Fundamentalism and the masculine body: The case of Jewish Ultra-Orthodox men in Israel

Gideon Aran*, Nurit Stadler, Eyal Ben-Ari

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The predominant model in the literature on fundamentalism focuses on the tense relationship between contemporary radical religious movements and their environment. The characteristic violence that has made fundamentalism notorious is conventionally explained in terms of defensive or offensive reactions to the challenge of the modern secular society. In light of recent developments in the fundamentalist world, we propose to employ a novel analytic framework to update and revise the current conceptualization. Our argumentation is based on extensive fieldwork in a particular case of Jewish fundamentalism. We introduce into the agenda of fundamentalism research a category conspicuously absent thus far: the body. Results of ethnographic study of Ultra-Orthodoxy in Israel throw light on the very existence of fundamentalist body, and emphasize its implications for better understanding the fundamentalist predicament. The body poses a major problem to fundamentalists and plays a key role in their typical behavior and particularly in their violence. Discussing fundamentalism in terms of the body allows us to see its militancy as a solution to intra-fundamentalist problems that emerge in advanced stages of the movements' life, on the one hand, and paradoxically as a means towards reconciliation with the movements' environment normally regarded as its enemy, on the other hand. In the case presented here the fundamentalist violence is manifested in various hitherto unexplored ways including an enthusiastic service in the military of the nation-state. Such peculiar violence indicates present-day fundamentalist experimentation in an attempt to establish new possibilities of coming to terms with ever changing social and political reality, while at the same time to pursue revolutionary options of radical religious experience.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)25-53
Number of pages29
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • (Radical) Religious transformation
  • Body (manhood, physicality, action-seeking)
  • Fundamentalism
  • Jewish Ultra-Orthodoxy (Haredim)
  • Violence


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