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35 2 Yeshiva Fundamentalism in Israel’s Haredi Community The study of the Torah is greater than the daily sacrifices of the Temple. —Babylonian Talmud, Megilah 3b The Haredi Community in Israel The Haredi community in Israel today comprises between 6 and 10 percent of the country’s population (Berman 2000; Dahan 1998). There are two main Haredi centers: the Mea She’arim neighborhood in Jerusalem, and Bnei Brak in central Israel. Because the capacity of such neighborhoods is limited and the cost of living is relatively high for Haredi families , Haredi quarters were built in development towns like Ashdod, Nathanya , and Beit Shemesh (Shilhav 1998, 6). The dispersal of the Haredi population then led to the construction of more towns and suburbs especially designed for Haredim, such as Modiin Ilit, Beitar Ilit, and Elad. These towns contain all the services necessary for community life: yeshivas , synagogues, kosher food groceries, ritual bath services (mikve), bookstores , and Sabbath arrangements. In these towns, Haredim are involved at all levels of management, planning, and maintaining the city (Shilhav 1998, 7). Menachem Friedman (1991) characterized Haredim as belonging to the east European Jewish tradition and strictly observing Halakha, the corpus of legal codification. They are required to study the Torah, to take an anti-Zionist stand, and to proclaim a collective trauma resulting from the choice of numerous Jews—the majority of Jewish society, in fact—to leave the traditional life in favor of other options. Although unified by their Stadler TXT 35 9/30/08 1:12:57 PM 36 Fundamentalism in Israel’s Haredi Community adherence to the strictest version of Jewish law, Haredi members are not monolithic but are divided into sects, communities, and movements that struggle over power, authority, and resources. In Israel, the historical split (during the eighteenth century in eastern Europe) between the Hassidim and those who opposed them (the Mitnagdim) has been blurred, and in the modern state, different new boundaries between the groups have been erected. Whereas Friedman (1991) divided the Ashkenazi Haredim in Israel into four groups—Lithuanians, Polish Hassidim, Hungarians, and Jerusalemites—Caplan (2007) asserts that today the Haredi community is mostly divided into the Ashkenazi Haredim, of European or American descent, and the Sephardic Haredim, of Asian or North African descent . This division is marked by separate political parties and educational systems which protect the ethnic-cultural division (see Lehmann and Siebzehner 2006). My analysis of the yeshiva world is based on the Ashkenazi Lithuanian sector of this group. The history of the Sephardic Haredi yeshivas is related to what Lehmann and Siebzehner (2006, 79) call “the machinery of ‘Tshuva,’” or the return to Judaism, which has been widely discussed in the literature (see e.g., Caplan 2001, 369). In contrast, the Lithuanian sector has several distinguishing characteristics, of which politics is central. Since the establishment of the Israeli state, the Haredi Ashkenazi sector has been represented by the Agudat Israel (Union of Israel) Party, established in 1912, and the Degel Hatorah (Flag of Torah) faction, today known as Yahadut Hatora Hameuhedet (United Torah Judaism). This Haredi party is under the auspices of the rabbinical elite and has consistently sought to ensure that yeshiva students would be able to continue studying after they reached the age of eighteen, that they would be exempted from military service, and that the government would increase funding for the Haredi educational system and other institutions as well as increasing welfare stipends for large families. In the 1998 elections the Agudat Israel Party added three to the number of its seats in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), out of a total of 120, reflecting a dramatic rise in the Haredi parties’ political power. This growth was due to their increasingly nationalistic orientation and the muting of their opposition to Zionism and the Zionist state (see also Liebman 1993, 72). Together with other fundamentalist parties, especially the National Religious Party, the Agudat Israel Party’s influence on Israeli culture and public policy has expanded since the 1967 War and especially after 1977 with the election of a right-wing government that overturned Stadler TXT 36 9/30/08 1:12:57 PM Fundamentalism in Israel’s Haredi Community 37 almost thirty years of Labor rule and again with the fundamentalist parties ’ support of the Oslo accords in 1992 (Horowitz 2002, 11). The Haredi public usually leans to the right politically and takes a hawkish position toward the Arab–Israeli conflict. This position is part of a general reaction in...


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