Covid-19, identity, and piety online: ultra-Orthodox discussions in WhatsApp and Telegram groups under social distancing regulations

Nakhi Mishol-Shauli, Oren Golan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted relationships between religious communities and the state. Churches, religious authorities, and believers have been obligated to modify key activities (prayer, ceremonies) and weigh their religious identity against state prohibitions. Accordingly, we ask how members of a reclusive religious community negotiated and performed their identity under a prolonged emergency. We analyse intra-communal discourse concerning the state’s social distancing regulations during Covid-19 outbreaks and lockdowns that occurred in closed groups in messaging apps. Specifically, this research case-studies Jewish ultra-Orthodox communities in Israel (Haredim). Extensive analysis of over 2,000 WhatsApp and Telegram posts in 35 ultra-Orthodox groups over a two-year period indicates that participants constantly sought to affirm their primary, dominant, communal identity. While efforts to integrate adherence to state prohibitions into this primary identity were evident, these efforts were well accepted only when justifying them via affirmation of the communal identity–superseding medical, political, and practical concerns. The findings advance understanding of minority groups’ attitudes towards state directives and illuminate contemporary pathways of identity dynamics in online social networks. The findings may also be applicable in a broader sense to the study of discourse dynamics in echo chambers and filter bubbles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-84
Number of pages20
JournalReligion, State and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Covid-19
  • digital religion
  • identity theory
  • Judaism
  • state regulations
  • WhatsApp

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies
  • Sociology and Political Science


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