Contemporary Alternative Spiritualities in Israel

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Editor(s): 
Shai Feraro, James R. Lewis
  • London, England: 
    Palgrave Macmillan
    , November
     2016.
     241 pages.
     $95.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781137547415.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

At last, a book in English about the contemporary scene of “alternative spiritualities” in Israel! While the trend toward alternative spiritualities has faded away since its peak in the 1970s in America and Europe, the New Age and alternative spirituality scene arguably finds its most fertile ground in Israel today, where it is particularly dynamic, diverse, creative, and complex. Yet apart from a few scientific articles, there have been so far no book to reach for on the shelves when seeking a more in-depth and comprehensive view of what the new spirituality scene in Israel looks like, at least for non-Hebrew speaking scholars.

This anthology, co-edited by Shai Feraro from Tel Aviv university and James Lewis from Tromso University, aims at remedying this lack of material. And to a great extent, it hits the mark. With twelve contributions distributed throughout four sections, it offers the reader insight into some of the new practices of the Israeli spirituality scene as diverse as unorthodox wedding rituals (Anna Prashizky), spiritual care (Nurit Zaidman), theosophy and anthroposophy (Isaac Lubelsky), channeling (Adam Klin Oron), and yoga through the lens of feminine cycles (Carmit Rosen Even-Zohar).

Indeed, the Israeli scene, as the editors emphasize, is a particularly interesting case study in local appropriations of global trends—in this case Jewish appropriations, absorptions, and transformations of Western New Age practices which were born in Protestant/secular cultures. This process has led to the emergence of a proper Israeli New Age culture which negotiates with the broader Israeli culture in order to spread social changes, as Dalit Simchai’s article on “cultural change” through “new age rituals” explains.

However, the Israeli scene, as we see in this book, goes beyond a local and Jewish adaptation of the Western New Age scene (called in this volume “Jew Age”). It includes the development of new forms of Jewish spirituality drawing on and renewing Jewish tradition, as described in articles on New Age Judaism (Rachel Werzsberger), neo-kaballah (Tomer Persico) or Yemima Avital’s teachings (Einat Ramon). Such a proliferation of new religious movements in the Jewish state may be due, as we learn through Masua Sagiv’s article, to the fact that they are treated legally like any other social group.

By combining rich fieldwork data with theoretical analysis, these articles by emerging Israeli scholars help us better understand the spiritual scene in Israel, its morphology, and its current developments. As the title indicates, a specific choice was made here to talk about the “spiritual scene in Israel” rather than the “Israeli spiritual scene.” Emphasizing the difference between “Israeli spirituality” and “spirituality in Israel”—which includes other faiths and traditions—provides a broader perspective, and reminds the reader that Israel is not a state or a society made up of only Jews and their cultures. Hence the book ends with two studies of non-Israeli Jewish rituals: one on Wiccan neopaganism (Orly Salinas Mizrahi) and another on black Christians in Israel (Galia Sabar). The acknowledged lack of studies on Arab or Palestinian spirituality in this compilation is actually telling: it speaks both to different cultural trends, and to a lack in current scholarship. Still, for a proper overview of spiritualities in Israel, perhaps more contributions on other non-Jewish spiritualities, such as the Baha’i faith, the Santo Daime, Ayahuasca circles, and most of all, Buddhist groups, which are particularly thriving in Israel, would have made this work even more encompassing. Now we await a second volume!

About the Reviewer(s): 

Mira Niculescu is a doctoral student at EHESS Césor, Paris.

Date of Review: 
October 3, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Shai Feraro is a PhD student at Tel Aviv University’s School of Historical Studies, Israel. He acts as Secretary of the Israeli Association for the Study of Religions. His scholarly interests lie in the connection between new religions and gender issues, and he specializes in the study of Neopaganism in North America, Britain, and Israel.

James R. Lewis is an extensively published scholar in the fields of new religious movements and religion and violence. He is currently Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Tromsø, Norway. 

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