Skip to main content

Intellective Identities in the Construction of a Hybrid Discourse: the Case of an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Mathematics Classroom


This paper examines the mechanisms by which students’ cultural background plays an active role in the study of mathematics. It does so with the aid of two main constructs: hybrid discourse and intellective identities. At the center of the article is an analysis of a classroom episode from a preparatory program in which adult ultra-orthodox Jews study high school mathematics for the first time. We show how different cultural resources, among them students’ cultural preference for disagreement, are being used to create a new hybrid discourse of mathematics and the Talmud while discussing the veracity of a mathematical proof. The hybridity can be seen in four characteristics of discourse: routines for endorsement of narratives, interactional routines, authority structure, and purpose of learning. We elaborate on the process by which this hybridity is constructed through students’ positioning actions and the ways in which these positions are supported by students’ intellective identities.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    All names are pseudonyms

  2. 2.

    The first author worked as an instructor in such classrooms for several years, both in the Ultra-Orthodox college and in mainstream university and college settings.


  1. Amit, M., & Fried, M. (2005). Authority and authority relations in mathematics education: A view from an 8th grade classroom. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 58, 145–168.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). The dialogical imagination. Austin: University of Texas Press.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Ben-Zvi, D., & Sfard, A. (2007). Ariadne’s thread, daedalus’ wings and the learners autonomy. Education et didactique, 1(3), 117–134.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Blum-Kulka, S., Blondheim, M., & Hacohen, G. (2002). Traditions of dispute: From negotiations of talmudic texts to the arena of political discourse in the media. Journal of Pragmatics, 34(10–11), 1569–1594.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Briggs, C. L., & Bauman, R. (1992). Genre, intertextuality, and social power. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 2(2), 131–172.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Friedman, M. (1991). The Haredi (ultra-orthodox) society: Sources, trends and processes. Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.

    Google Scholar 

  7. González, N., Andrade, R., Civil, M., & Moll, L. (2001). Bridging funds of distributed knowledge: Creating zones of practices in mathematics. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 6(1–2), 115–132.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Greeno, J. G. (2002). Students with competence, authority, and accountability: Affording intellective identities in classrooms. New York: The College Board.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Gresalfi, M., Martin, T., Hand, V., & Greeno, J. (2009). Constructing competence: An analysis of student participation in the activity systems of mathematics classrooms. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 70(1), 49–70.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Gutiérrez, K. D., Baquedano-López, P., & Tejeda, C. (1999). Rethinking diversity: Hybridity and hybrid language practices in the third space. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 6(4), 286–303.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Gutiérrez, K. D., & Rogoff, B. (2003). Cultural ways of learning: Individual traits or repertoires of practice. Educational Researcher, 32(5), 19–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Harré, R., & van Langenhove, L. (1999). Positioning theory. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Heyd-Metzuyanim, E. (2013). The co-construction of learning difficulties in mathematics—teacher–student interactions and their role in the development of a disabled mathematical identity. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 83(3), 341–368.

  14. Heyd-Metzuyanim, E. (2015). Vicious cycles of identifying and mathematizing: A case study of the development of mathematical failure. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 24(4), 504–549.

  15. Heyd-Metzuyanim, E. (2018). The discursive approach to identity and critical transitions in mathematics learning. In T. Amin & O. Levrini (Eds.), Converging and Complementary Perspectives on Conceptual Change. New York: Routledge. (in press).

  16. Heyd-Metzuyanim, E., & Schwarz, B. B. (2017). Conceptual change within dyadic interactions: the dance of conceptual and material agency. Instructional Science, 45(5), 645–677.

  17. Heyd-Metzuyanim, E., & Sfard, A. (2012). Identity struggles in the mathematics classroom: On learning mathematics as an interplay of mathematizing and identifying. International Journal of Educational Research, 51, 128–145.

  18. Horn, I. S. (2008). Accountable argumentation as a participation structure to support learning through disagreement. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 14, 97–126.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Hiebert, J. C., Stigler, J. W., Jacobs, J. K., Givvin, K. B., Garnier, H., Smith, M., Hollingsworth, H., et al. (2005). Mathematics teaching in the United States today (and tomorrow): Results from the TIMSS 1999 video study. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 27(2), 111–132.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Jurow, A. (2005). Shifting engagements in figured worlds: Middle school mathematics students’ participation in an architectural design project. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 14(1), 35–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Chicago: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  22. Lefstein, A., & Snell, J. (2011). Promises and problems of teaching with popular culture: A linguistic ethnographic analysis of discourse genre mixing in a literacy lesson. Reading Research Quarterly, 46(1), 40–69.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Lichtenstein, A. (1987). Study. In A. Cohen & M.-F. P. (Eds.), Contemporary Jewish religious thought: Original essays on critical concepts, movements, and beliefs (pp. 931–937). New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Ma, J. Y. (2016). Designing disruptions for productive hybridity: The case of walking scale geometry. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 25(3), 335–371.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Nasir, N. S., Hand, V., & Taylor, E. V. (2008). Culture and mathematics in school: Boundaries between “cultural” and “domain” knowledge in the mathematics classroom and beyond. Review of Research in Education, 32(1), 187–240.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Reid, D. A., & Knipping, C. (2010). Proof in mathematics education. Research, learning and teaching. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Riessman, C. K. (1993). Narrative analysis (Vol. 30). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

  28. Schwarz, B. B. (2015). Discussing argumentative texts as a traditional Jewish learning practice. In L. B. Resnick, C. Asterhan, & S. Clarke (Eds.), Socializing intelligence through academic talk and dialogue (pp. 157–166). Washington DC: American Educational Research Association.

  29. Segal, A. (2013). Schooling a minority: The case of Havruta paired learning. Diaspora, Indigenous, and Minority Education, 3(7), 149–163.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Segal, A., & Bekerman, Z. (2009). What is taught in Talmud class: Is it class or is it Talmud? Journal of Jewish Education, 1(75), 19–46.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Sfard, A. (2008). Thinking as communicating: Human development, the growth of discourses, and mathematizing. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  32. Sfard, A. (2007). When the rules of discourse change, but nobody tells you: Making sense of mathematics learning from a commognitive standpoint. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 16(4), 565–613.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Sfard, A., & Lavie, I. (2005). Why cannot children see as the same what grown-ups cannot see as different? — Early numerical thinking revisited. Cognition and Instruction, 23(2), 237–309.

  34. Sfard, A., & Prusak, A. (2005). Telling identities: In search of an analytic tool for investigating learning as a culturally shaped activity. Educational Researcher, 34(4), 14–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors wish to thank Prof. Uri Onn, Prof. Adam Lefstein, Prof. Ted Eisenberg, and Mr. Lior Ehrenfeld for their helpful commentary on different versions of this work.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Einat Heyd-Metzuyanim.

Additional information

Portions of this work were previously published in Ehrenfeld N., Heyd-Metzuyanim E. & Onn U. (2015). Between Mathematics and Talmud – the construction of a hybrid discourse in an ultra-orthodox classroom. In Beswick, K., Muir, T., & Wells, J. (Eds.). Proceedings of 39th Psychology of Mathematics Education conference, Vol. 2, pp. 257–265. Hobart, Australia: PME.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ehrenfeld, N., Heyd-Metzuyanim, E. Intellective Identities in the Construction of a Hybrid Discourse: the Case of an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Mathematics Classroom. Int J of Sci and Math Educ 17, 739–757 (2019).

Download citation


  • Culture
  • Hybrid discourse
  • Intellective identities
  • Positioning
  • Ultra-orthodox Jews