Towards an anthropology of doubt: the case of religious reproduction in Orthodox Judaism

Lea Taragin-Zeller*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


As Israel’s Orthodox Jews struggle to live up to high fertility norms rooted in religious and Zionist ideals, an obscured model of stratified critique has emerged. Based on an ethnography of Israel’s reproductive landscape, I demonstrate how critique of high fertility standards is based on particular social and cultural capital only available to the religious elite. While well-established, knowledgeable and assertive religious members find private ways to bypass the almost unachievable levels of fertility, a veil of secrecy leaves less privileged groups, particularly ba`aley teshuva (returnees) to carry most of the fertility load. Whereas scholars of religious transformation have demonstrated how religious elites act as actors and leaders of resistance, my findings illustrate an opposite pattern. Instead of disseminating this critique publicly, religious elites engage in private strategies of secrecy and creative performances of failure that enable these individuals to diverge from norms without publicly contesting them. I argue that not only is stratified critique based on social and cultural capital, it also reproduces social inequalities. By focusing on doubt, struggles, and failures engendered in “everyday Judaism,” these findings require us to refocus our inquiry on power structures within different sub-groups of Israel’s Orthodox Jews. Further, this unique case study highlights how stratified reproduction takes new shape as social and religious convictions gain and lose their force at a particular moment in history.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Modern Jewish Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, © 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Israel
  • Judaism
  • Reproduction
  • religion
  • stratification
  • taboos


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