A tale of two cultures: an outline for a comparative cultural analysis of Israeli and North American Jewry

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The article develops a theoretical outline for a comparative analysis of the North American and Israeli Jewish cultures as two systems of meanings. Relying theoretically on the “strong program” of cultural sociology and on Ephraim Shmueli's Seven Jewish Cultures paradigm, it suggests that the American-Jewish and Israeli cultures be understood as two different meaning-systems: that of emancipation, whose main thrust is hyphenation with non-Jewish cultures; and the nationalist culture, whose main corollary is Jewish demographic and symbolic dominance of the public space. This cultural difference can determine political, sociological, and intellectual differences no less than the other way around. To exemplify the “Two Cultures” approach, the article offers a short comparative anthropological history of the bat mitzvah in the North American and Israeli Jewish mainstream (i.e. the non-Orthodox) from the end of the Second World War through the present, to serve as a methodological window onto the meanings that the two communities attribute to “Jewishness”–that is, the nature of membership in the Jewish people. By taking a step back from the tumult of politics and the media, the Two Cultures framework may be able to uncover unspoken cultural gaps between the two largest Jewish centres in the twenty-first century, as well as find potential points of understanding between them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Modern Jewish Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022

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  • Culture
  • Israel-diaspora
  • Jewish ritual
  • Jewishness
  • anthropological history
  • modern Jewish history


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