Glamorous Jewishness: Reflections on the Kabbalah Centre and Anti-Semitism
Sociology University of Cambridge Cambridge, UK
This paper will draw on empirical data collected for research on the Kabbalah Centre, a fast-growing religious movement created in the 1970s in Israel, by a New Yorker of Jewish origin. Combining Jewish mysticism with modern tools for well-being, this religious organization nevertheless refuses to presents itself as a branch of Judaism. It attracts Jewish and non-Jewish students, which the Kabbalah Centre familiarize with Jewish concepts and rituals that they learn to perform. Unsurprisingly, this popularization of Kabbalah and its partial detachment from a Jewish audience, have stirred hostility from the representatives of Jewish orthodoxy. Using participant observation and semi-structured interviews, this paper analyses as discourses on Jewishness the Kabbalah Centre's conflicted relationships with its religious roots, the ambiguous identities constructed by Jewish and non-Jewish students, and the discourses of the Kabbalah Centre's critics. This paper will explore the extent to which these various discourses on Jewish identity reflect social actors' difficulties of "being Jewish", responses to stereotypes about Jews, and fear of anti-Semitism. Ultimately, the Kabbalah Centre and reactions to it could be explained as an indirect response to anti-Semitism.