Ultra-Orthodox Break From Tradition

By Anthony Weiss

Published November 28, 2007, issue of November 30, 2007.

An ultra-Orthodox umbrella organization spoke out at its annual conference against the division of Jerusalem, marking the first time that the traditionally non-Zionist body has taken a public stance on the peace process.

Agudath Israel of America has traditionally steered clear of matters involving Israeli sovereignty, on the grounds that a true Jewish homeland can be established only by the coming of the messiah. At its national convention last week, however, Agudath Israel passed a resolution stating that Israel should not surrender any part of Jerusalem to Palestinian sovereignty and that America’s government should not pressure it into doing so.

The conference came a few days before the Annapolis, Md., peace talks. The Monday before the talks, an Agudath Israel official met with high-ranking members of the Bush administration to press the case.

Rabbi David Zwiebel, Agudath Israel’s executive vice president of government and public affairs, acknowledged that it is unusual for Agudath Israel to speak out on matters relating to the peace process. But he explained, “The issue of Jerusalem is one that is sui generis: It stands on its own. It is the heart of Eretz Yisrael.”

Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel, told the Forward that the resolution passed by acclaim with no objections. The unanimity suggests that the issue of Jerusalem may pull groups into the debate over the peace process that have traditionally steered clear of these matters.

The stance also could be an important signal of the political tides in Israel. Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the head of Agudath Israel of America, told the convention that he had consulted with the leading Agudath Israel rabbis in Israel and they had urged him to speak out on the matter. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox political parties — United Torah Judaism and Shas — have traditionally been flexible on territorial matters in exchange for domestic funding, but that may not hold true for Jerusalem.



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