Between Poetics and Politics

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Dr. Sarina Chen joined us in the Fall of 2010 as the Schusterman Visiting Israeli Professor, funded by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. Thanks to Dr. Chen, we offered two new classes in Israel Studies this year (one on modern Israel and the other focusing on Jerusalem), as well as an exciting class on Israeli and Palestinian film. We are very pleased that she will be returning to Northeastern for the 2011-2012 academic year. Below, Dr. Chen provides an introduction to her fascinating research on contemporary Jewish groups that place the Temple Mount and the establishment of the Third Temple at the center of their vision of redemption.

My research focuses on those groups and individuals who established the “United Association of Movements for the Holy Temple” in the year 2000.  Intent on creating a revolutionary new reality, these groups interpret literally the classic Jewish prayer that expresses a Messianic hope for the rebuilding of the Temple.  My field work was extensive and included interviews, observation and participation in ceremonies, attendance at classes, rallies, and demonstrations; I also surveyed halakhic (Jewish legal) texts and analyzed images and pictures produced by these groups.  I concluded that four subjects are central to these activists:  ascent to the Temple Mount, memory, femininity, and sacrifice.

Two of the groups are especially interesting:  The Temple Institute and Women for the Temple.  Although these groups differ in their size, their authority, and the extent of their influence, the gender dynamic of their worldviews and practices is revealing.  The Temple Institute, for example, makes a linguistic connection between memory (zicharon) and males (zcharim).  Women are constructed paradoxically as effective activists and modest and obedient, at once inspirations to men and models of femininity for men, who are feminine in relationship to a male God.

These groups identify with the State of Israel but they are capable of carrying out independent acts of terror to undermine state authority.  Although marginal, they have become part of the tapestry of Israel’s religious, social elite and have increased their influence in that community.  Despite ideological distance from the state, they enjoy ever-stronger ties, and they have been propagating their messages in ever-widening circles.  No longer do these Third Temple groups simply oppose existing institutions, these activists have begun to undermine those institutions with the goal of replacing them.