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Cambridge Interfaith Programme

Seeds arranged in a decorative pattern, with the book title (The State of Desire) superimposed

In The state of desire: religion and reproductive politics in the promised land (NYU, August 2023) anthropologist Dr Lea Taragin-Zeller (HUJI) presents a new intimate account of Orthodox family planning amid shifting state policies in Israel.

About the book

In recent years, Israeli state policies have attempted to dissuade Orthodox Jews from creating large families, an objective that flies in the face of traditional practices in their community. As state desires to cultivate a high-income, tech-centered nation come into greater conflict with common Orthodox familial practices, Jewish couples are finding it increasingly difficult to actualize their reproductive aims and communal expectations.

In The State of Desire, Lea Taragin-Zeller provides an intimate examination of the often devastating effects of Israel’s steep cutbacks in child benefits, which are aimed at limiting the rapid increase in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population. Taragin-Zeller takes the reader beyond Orthodox taboos, capturing how cracks in religious convictions engender a painful process of re-orientating desires to reproduce amidst shrinking public support, feminism, and new ideals of romance, intimacy and parenting. Paying close attention to ethical dilemmas, the book explores not just pro-ceptive but also contraceptive desires around family formation: when to have children, how many, and at what cost.

The volume offers a rare look at issues of contraception in the Orthodox context, and notably includes interviews with men, making the case that we cannot continue to study reproductive choice solely through the perspectives of women. The State of Desire is a groundbreaking anthropological approach to the study of religion and reproduction, and a remarkably intimate account of the delicate balance between personal desires and those of the state.

About the author

Dr Lea Taragin-Zeller is Assistant Professor in the Federmann School of Public Policy and Program in Cultural Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is also an affiliated researcher at the Reproductive Sociology Research Group (ReproSoc) at the University of Cambridge, and co-convenor of the conference: Materiality and the Future of Inter-Religious Encounters (Cambridge, 7 & 8 September 2023).

About this event

This event runs alongside the two-day conference, Materiality and the Future of Inter-Religious Encounters (7–8 September 2023).

Dr Taragin-Zeller will introduce the book, with Professor Ayala Fader (Fordham University) and Professor Esra Özyürek (Cambridge) offering short reflections to celebrate this new scholarly work.

There will be a brief Q&A and, time-permitting, the author will also be available to sign copies.

Preorders and buying options

A limited number of copies will be available to purchase at the event for the discounted price of £20 (UK RRP £23.99). We can accept payments via cash or QR code.

To reserve a copy for collection, you can also pre-order and pay online in advance:

Paperback copies are also available via Amazon, along with a Kindle edition.

NB Please use Amazon if you require delivery. Copies ordered via the above Combined Academic link (above) will be for collection from the Faculty of Divinity on 7 September.


Please register via Eventbrite ( to let us know you plan to attend.

Light refreshments will be available. 

(Conference delegates should register via the main conference booking system.)

Thursday, 7 September, 2023 - 17:45 to 19:00
Event location: 
Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge

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