When the State Winks: The Performance of Jewish Conversion in Israel


Product Details

Columbia University Press
Publish Date
6.2 X 0.9 X 9.0 inches | 1.2 pounds

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About the Author

Michal Kravel-Tovi is associate professor in the department of sociology and anthropology at Tel Aviv University. She is coeditor of Taking Stock: Cultures of Enumeration in Contemporary Jewish Life (with Deborah Dash Moore, 2016).


In this probe of state-religion relations in Israel, Michal Kravel-Tovi brings the critical but sympathetic curiosity of a skilled ethnographer to explore the use of religious conversion for the purpose of creating national belonging. Addressing the substantial divergence between rabbinical practice and theological ideals and portraying converts whose reasons for choosing Judaism are often practical rather than spiritual, she shows how officials of state as well as rabbinical judges wink collusively at the short shrift given to doctrinal requirements in favor of well-trained performances of sincerity.--Michael Herzfeld, Harvard University
The question of who is allowed to convert to Judaism in Israel, and how and when, is deeply charged with both spiritual and political commitments. Kravel-Tovi's insightful, thoughtful book helps us to understand the nature of these contradictions and their consequences and the way that converts themselves come to experience their conversion.--Tanya Luhrmann, Stanford University
A beautifully written and engaged ethnography of the overlooked topic of state-sponsored conversion to Judaism. Kravel-Tovi illustrates how the complicated playing field of conversion is constrained with tensions between state secularism and religion; Zionism and Judaism; and bureaucracy and sincerity.--Esra Ozyurek, London School of Economics
The best recent ethnography of state bureaucratic practice in Israel and the best ethnography of state-assisted conversion more broadly. With clarity of prose, pathbreaking ethnography, and a humanizing argument, Kravel-Tovi's work moves beyond accounts that treat 'the state' as a monolithic and inimical entity. Real people--rabbis, converts, and state workers--emerge from these pages, not stick figures of the sociological imagination.--Don Seeman, Emory University
When the State Winks is an excellent, original work that uniquely situates its analysis not just within an anthropological framework but also within a broad, humanistic one. Kravel-Tovi tells a compelling story about the political and personal complexities of conversion in Israel, and it will be of great interest to anthropologists, sociologists, and historians as well as scholars of Judaism and religion more generally.--Leora Batnitzky, Princeton University
[This] book is well organized ... it is essential reading for anyone who wants to get a deeper understanding of how the conversion process really operates.--Alan Rosenbaum "The Jerusalem Post "
In her stimulating and engrossing book, Michal Kravel-Tovi deploys the classic anthropological concept of 'winking' . . . Kravel-Tovi is to be congratulated for a political ethnography that achieves a satisfying balance among macro-contextual analysis, mobilization of social science, vivid and detailed vignettes of the objects of her study, and authorial self-reflection.--Ian S., Lustick University of Pennsylvania "Israel Studies Review "
[A] stunning ethnographic study...Highly recommended.--Choice
This study is well-written and readable. It combines academic professional writing with relevant, informative stories from the field. The result is an informative and beautifully written book.--The Tel Aviv Review of Books
The book offers a wonderful synthesis between an animated ethnographic description and a sharp analytical account. [It] makes an important contribution to both the anthropology of the state and the ethnography of communication.--Tamar Katriel "Israeli Sociology "
When the State Winks is a milestone, or even a breakthrough, in the understanding of the state. Kravel-Tovi directs her look at the generally overlooked bodily part of the state: its face; not at the way in which the state "sees" or "hears" but at the way in which its shifting gestures and expressions create a double entendre.--Haim Hazan "Israeli Sociology "
This book is required reading for students and scholars who are interested in religion and state in contemporary Israel, reproduction, gender, and of course, conversion--Michal Raucher, Rutgers University "Religious Studies Review "
This is a masterpiece to recommend to all those concerned about research into political states and the related concepts of governmentality and biopolitics.--Avihu Shoshana "Quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History "
When the State Winks is written in an engaging style that will instantly draw in both a specialist and a non-specialist reader. It can be recommended to a wide range of academic audiences and is a must-read in anthropology of religion at the intersection with political anthropology and anthropology of the state.--Yulia Egorova "LSE Review of Books "
Important, challenging book.--Shlomo Brody "Jewish Review of Books "