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Agudat Israel

Agudat Israel is a political party founded in 1912 in Poland. It was intended to be a political tool to preserve the ultra-Orthodox way of life as a buffer against modern Zionism and defend/promote Halakha (Jewish law).

When Zionism emerged in the late 19th century, most rabbis in central Europe violently opposed it, mainly because it accepted Western culture. The decision to establish a secular nationalist educational program was taken during the first Zionist Congresses and gathered the Orthodox community around the Agudat. This community considered that the national dream could not replace the religious ideal.

Agudath Israel began operating in the Land of Israel in 1918, and its members were mainly from the Old Yishuv.

In Jerusalem, it emerged against the establishment of the Chief Rabbinate and the appointment of Rabbi Kook as the Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem (1919). The party opposed cooperation with Zionists and secular institutions. A specific network of rabbinical courts, independent of the Chief Rabbinate, is negotiated with the British Authority, under the direction of Rabbi Sonnenfeld.

The political conflict between the Agudat and the Zionist Yishuv became increasingly acute. One of the local Agudat leaders (Jacob Israel De Haan) advocated so strongly for an alliance with the Arabs against the Zionists that he was assassinated by the Haganah in 1924. It is considered the first political murder in modern Israel.

After the Holocaust and the decision to establish the State of Israel, Agudat Israel took a more positive approach to the state. This was in the hope that it would follow the Torah's path and with the aspiration to influence its character.

With the outbreak of the War of Independence, the Agudath Israel Center in Jerusalem called on all the young ultra-Orthodox men in the city to enlist for the war as part of the General Command (after the establishment of ultra-Orthodox brigades, and after religious requirements in the army camps were guaranteed).

In 1947, Agudath Israel's leaders received a letter from David Ben-Gurion (known as the "status quo letter"), in which the fundamental lines of the religious "status quo" in the State of Israel were determined.

After World War II, its center moved to the Land of Israel, and even partially cooperated with the national institutions.

Party members sat in Yishuv institutions (the People's Council and the Provisional State Council). After the first elections, Agudat Israel contested as part of the "United Religious Front", along with Hapoel HaMizrachi, HaMizrahi, and Poalei Agudat Israel. A party minister, Yitzhak Meir Levin, served in the first government, until 1952.

In the elections to the third (1955), fourth (1959), and eighth (1973) Knesset, the party ran as part of the "Torah Religious Front" ("Hazit Datit Toratit").

In 1984, the Shas party was established, representing the Mizrahi ultra-orthodox who felt left out by the Ashkenazi ultra-orthodox. At its beginnings, Shas enjoyed the support of Lithuanian leader Rabbi Shech despite being a part of Agudat Israel. In 1988, Rabbi Shech left the Agudat to found the Lithuanian party Degel HaTorah.

Since 1992, the party has united with Degel Hatorah ("Torah Flag") to form another coalition called Yahadut Hatorah, to maximize Ashkenazi Haredi representation in the Knesset.

The party fights for the interests and worldviews of the ultra-orthodox public. Among other things, it fought against the recruitment of religious girls and Yeshiva students into the IDF, initiated the "Torahto Umunato" order (a word describing a person whose only occupation is studying in a yeshiva), and worked to preserve the State's Jewish identity.

Over the years, Agudat Israel has been a key player in Israeli politics, negotiating and maneuvering to secure benefits and concessions for the Haredi population. It has been known for its ability to form alliances and coalitions with other parties to achieve its goals.



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