In the summer of 2008 I set out to discover what it means to be Jewish in 21st century Buenos Aires. Through extensive field work, 22 formal interviews, visits to multiple Jewish organizations, and daily informal conversations, I gathered the information necessary to answer my question.
By focusing on three case studies of different Jewish institutions in Buenos Aires, this thesis aims to elucidate two points. First, that despite theories of sociologists such as Marx, Weber, and Durkheim who believed the importance of religion would fade with the onset of modernity and rational thought, religion has not yet disappeared. My research shows that religion remains a prominent factor in society, yet in changing forms, as different people react to modernity in distinctive fashions.
Second, many of the reactions to modernity have to do with the prevalence of choice, loss of central moral authority and anxieties associated with contemporary society. My research shows that some people return to orthodoxy in order to regain moral authority and not to have to deal with making choices, while others have claimed the right to choose how they wish to express their Jewishness, something that is innovative and characteristic of modernity.
To categorize my information and organize my findings, I have created a tripartite model of contemporary approaches to Judaism in Buenos Aires. The model distinguishes between three major groups: the “Retreaters” who reject modernity and retreat to a life based on the authority of traditional religious texts; the “Adjusters” who reflexively find a balance between traditional Judaism and their needs as modern individuals; and the “Creators” who fully embrace modernity and choose distinctive aspects (mostly nontraditional) of Judaism with which to signify their Jewish identity.
This thesis and its framework are based on my own original research. I am the first person to do such research specifically on how modernity has influenced the various segments of the Jewish community of Buenos Aires. The process of researching, compiling, analyzing, and organizing my information has proved to be the most intellectually challenging exercise of my college career.
Ben-Yosef, Gili, "“Judaismo a tu manera”: What it Means to be Jewish in 21st Century Buenos Aires" (2009). Sociology Honors Papers. 1.
The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.