Terror, corpse symbolism, and taboo violation: The 'haredi disaster victim identification team in Israel'(Zaka)

Nurit Stadler*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Anthropologists dealing with death have pointed to a process of privatization, bureaucratization, and secularization of death in the age of 'high modernity'. In this article I argue that the exploration of death within the framework of modern terrorism, a form of death that is becoming increasingly common, reveals new expressions and interpretations of death that are public and are represented by a complex religious repertoire of images and practices. Based on a field study that combines in-depth interviews, observations, films, and textual analyses, this article examines how volunteers from the ' Zaka 'organization (the Jewish ultra-Orthodox team for identification of victims of disaster in Israel) explain their deathwork during terror attacks. Generally we would expect that this community's religious norms, which prevent them from involvement with the larger society, would also prevent members from participation in cases of death in the public sphere. Nevertheless, Zaka 's tasks involve collecting, matching, and recomposing pieces of human flesh and blood in the public arena. Through these new practices, Zaka volunteers shape new narratives of public death, which are based on two central premises: a discourse of 'corpse symbolism'and a narrative of taboo desecration. This language reinforces and revives Haredis' own religious expressions during terror, allowing them to monopolize the death experience and the handling of dead bodies, introduce sacred meanings of corpses and death into the public sphere, and create their new position as specialists and deathworkers.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)837-858
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2006


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