The State of Desire: Religion and Reproductive Politics in the Promised Land (NYU, 2023)
In recent years, Israeli state policies have attempted to dissuade Orthodox Jews from creating large families, an objective that flies in the face of traditional practices in their community. As state desires to cultivate a high-income, tech-centered nation come into greater conflict with common Orthodox familial practices, Jewish couples are finding it increasingly difficult to actualize their reproductive aims and communal expectations.
In The State of Desire, Lea Taragin-Zeller provides an intimate examination of the often devastating effects of Israel’s steep cutbacks in child benefits, which are aimed at limiting the rapid increase in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population. Taragin-Zeller takes the reader beyond Orthodox taboos, capturing how cracks in religious convictions engender a painful process of re-orientating desires to reproduce amidst shrinking public support, feminism, and new ideals of romance, intimacy and parenting. Paying close attention to ethical dilemmas, the book explores not just pro-ceptive but also contraceptive desires around family formation: when to have children, how many, and at what cost.
The book offers a rare look at issues of contraception in the Orthodox context, and notably includes interviews with men, making the case that we cannot continue to study reproductive choice solely through the perspectives of women. The State of Desire is a groundbreaking anthropological approach to the study of religion and reproduction, and a remarkably intimate account of the delicate balance between personal desires and those of the state.
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