In recent decades, members of Israeli ultra-Orthodoxy have been exhibiting self-denial, stringency, and unwillingness to enter the workforce despite material hardships. Public discourse has long considered theirs an 'intentional poverty', yet the parsimoniousness attributed to them and its presumed intentionality are losing credibility. I use the concept of credit—in both its economic and its normative sense—to analyze social regulation among Israeli ultra-Orthodoxy. I look at the community's efficiency in redistributing its members' resources through interconversion of social and material goods. I go on to identify the limits that self-regulation comes up against under capitalist pressures and show how these pressures express themselves in ultra-Orthodox norms and practices. Finally, I relate credit and credibility to the larger issue of excess in the present day.
Credit and Credibility
My goal in this forum essay is to brush the dust off Claude Meillassoux’s (1981) magnum opus, Maidens, Meal and Money, by demonstrating its relevance for the present day. While Meillassoux wrote primarily about precapitalist agricultural communities, he had sketched on their basis a model of social reproduction that incorporates social investments and powers, and he foregrounded the hierarchical and exploitative reproductive orders by which capitalism sustains accumulation. In the context of a renewed interest by feminist scholars in questions of social reproduction, I argue that the analytical tools developed by Meillassoux are at least as helpful in making sense of the age of financialization.