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Agudat Yisrael
אגודת ישראל
Leader Ya'akov Litzman
Founded 1912 (in Poland)
Newspaper Hamodia
Ideology Ultra-orthodox interest
Alliances United Religious Front (1949-51)
Religious Torah Front (1955-60, 1973-77)
United Torah Judaism (current)
Most MKs 5 (1988)
Fewest MKs 2 (1984)
Current MKs 3 (2009, as part of UTJ)
Election symbol
ג
Politics of Israel
Political parties
Elections

Agudat Yisrael (Hebrew: אגודת ישראל‎, lit. Union of Israel, also transliterated Agudath Israel, or Agudas Yisroel) began as the original political party representing the ultra-Orthodox population of Israel. It was the umbrella party for almost all ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel, and before that in the British Mandate of Palestine. It originated in the original Agudath Israel movement founded in Europe in the early part of the twentieth century.

Contents

History

In the 1980s Rabbi Elazar Shach, leader of Israel's "Lithuanian" Haredi Jews and its pre-eminent rosh yeshiva ("yeshiva dean") at the time, split with Agudat Israel and created the new Degel HaTorah ("Flag [of] Torah") party, that was controlled by Lithuanian-style Haredi leaders as opposed to the Hasidic leaders who controlled Agudat Israel. Rabbi Shach later assisted Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef in splitting from Agudath Israel and creating a Sephardic Haredi party known as Shas. Agudath Israel and Degel HaTorah have not always agreed with each other about policy matters; however, over the years the two parties have co-operated and united as a voting bloc in order to win the maximum amount of seats in the Knesset since many extra votes can be wasted if certain thresholds are not attained under Israel's proportional representation parliamentary system. The two parties chose to function and be listed under the name of United Torah Judaism (Yahadut HaTorah).

When both parties joined the government coalition of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004 the UTJ union was broken due to rivalries. For the Israel legislative election, 2006 Agudat Israel and Degel HaTorah have once again put their differences aside and have officially revived their United Torah Judaism alliance in order to win the maximum amount of seats in the 17th Knesset.

Though Agudat Yisrael has never elected more than a handful of members in the Knesset, it has often played crucial roles in the formation of Israel's coalition governments because Israel's system of proportional representation allows small parties to wield the balance of power between the larger secular parties. This political leverage has been used to obtain funding for yeshivas and community institutions and to pass legislation regarding observance of the Shabbat and kosher ("dietary") laws, often to the consternation of secular Israelis.

Religious and political leadership

Political power is presently vested in the Hasidic rebbes of Ger, Vizhnitz and Belz.

In addition, policy decisions of Agudat Israel are ratified by its Council of Torah Sages which includes several other prominent Hasidic leaders and scholars, many being the leading rabbis from the main constituent groups. When participating in government coalitions, the party generally refrains from accepting actual cabinet posts. Its positions on Israeli foreign policy and the Palestinian question has been flexible in the past since the party formally rejects political secular Zionism and does not view such issues ideologically. Therefore, it has been able to participate in both Likud and Labour led coalitions. In more recent years it has become more sympathetic to the settler movement in the West Bank and thus more security conscious on military issues affecting Israel's survival. Agudat Israel supported Ariel Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan of 2005.

In 1948, Rabbi Yehuda Meir Abramowicz was appointed as General Secretary.

Rabbi Meir Porush, as well as Yaakov Litzman, and Yisrael Eichler, from the Hasidic courts of Ger and Belz have represented the party in Israel's Knesset recently. Another longtime Agudat MK is Rabbi Shmuel Halpert, a member of the court of Vizhnitz.

See also

External links

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