Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin

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BEIT-HALLAHMI, BENJAMIN (1943– ), Israeli psychologist and leading authority on the social psychology of religion. Born in Tel Aviv, Beit-Hallahmi served in the idf in 1963–66. He was educated at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (B.A. 1966) and at Michigan State University (M.A. 1968, Ph.D., clinical psychology, 1970). He taught at a number of American and Israeli universities, including the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Hebrew University, and maintained membership in several American professional associations. From 1973 he was senior lecturer and professor of psychology at the University of Haifa.

The primary focus of Beit-Hallahmi's academic work (for which he acknowledged his debt to the work of William James) was the study of the social psychology of religion, with particular attention to religion and social identity; the appeal of New Religious Movements (or nrm, popularly known as "cults"), on which he was an acknowledged international authority; and the relationship between Jewish ideas of religious salvation and the Zionist project, and its social consequences. Among his influential publications in this area were his books The Social Psychology of Religion (1975, with Michael Argyle), Prolegomena to the Psychological Study of Religion (1989), Despair and Deliverance: Private Salvation in Contemporary Israel (1992), The Psychology of Religious Behavior, Belief, and Experience (1997, with Michael Argyle), several edited volumes and numerous journal articles.

Beit-Hallahmi, as a secular student of culture and "progressive" (his own word) citizen of Israel, brought his fundamental concerns to bear on public controversies regarding Israeli policy and Zionism, and published two important books examining their origins and history: The Israeli Connection: Who Israel Arms and Why (1987) and the classic OriginalSins: Reflections on the History of Zionism and Israel (1992; revised American edition 1993), a frank and hardheaded discussion of the permanent Israel/Palestine crisis: "Out of the original sins of the world against the Jews grew the original sins of Zionism against the Palestinians…. The problem is a moral one. Raising the moral question is not a mark of idealism but of realism."

[Drew Silver (2nd ed.)]