How Sephardim have made Israel more religious

Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews have turned the tables on the secular Ashkenazi founders of Israel. Their  lifestyle and outlook draws outsiders to a rootedness that connects each person to the nation, tradition, and God, argues Rabbi Francis Nataf in the Times of Israel (with thanks: Lily):

Ex-prime minister Netanyahu at a Moroccan Mimouna

Today, it is largely recognized that the group that did the most to prevent the secularization of the Jewish people in Israel were the Sephardic/Mizrahi Jews who arrived from North Africa and the Middle East in the early years of the state. As much as the secular Zionist establishment of the time tried, it was simply unable to convince these immigrants to accept the prevailing cultural agenda.

Moreover, those same Sephardic/Mizrahi immigrants turned the tables and went from being a population that was ostensibly influenced by the accepted norms to being the ones doing the influencing. For – in what veteran journalist Ari Shavit recently called Israel’s biggest rebellion – the Sephardim, gradually but unmistakably, used their numbers to change the Israeli “mainstream.”

However, it was not only a question of numbers. What draws outsiders to adapt a large part of the Sephardic lifestyle and usually unspoken outlook is a rootedness that provides an unspoken connection to one’s people that comes with the preservation of a tradition. This connection stretches across the generations, “vertically,” if you will, as well as the “horizontal” spreading to all other contemporary Jewish groups and communities. That connection made the Sephardim reach out – naturally and with no need for ideology – to other Israelis, as family.

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One Comment

  • Interesting paper; is israel turning into an religiously close to the Afghan scenario where religion is gaining ground against individual freedoms?
    I guess that we can see it clearly in Jerusalem in comparaison to Tel Aviv is more conservative, in the long run it could be a big problem, perhaps Israel need social engineering to tackle this issue before it goes out of hands.


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