The Jews of the East, Orientalism, and Modern Awareness

Judaism   |   East   |   orientalism   |   secularization   |   modernization
Years of Activity: 2011 - 2014

Research Status:

Not Active
Participants: 
Dr. Menashe Anzi, Dr. Eliezer Baumgarten, Dr. Almog Behar, Dr. Amir Benbaji, Dr. Yohai Ben-Gedalya , Dr. Guy Bracha, Dr. Hillel Cohen, Semadar Cohen, Dr. Doron Danino, Keren Dotan, Dr. Shelly Elkayam, Hadar Feldman, Dr. Noah Gerber, Re'ee Hagai, Eran Hakim, Ido Harari, Dr. Hanan Harif, Dr. Yali Hashash, Tirza Kalman, Dr. Malka Katz, Tamir Krakson, Dr. Nissim Leon, Dr. Aviad Moreno, Dr. Amos Noy, Eli Osherov, Dr. Haya Sasportas, Dr. Hadass Shabbat-Nadir, Lilach Turjeman, Avi-Ram Zoref

What is the connection between Jewish communities in the East and Eastern Jews (Mizrahim) in Israel? Until now, these two areas have tended to be studied separately; the first was considered primarily part of the discipline of history (and, to a lesser degree, of anthropology), whereas the second was linked to the disciplines of the social sciences and cultural studies. Even within the discipline of history there is generally a disconnect between the history of the communities in the country of origin and the history of those community members in Israel. This disconnect can also be seen in the existence of two institutions only a short distance from each other: The Ben Zvi Institute deals with the history of the Jews of the East, while the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute considers the theoretical issue of Mizrahim and Mizrahi culture in Israel and holds deep discussions of the cultural roots of Mizrahim.

This group grew out of the desire of young scholars at both the institutes to collaborate and out of the belief that such collaboration could enrich the research and open up new directions. By focusing on Mizrahi Jewry the group incorporated broad questions that are at the heart of contemporary history and sociology. This required a discussion of the main underpinnings of the modernization hypothesis and especially of the foundations of the secularization hypothesis.
 
The group proposed a “Mizrahi perspective” that pertains not only to Mizrahim, nor only to the history of the Jews in the Middle East, but rather makes possible a different way of looking at the Israeli mind and the Western mind. Thus, the group offered a tentative comprehensive conceptual framework for such concepts as “Jewish history,” and its new perspective leads, as the work of the group manifests, to a reading of the history of Mizrahim as part of the history of the Middle East, that is, as part of the context in which they unfolded.
 
The group examined various aspects of historiography of Mizrahi Jews, including the methodological and theoretical issues they raise. Their premise was that historiography of the Mizrahim is a framework for examining broader questions and assumptions. The recent expansion of the study of the history of Mizrahi Jews makes it possible to test the comprehensive approach to Jewish history in the modern era, and thus to contribute to the discussion of a topic that was neglected and whose existence was almost denied in the past. The group also considered general questions regarding the place of the Orientalist discourse in Jewish historiography.
 
As this group terminated its activity within the Mediterranean Neighbours unit, the research group Mizrahi Perspectives, Jewish Perspectives was initiated within the Jewish Culture and Identity unit.