Sovereign Jews

Israel, Zionism, and Judaism

By Yaacov Yadgar

Subjects: Israel Studies, Jewish Studies, Religion, Religion And Politics, Political Science
Paperback : 9781438465340, 288 pages, January 2018
Hardcover : 9781438465333, 288 pages, April 2017

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Table of contents

Introduction: A Jewish Sovereignty?

Part I: Religion, Judaism, Tradition

1. Religion – The History and Politics of an Ahistorical Concept

2. Are Jewish Traditions a Religion?

3. Tradition as Language and Narrative

Part II: Zionism and Jewish Traditions   

4. Zionism, Jewish ‘Religion,’ and Secularism

5. Zionism and Jewish Traditions

6. Main Zionist Streams and Jewish Traditions

Part III: The Israeli Nation-State and Jewish Traditions

7. Israeliness vs. Jewishness: National Identity in Israel and Jewish Traditions

8. Statist Jews: Secularity, Sovereignty, Zionism – and Judaism

9. Who Needs the Status Quo? Statist Jews and “Religious Coercion”


Offers a novel exploration of the relationship between religion and the state in Israel.


The question of Jewish sovereignty shapes Jewish identity in Israel, the status of non-Jews, and relations between Israeli and Diaspora Jews, yet its consequences remain enigmatic. In Sovereign Jews, Yaacov Yadgar highlights the shortcomings of mainstream discourse and offers a novel explanation of Zionist ideology and the Israeli polity. Yadgar argues that secularism's presumed binary pitting religion against politics is illusory. He shows that the key to understanding this alleged dichotomy is Israel's interest in maintaining its sovereignty as the nation-state of Jews. This creates a need to mark a majority of the population as Jews and to distinguish them from non-Jews. Coupled with the failure to formulate a viable alternative national identity (either "Hebrew" or "Israeli"), it leads the ostensibly secular state to apply a narrow interpretation of Jewish religion as a political tool for maintaining a Jewish majority.

Yaacov Yadgar is Stanley Lewis Professor of Israel Studies at the University of Oxford and the author of Secularism and Religion in Jewish-Israeli Politics: Traditionists and Modernity.


"Sovereign Jews is an impressive work that critically engages with extant literature, theories and Zionist thinkers, while providing an innovative analysis upon which further research can be based. It provides indispensable theoretical reading not only for those interested in Jewish Studies, but also for those studying nationalism, ethnicity and the politics of belonging. " — Nations and Nationalism

"This work is a natural extension of Yadgar's former insightful writings on the complex existence of tradition and traditionists in Israel, and it is recommended to scholars of religion and Jewish studies. " — Religious Studies Review

"…Yadgar's book provides an interesting perspective on religion and state, and his discussion of Zionist thinkers is illuminating. " — Journal of Jewish Identities

"…offer[s] some insightful and thought-provoking interpretations of Zionism and the modern Jewish state. " — AJL Reviews

"This book makes an important contribution to the study of Zionist ideology and the relationship between state and religion in Israel. As the author shows rather convincingly, Zionism and the State of Israel needed the Jewish tradition to supply meaning to their political-theological project. This is a fascinating argument that expands our critical understanding of the ideological foundations of the Jewish national movement. " — Eran Kaplan, author of Beyond Post-Zionism