The Orthodox and Secular

Israel Table of Contents

As has been seen, Israeli Judaism in the late 1980s exerted its influence on society through a complex interplay of ethnicity, halakah, and political and ideological ferment--as well as through the notions of Israeli Jewish citizenship, nationality, security, and sovereignty. In part because of the institutionalization of the status quo arrangements of the late 1940s and early 1950s, in part because of the disproportionate power available to small (religious) political parties in the Israeli parliamentary system, traditional Judaism both pervades and structures much of everyday life. Because many of the Orthodox of various persuasions view the status quo as the baseline from which to advance, they are accused by many secular Israelis of trying to impose additional cultural controls and religious structures. As an example of Orthodox pressures, when Begin formed his first coalition government in 1977, the religious parties took advantage of this change in the political status quo to push for changes in the religious status quo as well. Thirty-five of the forty-three clauses in the 1977 multiparty coalition agreement submitted to the Knesset dealt with religious questions.

Since the early 1970s, neo-Orthodox youths have been more assertive and less defensive in their religious observance--a charge leveled against their elders in the 1950s and 1960s. The "knitted skullcap generation" of the post-June 1967 War era has in some ways replaced the Labor Zionist kibbutzniks of a former era as the pioneering vanguard of Israeli society. Meanwhile, the ultra-Orthodox in 1988 were as willing as ever to challenge secular authorities, on the streets and with violence if need be, to protect their prerogatives and to preserve the special character of their enclave communities.

The results of these trends have been twofold: a growing traditionalization of Israeli society in terms of religion, and the sharpening of conflict between the extremist Orthodox and their sympathizers and the secularists who oppose the Orthodox Jews and their agendas. Despite the sharp rift, a sort of modus vivendi has emerged, which is what the status quo agreements intended. But the status quo itself has not been stable or stagnant; on the contrary it has been dynamic, gradually shifting toward religion.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress