Ultranationalism and Ultra-Orthodoxy: The Case of Shas





Ultranationalism, Ultra-Orthodoxy, Mizrahim, Shas movement


Israeli scholarship has noted the prominence of hawkish and ultranationalist views among the Shas electorate, as well as the structural and historical conditions responsible for them. Attention has not, however, been paid to the contexts and the ways in which Mizrahi-Haredi discourse processes these views in its encounter with this population. The present article looks at one of the main components of the relationship between Shas and its supporters in Israel’s social periphery – the teshuva movement. Fieldwork on the discourse of local teshuva preachers shows that they have used the ultranationalist message to illustrate the importance of adhering to Jewish religious tradition and relying on its rabbinical authorities. A complex and fluid version of religious ultranationalism was detected as well, one that demands communal separation but is not, however, averse to cultural interaction between Jews and Arabs.


Abutbul-Selinger, Guy. 2020. “'We Are Not Racists; We Are Nationalists': Communitarian Perceptions among Beitar Jerusalem Fans.” Israel Studies Review 34, no. 3: 64–82. https://doi.org/10.3167/isr.2019.340306

Aharon, Meirav. 2013. “Riding the Culture Train: An Ethnography of a Plan for Social Mobility through Music.” Cultural Sociology 7, no. 4: 447–62. https://doi.org/10.1177/1749975512457137

Art, David. 2011. Art, Inside the Radical Right: The Development of Anti-Immigrant Parties in Western Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ben-Dror, Elad. 2007. “The Arab Struggle against Partition: The International Arena of Summer 1947.” Middle Eastern Studies 43, no. 2: 259–93. https://doi.org/10.1080/00263200601114117

Ben-Rafael, Eliezer. 1982. The Emergence of Ethnicity: Cultural Groups and Social Conflict in Israel. London: Greenwood Press.

Bernstein, Deborah. 2008. Women on the Margins: Gender and Nationalism in Mandate Tel-Aviv. Jerusalem: Yad Yizhak Ben-Zvi. [Hebrew]

Caplan, Kimmy. 2001. “Israeli Haredi Society and the Repentance (Hazarah Biteshuvah) Phenomenon.” Jewish Studies Quarterly 8, no. 4: 369–98.

Caplan, Kimmy. 2000. “Self-Criticism in the Haredi Society of Israel.” In Being Different: Minorities, Aliens and Outsiders in History, edited by Shulamit Volkov, 299–330. Jerusalem: The Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History. [Hebrew]

Chetrit, Sami Shalom. 2000. “Mizrahi Politics in Israel: Between Integration and Alternative.” Journal of Palestine Studies 29, no. 4: 51–65.

Chetrit, Sami Shalom. 2022. “The Tragedy of Shas.” In Our Boys: A Debate, edited by Tammy Riklis, 151-162. Tel-Aviv: Am-Oved. [Hebrew]

Cohen, Hillel. 2022. Enemies, a Love Story: Mizrachi Jews, Palestinians and Ashkenazi Jews from the Rise of Zionism to Present. Jerusalem: Ivrit publishers. [Hebrew]

Cohen, Uri and Nissim Leon. Forthcoming. The Mizrachi Middle Class in Israel. Jerusalem: Magnes.

Deshen, Shlomo. 2005. “The Emergence of the Israeli Sefardi Ultra-Orthodox Movement.” Jewish Social Studies 11, no. 2: 77–101.

El-Or, Tamar. 2006. Reserved Seats: Religion, Gender, and Ethnicity in Contemporary Israel. Tel Aviv: Am Oved. [Hebrew]

Engelberg, Ari. 2017. ”Fighting Intermarriage in the Holy Land: Lehava and Israeli Ethnonationalism.” Journal of Israeli History 36, no. 2: 229-47. https://doi.org/10.1080/13531042.2018.1466468

Ettinger, Yair, and Nissim Leon. 2018. A Flock with no Shepherd: Shas Leadership the Day after Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Jerusalem: Israel Democracy Institute. [Hebrew]

Feldman, Anat. 2012. ”Carnival by Night: A New Practice of Modern 'Tikkun' Rituals.” Democratic Culture 13: 81–120.

Fischer, Shlomo. 2017. ”From Yehuda Etzion to Yehouda Glick: From Redemptive Revolution to Human Rights on the Temple Mount.” Israel Studies Review 32, no. 1: 67–87.

Fisher, Netanel. 2016. ”The Fundamentalist Dilemma: Lessons from the Israeli Haredi Case.” International Journal for Middle East Studies 48, no. 3: 531–49. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0020743816000477

Friedman, Menachem. 1998. ”The ’Family-Community’ Model in Haredi Society.” Studies in Contemporary Jewry 14: 166–77.

Heilman, Shmuel, and Friedman Menachem. 1995. ”Religious Fundamentalism and Religious Jews: The Case of the Haredim.” In Fundamentalisms Observed, edited by Martin Marty and Scott Appleby, 197–264. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Karkabi-Sabbah, Maha. 2017. ”Ethnoreligious Mixed Marriages among Palestinian Women and Jewish Men in Israel: Negotiating the Breaking of Barriers.” Journal of Israeli History 36, no. 2, 189–211. https://doi.org/10.1080/13531042.2018.1541530

Khazzoom, Aziza. 2003. ”The Great Chain of Orientalism: Jewish Identity, Stigma Management, and Ethnic Exclusion in Israel.” American Sociological Review 68, no. 4: 481–510. https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.2307/1519736

Lehmann, David, and Siebzehner Batia. 2006. Remaking Israeli Judaism: The Challenge of Shas. London: Hurst.

Leon, Nissim. 2015. ”Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the Shas Party and the Arab-Israeli Peace Process.” Middle East Journal 69, no. 3: 379–95. https://doi.org/10.1353/mej.2015.0058

Leon, Nissim. 2009. Soft Ultra-Orthodoxy: The Religious Renewal of Oriental Jewry in Israel. Jerusalem: Yad Yizhak Ben-Zvi. [Hebrew]

Leon, Nissim. 2016. ”The Ethnic Structuring of ’Sefardim’ in Haredi Society in Israel.” Jewish Social Studies 22, no. 1: 130–60. https://doi.org/10.2979/jewisocistud.22.1.04

Leon, Nissim. 2011. ”The Political Use of the Teshuva Cassette Culture in Israel.” Contemporary Jewry 31, no. 2: 91–106. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12397-011-9068-5

Magid, Shaul. 2021. Meir Kahane: The public Life and Political Thought of an American Jewish Radical. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Mammone, Andrea, Godin Emmanuel, and Jenkins Brian (eds.). 2012. Mapping the Extreme Right in Contemporary Europe: From Local to Transnational. London: Routledge.

Mizrachi, Nissim, and Weiss Erica. 2020. ”’We Do Not Want to Assimilate!’: Rethinking the Role of Group Boundaries in Peace Initiatives between Muslims and Jews in Israel and in the West Bank, European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology 7, no. 2: 172–97. https://doi.org/10.1080/23254823.2020.1727350

Pedhazur, Ami. 2012. The Triumph of Israel's Radical Right. New York: Oxford University Press.

Peled, Yoav, and Herman Peled Horit. 2020. The Religionization of Israeli Society. New York: Routledge.

Peled, Yoav. 1998. ”Towards a Redefinition of Jewish Nationalism in Israel? The Enigma of Shas.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 21, no. 4: 703–27. https://doi.org/10.1080/014198798329838

Perlson, Inbal. 2006. A Great Joy Tonight: Arab–Jewish Music and Mizrachi Identity. Tel Aviv: Resling. [Hebrew]

Picard, Avi. 2007. ”Voting for Shas: The Rational Answer to Emotional Distress.” Democratic Culture 11, 151–201.

Richards, Barry. 2013. ”Extreme Nationalism and the Hatred of the Liberal State.” In Emotions in Politics: The Affect Dimension in Political Tension, edited by Nicolas Demertzis 124–42. London: Springer.

Said, Edvard W. 1995. Orientalism. London: Penguin Books.

Seroussi, Edwin. 2016. ”Muslim-Jewish Sonic Encounters.” In The Routledge Handbook of Muslim-Jewish Relations, edited by Josef Meri. London: Routledge.

Shafir, Gershon, and Yoav Peled. 2002. Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shapira, Anita (ed.). 2008. We Hereby Declare: 60 Selected Speeches from Israelis History. Or Yehuda: Kinneret-Zemora-Bitan.

Shapira, Anita. 2002. Land and Power. Tel Aviv: Am Oved.

Sharabi, Asaf, and Guzmen Carmeli Shlomo. 2013. ”The Teshuva Bargain: Ritual Healing Performances of Rabbi Yitzchak’s Rallies.” Journal of Ritual Studies 27, no. 2: 97–110.

Sharabi, Asaf. 2015. ”Religion and Modernity: Religious Revival Movement in Israel.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 44, no. 2: 223–48. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891241614530159

Shenhav, Yehouda. 2012. Beyond the Two-State Solution: A Jewish Political Essay. Malden, MA: Cambridge Polity Press.

Shokeid, Moshe. 1995. ”The Religiosity of Middle Eastern Jews.” In Israeli Judaism: The Sociology of Religion in Israel, edited by Shlomo Deshen, Charles S. Liebman, and Moshe Shokeid, 255–284. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

Sivan, Emmanuel. 1995. ”The Enclave Culture.” In Fundamentalisms Comprehended, edited by Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, 11–68. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Smooha, Sammy. 2008. ”The Mass Immigrations to Israel: A Comparison of the Failure of the Mizrahi Immigrants of the 1950s with the Success of the Russian Immigrants of the 1990s.” Journal of Israeli History 27, no. 1: 1–27.

Tesler, Riki. 2003. In the Name of God. Jerusalem: Keter. [Hebrew]

Van der-Veer, Kees. 2003. ”The Future of Western Societies: Multicultural Identity or Extreme Nationalism?” Futures 35, no. 2: 169–87.

Yadgar, Yaakov. 2003. ”A Disintegrating Ritual: The Reading of the Deri Verdict as a Media Event of Degradation.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 20, no. 2: 204–23. https://doi.org/10.1080/07393180302780

Yadgar, Yaakov. 2003. ”SHAS as a Struggle to Create a New Field: A Bourdieuan Perspective of an Israeli Phenomenon.” Sociology of Religion 64, no. 2: 223–46. https://doi.org/10.2307/3712372




How to Cite

Leon, N. (2024). Ultranationalism and Ultra-Orthodoxy: The Case of Shas. Politics and Religion Journal, 18(1), 77–103. https://doi.org/10.54561/prj1801077l