
worldview. Therefore, the use of the concept is sometime
almost tautological (actions of religious people equal religionization).
To sum up, this book is an important contribution
to the field of Israel studies, offering a comprehensive
and detailed description of the changing role of religion
within the Israeli society. However, scholars of religion
in Israel, and specifically scholars of Religious Zionism
might be disappointed by the lack of a more nuanced and
updated description of the contemporary Religious Zionist
community as well as other forms of Judaism in Israel.

[1]. Chanan Moses, “From Religious Zionism to Postmodern
Religion” (Hebrew) (PhD diss., Bar-Ilan University,

Hayim Katsman is doctoral candidate at the University
of Washington. His dissertation project is entitled “Religious
Nationalism in Israel/Palestine: The Case of Religious
Zionism and Hamas.”

If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at:
Citation: Hayim Katsman. Review of Peled, Yoav; Peled, Horit Herman, The Religionization of Israeli Society. HJudaic,
H-Net Reviews. October, 2019.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=54272

Review by Paul Scham in Israel Studies Review

By: Yoav Peled
Subjects: Area Studies, Middle East Studies, Other, Philosophy and Religion, Religion

Yoav Peled and Horit Herman Peled, The Religionization of Israeli Society
(New York: Routledge, 2018), 250 pp. Hardback, $150.00.

‘Religionization’ (hadata) is one of those words like phylacteries (tefillin)
and Pentecost (Shavuot) that are best left in their original Hebrew. It is
the central concept of this book (unfortunately used in its gawky English
form) by noted Israeli political scientist Yoav Peled and Horit Herman
Peled, a fine arts and media culture researcher, which demonstrates both
the actual dangers to Israeli life by the process of hadata, as well as the
myopia that afflicts much of the secular left when talking about Judaism
in Israel. In an attempt to avoid confusion I will use hadata when referring
to the actual process, and Religionization when referring to the book itself.

The thesis of the book is neatly encapsulated in the introduction: “Religious
Zionism is fast becoming the hegemonic sector in Israeli society”
(17). Note that it does not mention traditional religious Judaism, whether of
the ‘modern’ or Haredi forms, which, we learn later, are incorporated into
Religious Zionism through the processes of hegemony. The Peleds’ argument
is that all of these varieties are subsumed in and aiding the process
of hadata, even if their devotees are unaware that they are doing so. It thus
mirrors the characterization used by Rabbi A. Y. Kook, the first Ashkenazi
chief rabbi of Palestine, who referred to secular Jews as the “Messiah’s donkey”
because, by fulfilling the mitzvah of living in and rebuilding the Land
of Israel, they were, unheedingly, bringing the Redemption closer.

The first chapters of the book lead us through the rise and fall of the
Labor hegemony (the latter largely self-inflicted, especially by stripping
the Histadrut of its businesses and membership) and the subsequent rise of
the ‘Religious Zionist challenge’. In the chapter of that title, the Peleds analyze
polling and demographic data showing that the National Religious
population is younger and growing faster than the rest of the population
(which is undeniable). But they claim as well that “what may be viewed
as the national religious sphere of influence is at least as large as the core
national religious sector and includes people holding the whole range of
levels of religiosity that exist in the society” (53–54). In other words, the
values, ethos, and political beliefs of the National Religious sector have
spread well beyond those whose religious practice is normative ‘national
Orthodox’ (largely synonymous with ‘modern Orthodox’ in the US).

One of my two major criticisms of the book is its insistence that all
forms of Jewish religiosity are symptomatic of the expansion and hegemony
(in the Gramscian sense) of national Orthodox political and social
values and aims. These ‘hegemonizing’ groups include Haredim of all
stripes, Conservative, Reform, TALI schools (largely formed and directed
by Conservative-oriented American olim), and New Age/Jewish Renewal
movements. However, in my view, and certainly in their own, most of
these groups are explicitly and politically opposed to much or all of the
National Religious agenda. When I brought this up with Yoav Peled at a
discussion of the book in which I was a panelist, he dismissed these groups
as “useful idiots” (shades of Rav Kook’s Messiah’s donkey!).

The book goes on to document National Religious penetration into the
spheres of education, the IDF, fine arts, feminism, and film, television,
and media. While some of this penetration (e.g., education
and the IDF) is well known and the subject of considerable public discussion, other
aspects, especially the fine arts and feminism, are less so. Again, here
the Peleds see any Jewish religious manifestations as proof of National
Religious inroads. According to their interpretation of hegemony, opposition
to Orthodox strictures and demands for loosening its strictures serve
objectively to make Orthodoxy more acceptable. I am highly dubious that
any such thing ‘objectively’ happens.

My other criticism of the book is that it provides no positive vision of
any role for Judaism in Israel. Other than the timeworn argument over a
‘state for the Jews’ versus a ‘Jewish state’, the book does not supply any
vision that takes into account the reality of the enhanced role of religion
in Israel, as in all Middle Eastern states. I got the strong feeling that the
Peleds are not so secretly yearning for the Israel they knew before the 1967
War changed everything—a time when Haredim were barely visible and
the Mafdal was a liberal extension of Mapai that cared only about mildly
increasing the availability of kosher food and observance of Shabbat, and
when very few people argued about ‘who is a Jew’. Those days are long
gone, and those of us who are critical of the role that religious extremists
play in Israeli society today should ourselves have a vision of what we
would like to see. The US, perhaps needless to say, cannot be a role model
in this as it is ideologically constituted on totally different premises with
regard to religion. But I suspect that the Peleds, like many secular Israelis,
feel more comfortable with religion in the US than in their homeland.

Despite my criticism, there is no doubt that this is a valuable book in
presenting—with numerous facts and figures—the demographic, ideological,
and cultural growth of Religious Zionism. I am not equipped to discuss
the quarter of the book that is devoted to film and to the fine arts, but
these chapters are a knowledgeable guide to Orthodox interest in these
fields, in which, not long ago, few Orthodox Jews would have set foot. I
should note that Orthodox feminism—the idea that feminists would and
do take Orthodoxy seriously—seems to surprise the authors by its mere
existence. This phenomenon of Orthodox feminism is perfectly illustrated
in an article that appeared in the spring 2019 issue of this journal: “Staying
and Critiquing: Israeli Orthodox Women Filmmakers” (Seigelsheifer and
Hartman 2019).

Despite my caviling, Religionization is an important voice in understanding
the religious wars currently besetting Israel. I wish, however, that the
authors would have looked a bit more into Orthodoxy on its own terms
in order to understand it as a flowering as well as a danger, as an authentic
and important cultural phenomenon beyond its status as a political
impediment to eventual peace with the Palestinians and a threat to the
secular Israeli lifestyle.

Paul L. Scham
University of Maryland

Seigelsheifer, Valeria, and Tova Hartman. 2019. “Staying and Critiquing: Israeli Orthodox
Women Filmmakers.” Israel Studies Review 34 (1): 110–130.

From a recent review by David Sperber

By: Yoav Peled
Subjects: Art & Visual Culture, Political Science, Politics & International Relations, Sociology & Social Policy, Sociology, Criminology and Criminal Justice

The Religionization of Israeli Society depicts the influence of religious Zionism on various areas of Israeli society from 1967 to the present day. The authors, political scientist Yoav Peled of Tel Aviv University and artist Horit Herman Peled, present the general evolution of Israeli society in such fields as education, defense, art, feminism, film, and television, and focus particularly on Jewish religious communities. This book is unique in that it is the first to undertake a broad survey and examination of the new circumstances of national-religious and ultra-Orthodox Jewish artists in Israel. Chapter 7 examines the art created in the religious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox communities, while Chapter 9 surveys film and television. Chapter 8 addresses religious feminism in Israel and discusses religious feminist art. The book converges on a gloomy and disturbing description of right-wing, messianic Orthodox Jews (“Gush Emunim”) propelling Israeli society and its educational system, military, and culture to the brink of a constitutional theocracy.

Prof. David Sperber

Yale University


KPFK interview: Religionization and Israeli Elections of April 2019.

By: Yoav Peled
Subjects: Area Studies, Middle East Studies, Other, Philosophy and Religion, Religion

KPFK interview: Religionization and Israeli Elections of April 2019.