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Religion and Education

IMG_1157 Avishag.jpg

Between 2008-2010, I conducted the first anthropological study of female ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) education in Israel that went beyond the secluded walls of a Bais Yaakov seminary.  Through ethnographic research conducted in Jerusalem, I examined how Haredi teachers and their teenage students structure an ideology of modesty through the reinterpretation and embodiment of canonical texts. The findings demonstrated a shift in the types of religious authority Haredi teenage girls are willing to accept, as the only justification they accept for their modesty practices is that of personal devotion to God. As part of their efforts to reinterpret modesty, this study also demonstrated the creativity Haredi teachers exhibit as they offer their own exegesis of canonical texts, a role that is traditionally reserved for men. 


The article “Modesty for Heaven’s Sake: Authority and Creativity among Female Ultra-Orthodox Teenagers in Israel”, published in Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues in 2014 offers an ethnographic-based model of submission fused with gendered religious critique.

The chapter entitled “Between Beauty and Modesty: Reinterpreting Female Piety in the Israeli Haredi Community ” demonstrates how conflicting aspirations are negotiated between teenagers and their teachers in Bais Yaakov settings. I show how through a creative process of rereading and reinterpreting canonical texts they find a way to mediate conflicting desires as they learn to be modest before God, beautiful for their future husbands and respectable to the eyes of the world. This chapter was included in the edited collection Love, Marriage, and Jewish Families Today: Paradoxes of the Gender Revolution, Fishman Barack, Sylvia (ed.),  published by: Brandeis University Press.​


“'I didn't know how to be with my husband': State-Religion Struggles over Sex Education in Israel and England”, Anthropology and Education Quarterly (2020)  is a comparative ethnography of sex education among Haredim in both Israel and the UK. Sex education presents a major dilemma for state-minority relations, reflecting a conflict between basic rights to education and religious freedom. These dilemmas have been amplified by current controversies surrounding changes in the relationships and sex education (henceforth RSE) in the UK. The article presents competing conceptualizations of “knowledge responsibility” regarding RSE between state policy makers and religious activists. While state policy aims to deliver RSE in age appropriate ways, Haredim instead approach sex-education as appropriate solely according to life-stages (together with Dr. Ben Kasstan).

Photo credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

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