The Role of Judaism
In 1988 two-thirds to three-quarters of Jewish Israelis were
not religious or Orthodox in observance or practice. Among the
minority of the religious who were the most extreme in their adherence
to Judaism--the haredi--the very existence of Israel
as a self-proclaimed Jewish state was anathema because Israel
is for them (ironically, as it is for many Arabs) a wholly illegitimate
entity. Given these facts--the large number of secular Israelis,
and the sometimes fierce denunciation of the state by a small
number of the most religious extremists--one might expect the
traditionalists to play a modest role in Israeli society and culture.
But the opposite is true; traditional Judaism has been playing
a more dominant role since the late 1960s and affecting more of
the political and economic dimensions of everyday life (see Prospects
for Electoral Reform , ch. 4).
The relation between traditionalists and the Jewish state has
always been ambivalent and fraught with paradox. In the nineteenth
century, Zionism often competed with Orthodox Judaism for the
hearts and minds of young Jews, and enmity existed between Orthodox
Jews of Eastern Europe and the Zionists (and those residing in
Palestine in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries).
Orthodox Jews resented the dominantly secular nature of Jewish
nationalism (for example, the desire to turn the holy tongue of
Hebrew into an instrument of everyday discourse), whereas the
Zionists derogated the other-worldly passivity of Orthodox Jews.
Among the most extreme Orthodox Jews, the Zionist movement was
deemed heretical because it sought to "force the End of Days"
and preempt the hand of God in restoring the Jewish people to
their Holy Land before the Messiah's advent.
Nevertheless, for all its secular trappings, Zionism as an ideology
was also profoundly tied to Jewish tradition--as its commitment
to the revival of the Jews' biblical language, and, indeed, its
commitment to settle for nothing less than a Jewish home in biblical
Palestine indicate. Thus, secular Zionism and religious Judaism
are inextricably linked, and hence the conceptual ambivalence
and paradoxes of enmity and attraction.
In any case, conceptual difficulties have been suspended by world
events: the violence of the pogroms in Eastern Europe throughout
the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the Holocaust
carried out by Nazi Germany, in which approximately 6 million
Jews were killed, nearly destroying Central and East European
Jewry in the 1930s and 1940s. In the face of such suffering--and
especially after the magnitude of the Holocaust became known--Orthodox
and non-Orthodox Jews devised ways to work together in Palestine
despite their fundamental differences. When the advent of the
state was followed immediately by invasion and lasting Arab hostility,
this cooperative modus vivendi in the face of a common enemy continued.
The spearheads of cooperation on the Orthodox side were the so-called
religious Zionists, who were able to reconcile their nationalism
with their piety. Following Rabbi A.I. Kook (1865-1935), the first
Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine, many believed that Zionism
and Zionists, however secular, were nonetheless instruments of
God who were engaged in divinely inspired work. On a more pragmatic
level, under leadership such as that of Rabbi I.J. Reines (1839-1915),
the religious, like the secularists, organized in political parties,
such as the Mizrahi Party (see Religious Parties , ch. 4). They
were joined in the political arena by the non-Zionist Orthodox,
organized as the Agudat Israel Party. Although Agudat Israel was
originally opposed to the idea of a Jewish state, it came to accept
the rationale for it in a hostile gentile world (especially after
the Central and East European centers of Orthodoxy were destroyed
in the Holocaust). Because Orthodox Jews, like secularists, were
organized in political parties, from an early date they participated--the
religious Zionists more directly than the religious non-Zionists--
in the central institutions of the Yishuv and, later, the State
of Israel. Indeed, since 1977 and the coming to power of Menachem
Begin's Likud, Orthodox Jews have been increasingly vocal in their
desire not just to participate in but also to shape--reshape,
if need be--the central institutions of Israeli society.
Data as of December 1988