ANTH Seminar Series | Digging the Well Deep: The Jewish “Ultra-Orthodox” Relationship with the Divine Explored through the Lifeworld of the Breslov Chasidic Community in Safed

16 March, 2017
3:00pm - 5:00pm


Zevic Mishor, University of Sydney


A defining principle of the Jewish Charedi (“ultra-orthodox”) lifeworld is its conception of an ideal relationship with the Almighty, a relationship that adherents subsequently strive to realise through living in accordance with the Halakhah (the Jewish Law). The relationship of those devotees, consequently, with God and with their “God object” constitutes the ground from which many of the structures of their lifeworld appear to emerge, on levels including the physical (dress, food practices), emotional (faith, contentment, guilt), cognitive (cosmology, philosophy), social (familial organisation, communal and hierarchical structures) and spiritual.

I have termed the remarkable way of life of these religious adherents – remarkable relative to secular norms – the “Charedi phenomenon”. This way of life is characterised especially by an intention to a strict adherence to the minutiae of the Law, a system that constitutes “… a sweepingly comprehensive regula of daily life—covering not only prayer and divine service but food, drink, dress, sexual relations between man and wife, the rhythms of work and patterns of rest—it constitutes a way of life” (Soloveitchik 1999, p. 321). The Charedi phenomenon is also characterised by its apparent formulation of its own identity through contrasting itself to a maligned other – non-Jews, for example, or for Charedi communities within the largely Jewish State of Israel, non-religious Jews.

In this presentation I introduce four approaches that I used, in conjunction with ethnographic material obtained from over a year of doctoral fieldwork with the Breslov Chasidic group in a town called Safed, in the northern Galilee of Israel, in order to better understand the Charedi lifeworld. The four approaches are functional, comparative, phenomenological and psychoanalytic.

In my work I have taken the religious dimension that I was studying as a valid model of the world; another sociocultural entity’s science, that has its own distinct understanding regarding the parameters and workings of reality. Accordingly, I compare and contrast, and at times seek to synthesise between, on the one hand a Western academic paradigm (philosophy and anthropology), and on the other hand the Jewish tradition and its perspectives based on sources including Torah, Talmud, Midrash (homilies and mythologies), and Kabbalah (the esoteric dimension).

Soloveitchik, H. (1999). Rupture and reconstruction: The transformation of contemporary Orthodoxy. In R. R. Farber & C. I. Waxman (Eds.), Jews in America: A Contemporary Reader (pp. 320-376). Hanover, New Hampshire, United States: Brandeis University Press


Location: Room 148 RC Mills building, Fisher Road, University of Sydney, Camperdown