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530159

research-article2014

JCEXXX10.1177/0891241614530159Journal of Contemporary EthnographySharabi

Article

Religion and Modernity:


Religious Revival
Movement in Israel

Journal of Contemporary Ethnography


2015, Vol. 44(2) 223248
The Author(s) 2014
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DOI: 10.1177/0891241614530159
jce.sagepub.com

Asaf Sharabi1

Abstract
This article discusses the concept of zikui harabim (granting merit to the
many) and attempts to show how it motivates and animates the religious
renewal movements in Judaism (the teshuvah movements). I argue that
zikui harabim is produced by cycles of teshuva in which the repentant
person engages in facilitating the return of others to religious practice,
even before he or she has undertaken the rigorous observance of religious
commandments. I suggest that calculating rationality, often considered one
of the hallmarks of modernity, is manifest in the teshuvah movement, as
many teshuvah clients and entrepreneurs regard commandments, implicitly
and explicitly, as a kind of currency they can amass for their own benefit.
By so doing, I demonstrate how zikui harabim embeds a modern-capitalist
logic, thereby showing how modernity manifests itself in religious revivalism.
Keywords
modernity and religion, teshuvah movement, religion in Israel, anthropology
of religion, religious revival movement

Introduction
Since the 1970s sociological and anthropological research has drawn attention
to the questions of religious revival in the modern era, and explicates the ways
in which modernity both produces and shapes religion, and also introduces
1Peres

Academic Center, Rehovot, Israel

Corresponding Author:
Asaf Sharabi, Peres Academic Center, Rehovot 7638501, Israel.
Email: asaf.sharabi@gmail.com

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ferment into it. A number of scholars have pointed out the different ways in
which modernity manifests itself in religious revivalism, for example, the element of choice (Berger 2009), totalitarian-Jacobean basis (Eisenstadt 1999),
the use of modern technology (de Witte 2003; Hirschkind 2006; Roy 2004),
and modern rationality (Deeb 2006; Sharabi 2013; Tong 2007).
In this article, I focus on the religious revival movement in Israel (the
teshuvah movement) and maintain that it is modern not only because of the
manner in which it reacts to secularization, its use of modern technology, or
because of the Jacobin elements of its political program, but also because
of the way in which it embeds a Western modern-capitalist logic in a key
concept at the heart of its cosmology, the notion of zikui harabim (granting
merit to the many). The concept of zikui harabim can be described briefly
as follows: any action that causes another person to strengthen his or her
faith and observance is called zikui harabim, while the divine reward
(meritzekhut) for the observance of a particular commandment is
believed to be granted, according to faith, not only to the person who performed the commandment but also to the person who facilitated it. As I will
try to show, zikui harabim motivates and animates the teshuvah process
and, to a great extent, is responsible for the religious ferment and effervescence of the Israeli teshuvah movement.
The current discussion is based on fieldwork conducted from 2006 to
2009 that included participant observation, in-depth interviews, and content
analysis of texts, mainly in the town of Ashkelon (113,000 residents in 2010),
which is located in Israels geographic and social periphery. While once considered a development town, it is now considered to be the outer limit of
Israels center.

Religion in the Modern Era


Early sociologists assumed that religious traditions were in decline, and the
secularization thesis therefore became a dominant paradigm for many decades
(Hadden 1987; Gorski 2000). However, in the last quarter of the twentieth century, in light of evidence of an efflorescence of religion around the world, scholars began to question the premises of this thesis and developed new perspectives
on the study of religion in the modern and postmodern eras (Sherkat and Ellison
1999). Notable among these approaches are Fundamentalism (Marty and
Appleby, 1991, 1994; Almond, Appleby, and Sivan 2003), the economic
approach to the study of religions (Stark 2009; Stark and Finke 2000), the notion
of multiple modernities (Eisenstadt 2000a, 2000b; Wittrock 2000), and a scholarly engagement with spirituality and New Age religions (Fuller 2001; Heelas
and Woodhead 2005; Roof 2003; Wuthnow 1998).

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One primary perspective on the study of religion in the modern era is the
thesis of Fundamentalism (Marty and Appleby 1991, 1994). Fundamentalism
is considered, for the most part, as a defense of a religious tradition that is
perceived to be eroding or under attack from the processes of modernization
and secularization (Almond, Sivan, and Appleby 1995). According to the
researchers, religious fundamentalism comes as a response to a modern
threat. In face of this threat, religiosity is recreating itself by returning to the
sources through modern means (Almond, Appleby, and Sivan 2003).
Fundamentalism is usually defined as an attempt by religious communities to
withdraw from the sphere of influence of state values. The researchers
pointed out that fundamentalism is interested in strong religion (Almond,
Appleby, and Sivan 2003) which is not committed to the mainstream or to
religious authorities who compromise endlessly with the secular world,
because the enemies of religion are perceived as powerful and influential.
Harding (2000), who studied fundamentalism in North America, proposes a
different pattern of relationships between fundamentalism and modernity.
She maintains that not only has fundamentalism always been part of modernity in North American society but it has helped create that modernity by
representing everything not considered to be modern.
In the Jewish context, both haredi (ultra-Orthodox)1 society and segments
of religious Zionism2 have been studied as part of the course of fundamentalism (Almond, Appleby, and Sivan 2003; Aran 1991). Heilman and Friedman
(1991) described haredim in the postWorld War II era as being in competition with the modern world and maintaining a belligerent ideology. According
to Friedman (1987) and Soloveitchik (1994), in their battle against modernity
and secularism, the haredim sought to formulate the religious principles that
govern their lives on the basis of authoritative texts. Thus, they moved from
a mimetic religious lifestyle to a life based on principles ingrained in Halacha
(Jewish law). Like many fundamentalist societies, the haredi community is
portrayed as closed, withdrawn, and defensive while at the same time capable
of utilizing modern channels (such as technology and social measures) to
combat secularism and modernity.
In comparison with the fundamentalist attitude towards modernity and
secularism adopted by some European Jews (Ashkenazi Jews), not only were
the rabbis of Muslim-majority countries (Mizrahim, or Sephardic Jews) more
moderate, they sometimes regarded modernity in a positive light. As a result,
many researchers point to the differences between the lenient Sephardi religion and its more extreme Ashkenazi counterpart (Deshen 2005; Zohar
2008). Katz (1983) maintained that the ideological calm in Muslim-majority
countries led to religious moderation, in contrast to the ideological activism
(liberalism, secularism, socialism etc.) in Europe which led to agitation on

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the part of the traditionalists. Zohar (2008) and Deshen (2005) claimed that
the difference between various reactions to modernism originated at the cultural level, for example, in the differences between the defined role of the
Ashkenazi rabbi and that of the Sephardic sage. These differences engendered different responses to contemporary events.
One way or another, most researchers agree that when Jews immigrated to
Israel from the Islamic countries, a small segment of them adopted a haredi
lifestyle. Leon (2009) recently described it as soft ultra-Orthodoxy, not
necessarily dependent on the strict line between those regarded as belonging
to the haredi community and those outside of it. Soft ultra-Orthodoxy accepts
the presence, albeit temporary, of those who do not observe the commandments but are on the path to teshuvah. The teshuvah movement is a main
source of Mizrahi ultra-Orthodoxy. The fluid borders between haredi-Sephardi society and secular society have enabled the haredi-Sephardi teshuvah
movement to flourish and gain popularity among the second and third generations of immigrants from Islamic countries.
The paradigm of multiple modernities, by way of contrast, opposes the
notion of religious fundamentalism as a reaction to secular life and modernity-induced crises. It regards fundamentalist movements as a combination
of modern and anti-modern, and as such, it presents us with one of many
variations of intrinsically modern societies (Eisenstadt 2000a, 2000b;
Wittrock 2000). This approach maintains that modern societies cannot be
defined unidimensionally, because modernity is contradictory and multifaceted, and contains intrinsic dilemmas (Wittrock 2000). Although the dilemmas of modern societies may be identical, they are dealt with differently. As
a result, claims Eisenstadt (1999), although modernity is widespread, it has
not given rise to one civilization or prototype, but rather to several, each with
common characteristics, which, although they tend to develop a similar ideological and ethical dynamic, nevertheless differ from one another.
Until now, few studies have focused on Israel from the aspect of multiple
modernities. Leon (2009) maintains that some of the immigrants from
Muslim majority countries regarded ultra-Orthodoxy as a suitable model,
because of their transition from one modernity (in the Diaspora) to another
(the State of Israel). Fischer (2007) claims that radical religious Zionism
should not be regarded only through the prism of fundamentalism, meaning a
rejection of modern Western culture. He argues that radical religious Zionism
can be understood when we take into account the feasibility of several modernities, all influenced by a range of historical and sociological forces.
In recent years, a number of scholars have pointed out the different ways in
which modernity manifests itself in religious revivalism. Berger (2009), for
example, argues that Evangelical Protestantism is a modern phenomenon,

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because, among other things, it valorizes the element of choice in becoming


born again in order to become Christian. Eisenstadt (1999) argues that fundamentalist movements are very similar to other modern Jacobin movements
in their belief in the supremacy of politics, their emphasis on political action
as a way to realize a moral vision in this world, and in their desire to formulate
a new collective identity. A number of researchers have indicated how modernity produces an ultrareligious counterreaction (Almond, Sivan, and Appleby
1995; Almond, Appleby, and Sivan 2003; Marty and Appleby 1991, 1994).
Others view religious revival as a phenomenon inherent to modernity.
Modernity has introduced the processes of individuation, personal autonomy,
and uncertainty into social life and thus created a demand for religion (HervieuLeger 2000). In this context, Martin (1990, 2002) proposes a distinction
between fundamentalists who react against modernity and the PentecostalCharismatic movement that honors the modern distinction between church
and state and finds ways of living within modernity. And finally, another group
of scholars has addressed the use that religious revival movements make of
technology (de Witte 2003; Hirschkind 2006; Roy 2004).
Modernity is also present in religious revivalism in the way individuals
and religious movements respond to what is considered to be one of the hallmarks of modernitythe rationalization of social life (e.g., Weber 1958;
Lash 1999). Rationalization is a process whereby ideas based on science and
practical calculation become dominant in a society (Weber 1968). As Swidler
(1973, 36) puts it, rationalization is a process of systematization of ideas.
In recent years the rationalization of religion has become evident around the
world. Thus, for example, Tong (2007) found that young educated Chinese
who had acquired a higher education often moved from one religion to
another, particularly from Taoism to Protestant Christianity. In Singaporean
culture and society, even traditional religions tended toward processes of
rationalization in response to changes. Thus, for example, Sinha (1999) found
that Hinduism underwent a process of reformation and theologization in
order to attract educated youngsters from the middle and upper Indian classes.
Another example of this trend is shown by Deeb (2006) with regard to
rationalization in the revival of the Shiite religion. Her ethnographic work
in the southern neighborhoods of Beirut points to the creation of an alternative modernity, which she calls enchanted modernity, by people who
regard themselves, on the one hand, as modern and cosmopolitan while, on
the other hand, they see themselves as religiously devout. She claims that in
contrast to Max Weber (and those who subscribe to Webers theory of disenchantment resulting from modernization), not only do religion and modernity not compete with one another, they cannot, in fact, be separated. For
Deeb, modern rationalization does not necessarily lead to secularity. Rather,

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it can and does lead to enhanced and strengthened personal awareness of the
Islamic way of life.
In the current analysis, I present rationalization of religion as a calculating
rationality, by showing how capitalist thinking infiltrates religious cosmology. As an economic system, capitalism involve[s] the production and
exchange of commodities with the aim of accumulating a surplus value, that
is, profit, with some part of this profit being re-invested in order to maintain
the conditions of future accumulation (Abercrombie, Hill, and Turner 1986,
87). As Weber (1958, 17) puts it, Capitalism is identical with the pursuit of
profit, and forever renewed profit, by means of continuous, rational, capitalistic enterprise. But beyond this technical definition, capitalism is characterized by a cultural mind-set in that exchange relationships, of buying and
selling, have permeated most of the society (Bell 1976, 14).3
As I will try to show, this calculating rationality is manifest in the teshuvah
movement, as many proselytizers and teshuvah clients regard mitzvoth (commandments), implicitly and explicitly, as a type of currency they can amass
for their own benefit. Furthermore, zikui harabim can operate through the
principle of money makes money. The expression zikui harabim originates
in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), 5:18:
One who causes the community to be meritorious, no sin will come by his
hand. . . . Moses was meritorious and caused the community to be meritorious,
so the communitys merit is attributed to him.

Zikui harabim has been variously interpreted over the generations.4 Both as
an elaborated world view and as a concrete guideline for the active dissemination of the Torah, the principle of zikui harabim has been a central tenet of
certain activist Jewish groups, such as the mid-nineteenth century Musar
movement, and the Habad (Lubavitch) movement in the postWorld War II
era. Zikui harabim was understood broadly as the conduct of activities that
enable the masses to attain religious merit or virtue (Leon 2008, 153).
Nevertheless, the scope of zikui harabim has been limited in terms of the
number of activists and penitents who practice it, as the teshuvah movement
has been in existence for only forty years. Furthermore, zikui harabim has
changed from somewhat of a dead letter to a vital, core principle in the teshuvah movement. The penitent feels obligated to persuade others to follow in
his footsteps, and zikui harabim serves as a platform to that end. Today zikui
harabim differs from its earlier uses in terms of the world view it embodies,
as in some cases it carries with it a sense of rational-capitalist logic. The
change occurred with the rise of the teshuvah movement in the 90s, especially the Sephardi-teshuvah movement.

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Teshuvah Movement
The teshuvah movement in Israel began at the end of the 1960s (Aviad 1983).
The 1990s saw a new wave of religious revival, which attracted large masses
of people. Most of them defined themselves as traditional before they did
teshuvah and they belonged to the second or third generation of Israelis
originating from Muslim-majority countries (Ilan 2000). According to an
extensive survey, which included a sample of 7,500 respondents over the age
of 20, and was conducted in 2009, 21 percent of the sample testified to being
more religious than before, while 5.4 percent of the sample (representing
some 200,000 Jews in absolute numbers) defined themselves as hozrim biteshuvah (those returning to religion, whom I shall henceforth also refer to as
penitents) (Israel Central Bureau of Statistics 2010).
At the level of the individual, it is difficult to identify an exact parallel of
the phenomenon of the teshuvah movement in the non-Jewish world, since
conversion, re-affiliation, and being born againterms used to
describe similar phenomena elsewheredo not accurately reflect the Jewish
case. It appears that of these three terms born again best befits our discussion, since conversion serves to describe the passage from one religion to
another, and re-affiliation denotes the movement from one group to another
within the same religion (Stark 2009).5
In the 1970s and 1980s, the ultimate goal of the teshuvah process was the
adoption of a haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) lifestyle and incorporation within
haredi communities. The penitent was required to abandon his or her previous secular environment, including prior employment (Sheleg 2000).
Beginning in the 1990s we see a different kind of teshuvah process. Penitents
often remained in their communities of origin, sometimes without enrolling
in an intensive course of study in yeshivot, while continuing to participate in
the workforce and pursue a secular academic education (Sharabi 2010). This
process was, inter alia, a product of the response of the haredi communities,
which tended to separate and segregate the newcomers (Caplan 2007, 129
36), as well as of the growing numbers of penitents, which allowed them to
develop non-geographically based communities of their own.
One social implication of this process is the transformation of the teshuvah movement from a transitional to a permanent arena. Ethnographic studies
by Goodman (2002), Leon (2009), and El-Or (2006) address this transformation. Goodman has described the teshuvah process as a space of identity;
Leon has described the transition from a teshuvah culture to teshuvah as
culture, and the development of soft Ultra-Orthodoxy, in which teshuvah
plays a role in the construction of a quasi-haredi life; and El-Or, through her
broad ethnographic work, has described the way in which the teshuvah

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industry organizes a gendered social life-world in the urban periphery. I argue


that the lack of integration of penitents within Ultra-Orthodox society in the
past twenty years and the creation of a new social space has allowed penitents
to develop a culture of teshuvah that is activated by the penitents themselves
in a manner in which the concept of zikui harabim becomes central.

Field and Methods


My work is focusing on Sephardic-haredi teshuvah, the largest and most
dominant of Israels contemporary teshuvah streams, because the concept of
zikui harabim is most prominent in their discourse and cosmology.
Specifically, my discussion is based on research findings from fieldwork I
conducted in the town of Ashkelon. Most of the penitents were teenagers and
young people aged fifteen to thirty, both males and females.
The fieldwork focused on what I call the teshuvah portals; in other
words, on the teshuvah activity to which people who had become interested
in religion or were seeking to return to religion were exposed. Penitents
usually spent months or even years attending classes, hearing lectures, and
participating in other activities until they moved on to the next station in their
life journey. Almost all the proselytizers were aged between twenty-five and
forty and regarded themselves as penitents. The teshuvah portals in Ashkelon
primarily consisted of the extensive activity of Rabbi Haim Alush. During
my fieldwork, I attended many sermons by Rabbi Alush in synagogues
throughout the town, and I also followed other local neighborhood teshuvah
activists, whom I refer to in the article as teshuvah entrepreneurs (more on
this concept below). Apart from attending Torah classes in synagogues and
private homes, I also took part in celebrations (hilulot) and street activities.
As part of my fieldwork, I conducted open ethnographic interviews. These
are linguistic events similar to (but not identical with, see: Spradley 1979)
friendly conversations between interviewer and interviewee, directed by the
former in such a way as to obtain the desired information. During my visits
to various study centers, I came in contact with many participants and I was
able to conduct brief friendly conversations with several of them. These conversations served a dual purpose. Sometimes they opened a window into a
particular cultural and social aspect that could be clarified through in-depth
interviews, while at other times they served as a research tool for supplementary research, the result of insights gained during in-depth interviews.
One dilemma I had faced before entering the field of research was the
extent to which I must reveal that I myself am not religiously observant. As a
formerly religious person, I am fully conversant with basic religious customs
and modes of behavior, so I could pass as religious or traditional but I
refrained from doing so on the grounds that it would be wrong ethically and

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from the point of view of research. However, in Ashkelon the meetings took
place in synagogues and study houses where it was incumbent upon me to
wear a kippa (skullcap). I also felt the need to wear a kippa at meetings in
private homes where Torah classes were conducted. Consequently some
interviewees never saw me without a kippa. Since I feared misrepresentation
I sometimes demonstratively removed it when I was not in a meeting. Some
of the informants wanted to know to what extent I was strengthened by the
things I heard. I believe it was important for some of them that I be strengthened while conducting my research so that, from their point of view at least,
my interest in them should not have been to no purpose.
Apart from Rabbi Alush, all the names in this article are fictitious. When
I asked the rabbis assistant to arrange a meeting I made it clear that I would
not reveal the rabbis real name, on the grounds that it would then be easier
for him to cooperate with me. However, the assistant hastened to assure me
that, on the contrary, he was very keen for the rabbis full name and place of
activity to appear in writing, explaining that it was a kind of zikui harabim.
I later received the same assurance from the rabbi himself.
This work is also based on semi-structured in-depth interviews. The
advantage of this research tool lies in its flexibility. On the one hand, it
obliges the researcher to be very well acquainted with the professional literature and to prepare all questions in advance, while on the other hand, it is
sufficiently sensitive to the interviewee and his realm of meaning to facilitate
raising new questions in accordance with the existing interviewerinterviewee dialogue (Berg 1998). In the course of my fieldwork, I conducted
twenty-six in-depth interviews with penitents or those who had become more
religious in recent years. The age range of interviewees is between twenty
and thirty-five, almost equally divided between men and women. Some of the
interviewees were approached directly, while others were reached by the
snowball approach (Goodman 1961).
I began each interview with a general questiontell me about yourselfwhich always elicited a lengthy answer, sometimes as long as one
hour. The interviewees would tell me the story of their personal teshuvah,
with me interjecting questions wherever necessary. I would then ask more
specific questions relating to the experiential and organizational aspects that
followed their decision to become penitents or take a deeper interest in the
Jewish religion. Every interview was taped and transcribed in its entirety.

From Teshuvah Client to Teshuvah Entrepreneur


In Ashkelon, the concept of zikui harabim was articulated, first and foremost,
in the dynamic activity of Rabbi Haim Alush, who was in his midthirties
when I carried out my fieldwork. Rabbi Alush grew up in a religious family

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but as a youth he had not been particular about his religious observance and
had not devoted a great deal of thought to matters of faith, having been more
attracted to secular life. At the age of sixteen he became involved in
Ashkelons nightlife scene, working as a promoter of parties at discotheques
and pubs. When he was twenty-four, following a difficult experience, he
embarked on a gradual process of teshuvah. A few years later, before he
began to observe a stringent religious lifestyle, he began to deliver sermons
to young people on topics concerning Jewish theology. These meetings,
which began as very small gatherings, gradually became extremely popular
and drew huge crowds. At the time I entered the field, Rabbi Alush was
already delivering sermons to some 150 young people every Friday night and
to 50 people on Monday nights. Within a few years, he transformed himself
from the subject of a teshuvah process to an exponent of teshuvah. As I will
explain later, I prefer to call it: teshuvah entrepreneur.
Rabbi Alush is not merely a preacher or a Torah instructor, nor is he perceived as such by those who attend his lessons. At the end of every lesson I
attended, many participants approached him for a personal blessing, and
some kissed his hand. The rabbi recalled from memory the names of all those
who approached him and recited their personal stories. He offered advice,
bestowed blessings, slapped people on the back, and patted the cheek of a
young man, a gesture that was part caress and part affectionate slap. Rabbi
Alush is essentially regarded as a tzaddik (a righteous man), utterly devoted
to zikui harabim (granting merit to the many), who would go to any lengths
for the truth of the Torah and fearlessly says what he believes to be true.
One of Rabbi Alushs hard core disciples is Avihai, whom I first met late
at night at a barbecue in an Ashkelon park. Across from Avihai sat a group of
twenty-five junior high-school students, who listened to him while waiting
for the meat to be cooked. When he finished speaking, he invited the students
to dance and sing spiritual songs. Some of them danced while others
approached him to talk. Since they addressed him as Rabbi Avihai, I was
extremely surprised to discover that he had only embarked on his path of
teshuvah four and a half years earlier, at the age of twenty and had, in fact,
grown up in a secular, rather than a traditional, family. Avihai told me that his
teshuvah process began when he and his friends were approached by Yaniv, a
man in his early twenties, who attempted to persuade them to draw close to
religion. Yaniv himself had begun his teshuvah process a year or two earlier.
Avihai described this meaningful encounter as follows:
We were always impressed by this guy [Yaniv] because he seemed to be a
righteous man. Why righteous? [Although] he looked exactly like us, there was
just something special about him. He would draw us close. He would bring us

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pretzels and drinks, he would sit with us and talk. Not Torah talk, none of that.
One day he asked me, Avihai, would you like to perform a mitzvah . . . some
sort of act of charity? We went to the home of a poor family. . . . That was the
first opening into this process of coming full circle that we call teshuvah, to see
what it means to help.

Avihai describes the teshuvah process as circular, a fitting description for


the many teshuvah exponents who have completed the process of closing the
circle and made the transition from penitents to teshuvah entrepreneurs. A
few months later, Yaniv introduced Avihai to Rabbi Alush, who had already
begun his career as a proselytizer. Together with Yaniv, Avihai joined a group
of some ten young people who met regularly and comprised the founding
circle of Rabbi Alushs penitents. Avihai described a long process lasting
some two and a half years, before he undertook to become stronger
(lehithazek) in religious observance. Meanwhile he continued to frequent his
old haunts and continued partying. I took upon myself to observe the
Sabbath, he told me, but not the other things. About two years before my
arrival in the field, Avihai began to engage in zikui harabim, well before he
himself began to conduct a rigorous life of religious observance. He describes
his first steps as a teshuvahh entrepreneur as follows:
The rabbi [Alush] admonished me for about twenty minutes, saying, Your
destiny is to grant merit to the manyto disseminate Torah. I said, Rabbi, at
school I was too embarrassed to get up on stage, certainly not to talk to people.
He said, Youll work on it, and you will see that its the truth. He gave me the
first push, the first platform. I started to give lessons in front of the rabbi, before
he preached to large classes of 150 people on Friday nights.

Over time Avihai developed his own approach to youth work. He told me that
some eight months before we met he had gathered together the youths I had
seen at the barbecue:
Truly, all the guys you see here used to hang out, desecrating the Sabbath,
knowing nothing about the Torah, nothing. One day I asked them questions and
they got excited. I took them on as a project. Today, thank God, we have been
able to teach all these students. They observe the Sabbath, respect their parents,
and behave ethically, on the true path of Torah.

Avihai gives them a Torah lesson every day; on Friday nights he teaches
extensively on the weekly Torah portioncoinciding with Rabbi Alushs lessons. He also gives occasional classes in private homes throughout Ashkelon.
It is clear that when he speaks of the youths he took under his wing, he sees

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himself reflected in them. Like them, he once lived a secular life; like them,
he too, embarked on a process of teshuvah. As such, it appears that he has
brought his cycle of teshuvah, as he describes it, to a close. Avihai underwent a process lasting four to five years, at the end of which he assumed the
role of teshuvah entrepreneur vis--vis the other boys. Avihai too, was drawn
to religion by other penitentsby Yaniv, who invited him to participate in
charitable volunteer work, and especially by Rabbi Alush, who accompanied
him all the way.
This circular process of teshuvah resembles the process in Pentecostalcharismatic Christianity, where recent converts commonly become evangelists (Robbins 2004). It is notable that Rabbi Alush, Avihai, Yaniv, and others
active in the teshuvah field began to proselytize by practicing zikui harabim
even before they had completed their teshuvah process, at least in the practical sense of the word. In other words, before they were fully observant of
commandments. While this might appear odd, two important points should
be remembered. First, in the context of Christian rebirth, one experiences a
definite moment of before and after, a rupture in ones life trajectory
(Robbins 2007), accompanied by what Robbins (2003) calls rituals of rupture. In contrast, in Jewish teshuvah, at least in Israel in the early twentyfirst century, no such singular moment is expected. Return to the faith is
characterized by a gradual and slow strengthening of faith and observance
(Leon 2009; Sharabi 2010), so that the practice sometimes evolves into an
ideal of never-ending strengthening. Thus, the penitent does not wait for
the moment in which his or her identity as a born again person is complete
and whole, and may feel sufficiently confident to facilitate the return of others before completing his or her own process of teshuvah. Second, zikui
harabim is perceived as a commandment in its own right. Therefore, it stands
to reason that, if one observes only some of the commandments during the
prolonged process of teshuvah, the one most likely to be undertaken will be
zikui harabim.
Whereas Rabbi Alush commands Ashkelon in its entirety, Avihai is
involved in more local activities. There are also other teshuvah entrepreneurs,
inspired by Rabbi Alush, who function at the neighborhood level. I call them
teshuvah entrepreneurs because I feel that this term best encapsulates the
mind-set underlying their work. It is not organized in any way or by any one
person or one organization, but evolves from a spirit of free entrepreneurship.
Sometimes it is impelled by personal interest, but at other times it comes in
response to a request by residents. For example, Avihai may organize Torah
classes for young people in the synagogue, but he also gives classes in private
homes if so asked by residents who either know him personally or have heard
of him. At one class I attended, Efrat, a twenty-two-year-old woman, invited

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several of her friends to her parents garden one evening and asked Avihai to
give a Torah discourse. The event was intended for zikui harabim. When it
ended, she asked Avihai to bless all those present, particularly those who
undertook to strengthen their observance.
Teshuvah entrepreneurs such as Rabbi Alush, Avihai, and Yaniv are highly
esteemed in the cultural sphere that Leon (2009) calls teshuvah as culture.
However, unlike the most noted North African rabbis who live in Israel, their
prestige as teshuvah entrepreneurs does not stem from ancestral merit (zechut
avot)descent from a dynasty of rabbis and Torah scholars (Bilu 2010;
Weingrod 1990)but rather from their activities as people who practice
zikui harabim (Leon 2009). In other words, this is a transition from a traditional to a charismatic source of authority. One need not be born righteous
one can become righteous by initiating and persevering with zikui harabim.
Note that there is no need for cultural ascetism or religious fervor; righteousness is acquired first and foremost from the strength of personal initiatives in
the field of zikui harabim. This in itself can serve as the source of tension and
conflict between local teshuvah entrepreneurs and rabbis and religious organizations outside of the teshuvah movement. It can also engender tension and
conflict inside the teshuvah movement, between local teshuvah entrepreneurs
and more established organizations and institutions. The tension may arise
from questions of authority, power, and religious dominance (Leon 2009). An
interesting example of this can be found in Nissim Leons research on the lay
preacher (Leon 2014).
Until now we have focused on teshuvah entrepreneurs such as Rabbi
Alush and Avihai, who are involved in regular teshuvah initiatives. As we
will see in the next section, the concept of zikui harabim also paves the way
for random teshuvah initiatives by anyone who wants to undertake them.

The Concept of Zikui Harabim


The main promoter of zikui harabim in the last thirty years was Rabbi Ovadia
Yosef, who was one of the most important and influential rabbis in Israel (died
in 2013).6 Rabbi Ovadia believed zikui harabim should be the main goal of a
Ben Torah (yeshivah student). Thus the focus of Torah study should not be
learning per se, but the expanded influence of religious life in an era of modernization and secularization (Leon 2008). Rabbi Ovadia Yosef himself exemplified zikui harabim as a rabbi who maintains constant contact with others.
Because this mode of action fits well into the teshuvah world, Rabbi
Ovadia Yosef is a role model for many local rabbis. This is one reason why
zikui harabim has become a characteristic feature of the haredi-Sephardi teshuvah movement in recent years. Avihai explains zikui harabim as follows:

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zikui harabim means to take a group of adolescents who dont know their right
hand from their left when it comes to Judaism, and to gently explain to them
what the Torah is, who God is, and actually to provide them with some sort of
Jewish way of life. And the moment a person teaches and works with these
students and dedicatedly teaches them day after day, thats called zikui harabim.

Zikui harabim has become so ingrained in haredi-Sephardi discourse that in


some cases, the title mezake harabim (granter of merit to the many) replaces
the title mahzir biteshuvah (proselytizer, lit. one who returns another to the
faith). Leon (2008) has demonstrated how the idea of zikui harabim defines a
rabbinic identity which offers an alternative to the traditional rabbinic role,
which relies on the tradition of merit of the forefather, and to the rabbinic
model that relies on formal scholarly training. However, the main difference
between the teshuvah movements interpretation of zikui harabim and earlier
interpretations is that in my opinion the concept conforms to a capitalist
mind-set (see below).
The idea of zikui harabim undergirds the thought and conduct of many
penitents, even if they do not actively or systematically engage in proselytizing like Rabbi Alush and Avihai. As part of their socialization to the status of
penitent they internalize the significance of the concept. The penitent need not
fully escort young people on their teshuvah path in order to grant merit to
others. It is sufficient to instigate anothers performance of a mitzvah or to
help prevent a transgression. Michal, a twenty-five-year-old penitent, explains:
Zikui harabim means to cause others to do teshuvah, and to earn for them the
merit of (observing) commandments. There are all those folks, the Lubavitchers,
lets say, who stand on the street and tell people to don tefillin (prayer
phylacteries). Thats called zikui harabim. They approach a secular person, and
say, Come, take a two-minute break, put on tefillin and get a feel for the mitzvah
of donning tefillin, and so they earn merit for him. At that very moment, they
earn him the merit of performing the mitzvah (commandment) of tefillin.

It would seem, therefore, that to grant merit for the many, one need not
actively proselytize like Rabbi Alush and Avihai. Merely performing the simple activity of saying a blessing out loud before eating can earn merit on
account of the person who responds Amen. Sagi, a twenty-eight-year-old
penitent who also engages in proselytizing, explained why he wears the
fringes of his tzitzit (knotted ritual fringes worn by observant Jews) hanging
out of his trousers:
Sephardic Jews are not supposed to walk around with their tzitzit hanging out.
But since I am doing zikui harabim, so to speak, they [people who see me

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inadvertently] will say, Heres a guy who wears jeans and a shirt and leather
cowboy boots and also wears his tzitzit on the outside, as well as a large white
kippa [skullcap]. So that gives [the message] like, If hes walking around that
way, maybe I could also do it. Its a kind of stimulus to some extent.

For Sagi, the four-fringed garment is a prop for a staged performance that is
meant to awaken people to religious observance. Therefore, although it is not
customary among Sephardic Jews like himself, he makes sure to wear his
tzitzit hanging out, and thus to grant merit to the many.
Although some teshuvah entrepreneurs do not operate on a regular basis,
they do not limit themselves to casual soliciting, handing out CDs, or making
benedictions out loud. Hila is a twenty-four-year-old penitent. She and her
husband organize lectures in her home approximately once a month. They
invite dozens of people, sometimes by mailing flyers to everyone in the
neighborhood. The lecture, conducted by a rabbi or rabbanit, is on topics such
as relationships and child-rearing. This is how Hila describes zikui harabim
and its role in her life:
Zikui harabim is a belief that applies to every Jew, who is required to share his
love for the Creator of the Universe, and his reverence for God, and everything
connected to Him, and to help others connect as well. Now, this does not
necessarily translate to: Come, see what religion is, be an observant Jew, do
teshuvah! Not like that. Its rather a sense that I am capable, and Ive gained
something in particular, so I would like it if everyone could gain exactly what
I have. In other words, if Ive been able to learn about couple-hood and this
has helped me tremendously in my own relationship, then its important for me
to share that with others. . . . Because then others will gain exactly as I have.

Hila is very proud of her teshuvah endeavors. Last time there were nearly
sixty people, she told me. It was very, very large, and lots of people were
really impressed. The lecture was amazing. It was wonderful, absolutely fantastic. Thats my small role in zikui harabim. It seems that the act of zikui
harabim by Hila and others legitimizes the transition of the penitent to the
world of merit. There is great value in practicing zikui harabim before an
audience. The penitent thus creates an audience which accredits the legitimacy of his teshuvah.
Thus, zikui harabim is the central foundation of the penitents experience
and the pillar upon which the teshuvah discourse rests. As we have seen,
zikui harabim can be performed through random solicitation to lay tefillin or
wear tzitzit, by organizing lectures every few weeks, or by comprehensive,
regular teshuvah entrepreneurship. In other words, for some people zikui
harabim is an essential part of their day-to-day activities (Rabbi Alush and

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Avihai), whereas others engage in it sporadically, once in a while, sometimes


in a demonstrative and ceremonial fashion. Either way, the cardinal difference between the current interpretation of zikui harabim and that which prevailed in the past is how it incorporates the concept of modern-capitalistic
economic logic, as can be seen in the next section.

Zikui Harabim and Economic Logic


Zikui harabim functions not only for the benefit of the one who performs the
mitzvah and thus earns merit but also for the person who caused the other to
earn merit. Thus, for example, if I cause another to fulfill a commandment,
then both he and I reap Gods reward for its observance, even if he was the
only one to do so. The partnership between giver and receiver therefore benefits both parties to the interaction, as Avihai explains in his discussion of his
youth work:
Zikui harabim is actually also beneficial to the person who causes the other to
earn merit. Because such a person in fact speaks about Gods Torah and
explains to the youth the entire way of Judaism. And it is beneficial to the youth
also. As we said, to what can this be likened? To a rich man who has no-one to
give money to, he has so much and everyone is rich. Until one day a poor
person comes along. Its the same thing. The one who earns grants merit to the
many, he is doing a favor for those who listen to him, to those who indeed
follow this life path. They, for their part, earn merit for him, by giving him the
opportunity to speak to them, in other words, to receive the reward that he
deserves for this (deed).

To explain zikui harabim, Avihai employs a metaphor relating to money. He


points out that just as a poor person needs a rich person from whom to obtain
money, the rich man needs the poor person so that he can contribute.7 There
is a mutuality of doing good. Similarly, in Avihais opinion, a person who is
rich in mitzvoth (a religious person) needs someone who is lacking in mitzvoth to observe a commandment, because by so doing he brings merit to the
former. In other words, the merit of the mitzvah is credited to the religious
person as well. Thus, both parties need each other.
The notion of zikui harabim is often formulated along the lines of the capitalist logic that money makes money. If my friend brought me back to
religion, explains Yael, a twenty-three-year-old penitent, he has [earned]
merit on account of my return to religion. And all the girls that I have brought
back to religion, I have gained merit for their sakes. He began the chain [reaction], as it were. For example, If I convince a young woman to wear longer
skirts, that also accrues to his merit, because he brought me [to religion], and

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I brought her [to religion]. According to this logic, the good deed that
accrues to one who earns merit for others is not merely zikui harabim, in the
standard sense of disseminating Torah, but also a concrete commandment
performed by a person on the path of teshuvah. This chain of merit-earning
described by Yaela friend caused me to earn merit, and I caused others to
earn merit, who will in turn cause yet others to earn meritis the basic operating principle of Sephardic-Haredi teshuvah, and may serve to motivate
individuals to strengthen or return others to the faith.
One example of this logic can be seen in the case of Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak,
considered one of the most influential teshuvah-proselytizer in Israel today
(Sharabi, forthcoming; Sharabi and Guzmen-Carmeli 2013). Rabbi Yitzhak
holds rallies for hundreds of participants throughout Israel, at a rate of one or
two rallies every week. For a number of years, the Rabbi was involved in
marketing a membership program called Hai Kiflaim (Double Life). The program was advertised at his many rallies and in publications such as the Shofar
newsletter which is put out by his organization, Shofar. One such ad appeared
under the heading To live twice as much. It begins: If you were promised
you could earn twice as much, would you pass up the opportunity? And if you
were offered the gift of living not once but twice? This is what Shofar can
promise you. The newsletter invites new members to join the most exclusive club in the world, and indeed, much moreto be part of the Shofar family, the largest organization for the dissemination of Judaism and for bringing
Jews back to the faith, in Israel and throughout the world. Membership costs
eighteen dollars. What is the double promise? The newsletter explains: Why
[do we offer] twice hai (hai literally means life or alive, and in gematria,
the numerological system that assigns a number to every letter, it is equivalent to 18)? Because members are doubly rewardedonce in this world and
once in the world to come. Under the caption The World to Come as
Reward is a description of Shofars activities, inviting members to attend
weekend seminars and receive educational materials such as video and audio
recordings and CDs. The same caption leads in to the following text (emphasis mine):
Thanks to the sophisticated organization at Shofar, a large portion of the funds
is earmarked for disseminating Judaism. Surplus funds are directly utilized for
distributing tapes and CDs. Thus, zikui harabim is carried out continuously
in an unparalleled manner.
This is the essential idea behind Shofars Double Hai program: the donated
funds are returned to you, the donor, in the form of educational materials about
Judaism, which you are invited distribute further, independently or with the
help of Shofars volunteers in Israel and throughout the world.

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In sum: with the Double Hai program, your money works better, even the
smallest amount, to save Jews and bring them back to our Father in Heaven.
The Double Hai program ideally integrates two rewardsin this world and in
the world to come.
Those who dont joinlose twice.
With numbers like that its no wonder that the Double Hai program enjoys
tremendous popularity and claims thousands of members.

Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak offers his followers the opportunity to be full partners
in zikui harabim, at the cost of eighteen dollars. Any commandments that
cash in in wake of the members efforts to disseminate Judaism will accrue
to their own accounts. Thus, by disseminating Judaism effectively, members
can leverage the profits (accounted in terms of mitzvoth) of their eighteendollar investment. Or as the newsletter puts it: your money works better.
Another example of how an economic calculation is applied to observance
of commandments may be seen in the print-outs distributed at Rabbi Amnon
Yitzhaks conventions, entitled Table for Calculating the Rewards of Torah
Study. This table, a textual representation of verbal teachings presented by
Rabbi Yitzhak, was also circulated in a video entitled Torah and Reverence.
In these texts, Rabbi Yitzhak emphasizes the importance of Torah study and
explains how the commandment to study is equal in magnitude to the sum of
all the other commandments. For instance, the table shows that Rabbi Yisrael
Meir Kagan (the Chofetz Chaim)8 believed that a single hour of Torah study
is equivalent to thirty million mitzvoth. The table presents additional figures
and equivalences, such as He who studies with a companion on the Sabbath
performs a deed equal to the performance of sixty billion mitzvoth. The
explanatory remarks on the next pages read as follows (emphasis original):
In brief, look how much reward (one earns) for one hour of Torah. One person said to me, if this is so, let me study for one hour and I shall be handsomely endowed with mitzvoth, and I said to him, True, but bitul torah
(idleness in place of studying Torah) adds up to the same account, while by
practicing virtues a person can earn a fortune of mitzvoth, a fortune.
The pages title, A Simple Calculation, reveals that at least one prevailing mode of thought characterizing the world of Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak and
his community is that of mathematical, goal-oriented, economic thinking.
The table of equivalences renders any ethical or moral explanations about the
religious importance of commandments redundant, as it represents the
numerical value of an hour of Torah study in concrete termsconcrete for
anyone versed in a culture in which money is accounted for in this meticulous

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manner. It also displays how an investment in Torah study, itemized preciselystudy through pain and hardship or study at a time when others
are not at study (sleeping)yields a larger reward.
These two examples lead us to Webers account of rationality in the modern age. Ann Swidler, expanding on Weber (1968), distinguishes between
rationality and rationalization. The latter is a process through which
ideas based on science and practical calculation become dominant in a society. As Swidler puts it, rationalization is a process of systematization of
ideas (1973, 36). In Rationality Weber categorized all human actions into
four basic types: traditional, affectual, value-rational and instrumentally
rational. In this context, we can see how calculating rationality (Weber 1968)
begins to permeate religious experience. One can argue that zikui harabim
sometimes operates as a value-rational action and sometimes as an instrumentally rational action. In the second way of action, we can see how religious life is converted, even if sporadically, into a currency that can be
measured, calculated, and translated to quantitative expressions.
The benefits of performing zikui harabim, therefore, are abundant. It is no
wonder, then, that one must hedge against the moral risks of prioritizing ones
personal benefit over the benefit of another. Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Lugasi, a
prolific rabbinic authority, who has written numerous books and pamphlets
for penitents, has addressed this issue. His book, Whoever Is for the Lord
Vital Information for Lecturers and Preachers and for All Those Who Draw
the Distant Closer and Strengthen Those Who Are Close, is geared, as its title
indicates, to teshuvah preachers. Rabbi Lugasi outlines all the dos and donts
of this enterprise, interspersing his guidelines with tales of famous rabbis
who are teshuvah preachers. Rabbi Lugasi identifies a problem with the idea
of zikui harabim, explaining that people sometimes forget that the ultimate
objective is to grant merit to others, focusing instead on the personal gains of
undertaking zikui harabim (emphasis in original):
When your thoughts are focused on granting merit for the many, for the sake of
fulfilling the zikui harabim commandment per se, this deed cannot be seen as
untainted by extraneous intentions. For this indicates that you, the lecturer, love
yourself, and wish to reward yourself with an abundance of commandments and
with life in the world to come. . . . The consummation of your ambition should be
that your fellow earns the world to come, and that your thoughts not be focused
on your own personal gains. And this should be heeded: that a mitkarev (one who
draws closer to Judaism) can discern whether a preacher truly desires his good
with his whole heart, whether he seeks the true happiness of the mitkarev, and
truly desires his good in achieving the two worlds, or whether the preacher is
trying to bolster himself with his faith, strengthen his own conscience for his own
personal needs, and earn for himself a life in the world to come (pp. 3617).

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Because of the great advantages that can accrue from fulfilling the commandment of zikui harabim, Rabbi Lugasi alerts his readers to the danger that,
instead of reflecting a genuine intention to benefit the penitent in the world to
come, proselytizing activity might be motivated by the preachers desire to
promote his own chances for rewards and an honorable standing in the world
to come. The commandment of zikui harabim, which in its purest form is
intended to save the sinful from the fires of damnation, may become an
instrument for individual gain for the teshuvah preacher. The danger is that
the mitzvah of zikui harabim will become a goal in itself. A similar process
has occurred with money. Because in a modern-capitalist era there is pursuit
of profit, and forever renewed profit, by means of continuous, rational, capitalistic enterprise (Weber 1958, 17); and because there is a general tendency to calculability and quantitative control, leading social interactions to
become dictated more by the money people have or represent, money has
become an end in itself (Deflem 2003, 73). While the teshuvah world has not
perhaps gone so far, Rabbi Lugasis words allow us to discern his concern,
even if currently this danger only attends those who are full-time practitioners of zikui harabim, and not those who engage it in their free time (like
Hila), or as part of their daily routine (like Sagi).

Conclusion
Ethnographic studies of the teshuvah movement, especially the Sephardic
haredi teshuvah movement, have described how new cultural expanses and
identities have crystallized (El-Or 2006; Goodman 2002; Leon 2009; Sharabi
2010). In this literature, the teshuvah movement is depicted as fertile ground
for the introduction of religious innovation, particularly religious ritual, by
teshuvah entrepreneurs like those described in this article. Before this new
expansion of identity by the teshuvah movement, the status of many rabbinical figures who held no formal positions among Sephardic Jews had been
determined on ancestral merits (Bilu 2010; Weingrod 1990), that is, by their
connection to a well-known family of rabbis and Torah scholars. But the
concept of zikui harabim provides an alternate rabbinic identity. Moreover,
not only do many teshuvah entrepreneurs define themselves as penitents,
they make no attempt to conceal it but rather turn their past lives into a useful
resource for zikui harabim (Sharabi 2010).
In this article, I have attempted to portray zikui harabim as an activity that
is not limited to rabbi-preacher initiatives by full-time rabbis. As presented
in the article, the field of Sephardic-haredi teshuvah develops via what we
can call teshuvah cycles, in which the penitent engages in facilitating the
return of others to religious practice, even before he or she has become

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religiously observant. This practice of encouraging others to observe commandments, whether focused on minor practices (such as reciting a blessing
out loud) or achieved passively (by exposing the four-fringed tzizit garment),
or even oriented to the masses (through popular preaching), is designated as
zikui harabim. The underlying rationale is that any commandment observed
by others, as a result of ones own instigation, is credited to ones own merit.
Therefore, teshuvah entrepreneurs are not only professional teshuvah rabbis like Rabbi Alush and Avihai but rather everyone who practices zikui harabim, be it intensively or occasionally.
This article also proposes that the discourse and practice of zikui harabim
are guided by capitalist logic not just in the manner in which teshuvah entrepreneurs operate but mainly in the way in which this concept is perceived and
formulated. Some teshuvah entrepreneurs and clients of the teshuvah movement regard mitzvoth as a kind of currency that can be amassed for their
personal benefit. They even comport themselves according to the notion that
money makes money. Thus, the idea of zikui harabim can be presented in a
new context: it is transformed from a traditional concept integrated within the
religious discourse of the teshuvah movement to a widespread religious practice integrated into a contemporary capitalist discourse.
These findings have several theoretical ramifications: first, the teshuvah
movement in Israel has until now been studied in the institutional context of
the teshuvah organizations and in the personal-psychological context of penitence itself. I propose to relate to an idea or a concept (zikui harabim) as, in
large measure, the catalyst for religious ferment. Second, the anthropological
and sociological literature points to a variety of modern facets that find
expression in movements of religious revival (Berger 2009; Deeb 2006; de
Witte 2003; Eisenstadt 1999, 2000b; Hirschkind 2006; Roy 2004; Sharabi
2013). In this article, I have postulated that the teshuvah movement in Israel
is also modern in that Western-capitalistic-contemporary logic has seeped
into its cosmology by way of the concept of zikui harabim.
Third, these findings can lead us to rethink the nature of religious fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is generally defined as a striving for religious
seclusion in the face of the ideological values of the modern state, while it
embraces the modern technology but condemns the modern values (Almond,
Appleby, and Sivan 2003; Marty and Appleby 1991, 1994). The concept of
zikui harabim, as conductedand sometimes even explicitly formulatedin
terms of free market logic, presents a somewhat different story. The rhetoric
of counting mitzvoth in terms of counting money or assets forces us to consider whether this is truly a condemnation of all modern values or whether
capitalist thinking has trickled into religious-fundamentalist philosophy. If
this is the case, then multiple modernities (Eisenstadt 2000a, 2000b; Wittrock

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2000) seems to be a paradigm more suited to understanding this reality,


because it regards modern religious movements as a combination of modernity and antimodernity.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Notes
1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

The term haredi, glossed as ultra-orthodox, was originally applied to groups with
a European background. In recent decades Israel has witnessed the growth of
Sephardic ultra-Orthodoxy, which has different characteristics (see Caplan 2008;
Deshen 2005; Leon 2009; Zohar 2008).
Religious Zionism is a social-religious stream within Israeli society that seeks
to integrate religious faith and practice with the Zionist vision. For example,
Religious Zionists enlist in the army and participate in the workforce at the same
rate as secular Israelis.
It is worth noting that I do not argue that means to end logic, maximizing utility,
and rational thought are not to be found in non-capitalistic societies, rather that
the particular calculation rationality that I witnessed in the teshuvah movement
arises in the context of capitalistic society.
Another possible basis for the idea of zikui harabim can be found in the notion
of mitzva goreret mitzva (one good act attracts another). Also in Pirkei Avot
(Ethics of the Fathers), 4:2.
For another definition of conversion see Hervieu-Leger (1999, in Meintel 2007).
For more on the distinction between the Christian born-again experience and
Jewish teshuvah, see Seeman (2009). A parallel phenomenon to teshuvah can be
the Daawa principle that occupies a prominent place in contemporary religious
Muslim revival movements (Hirschkind 2001).
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef served as Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel between 1973 and
1983, and was the spiritual leader of the Shas political party. His main halakhic
and societal goal was to unify the Sephardic groups around one halakhic corpus,
and combating institutionalized Ashkenazi discrimination against Sephardi Jews
in ultra-Orthodox society (Leon 2008; Zohar 2004).
Compare with Zborowski and Herzog (1952), who state that the beggar knows
the rich man needs him in order to fulfill the mitzvah of giving charity. Charity
is generally given to the poor, while zikui harabim is directed at everyone.
Furthermore, in the case of zikui harabim both parties receive their reward in the

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form of a mitzvah. For more on mitzvoth and reciprocity, see Sered (1992).
8. One of the most influential Eastern European rabbis of the nineteenth century.
He is known as the Chofetz Chaim, after his first book which deals with the
Biblical laws of gossip and slander.

References
Abercrombie, Nicholas, Stephen Hill, and Bryan S. Turner. 1986. Sovereign
Individuals of Capitalism. London: Allen & Unwin.
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Author Biography
Asaf Sharabi is a senior lecturer of Anthropology at Peres Academic Center. His
research focuses upon the intersections of religion and modernity in the Jewish context and in the Hinduism context.

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