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v2.1 Reference

Tradition and Politics

The Religious Parties of Israel

Tradition and Politics is the first authoritative study of the religious parties of Israel. The author traces the religious parties of the modern state of Israel from their origins in Europe early in the twentieth century, in response and in reaction to the rise of Zionism, and their transplantation to Palestine, their adaptation to the new realities, their participation in the quasi-government of the Jewish community under the British mandate, and their unfolding roles after independence.

In his study, Dr. Schiff examines a subject which has long fascinated and perplexed observers of the Israeli scene: the existence of four separate and distinct religious political parties within the Israeli political spectrum. Each party claims to be the one exponent of traditional Judaism; each demonstrates a distinctive political personality based on its historical development and ideological perspective.

Religious (traditionalist) parties emerge in reaction to the pressures and predicaments of modernization and help to legitimize modernizing states in the eyes of traditional sectors of the public. Schiff finds the key to the uniqueness of the Israeli parties to be their divergent attitudes toward the relationship between tradition and modernity.

After following the labyrinthine histories of Israel's religious parties in both pre-state and post-independence eras, Schiff turns his attention to a number of key religious and state institutions: the Ministry of Religions, the chief rabbinate, and the separate religious school systems, and to some of the controversial issues which have racked Israeli society-for example, the question of "Who is a Jew?" and the controversy over Sabbath legislation. He concludes with an analysis of the special significance of the religious parties in the Israeli political system.

About the Author

Gary S. Schiff is Director of Middle East Affairs, National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, and visiting assistant professor of political science at Yeshiva University. He received the Ph.D. in political science at The City College, City University of New York, and he is the author of many articles and book reviews.

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