Unveiling the “Totem”: Haredi Newspapers During COVID-19

Noa Lavie, Yael Hashiloni-Dolev, Ofir Shamir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


This paper focuses on the analysis of the discourse in major Israeli ultra-Orthodox newspapers during the first year of COVID-19. Following Durkheim, we argue that the pandemic not only brought about a health emergency, but also a state of anomie. Analyzing both Hamodia and Yated Neeman—both major news outlets of the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel—we show how in a time of anomie when the sanctity of life (pikuach nefesh) conflicted with the sanctity of the community, the latter prevailed. Thus, this study unveils a different set of moral priorities than the one commonly referred to in Israeli bioethical discussions in the pre-COVID-19 era. We also found that the Durkheimian “totem” or “God” metaphors—a symbol of society itself—are highly relevant in analyzing how leaders of the Haredi community in Israel tried to keep their congregation together. This was expressed in the two heavily censored newspapers we analyzed: they placed communal living above the sanctity of individual life in a way that exposed how the cohesion of the group and the community itself were sanctified. At the same time, what was identified as the real virus was in fact secularism and not COVID-19.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)551-572
Number of pages22
JournalContemporary Jewry
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2023


  • COVID-19
  • Community
  • Durkheim
  • Pikuach nefesh
  • Ultra-Orthodox media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Religious studies


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