Religious-Zionist Israelis
Religious-Zionist IsraelisIsrael news photo: file

A new study on the religious-Zionist community in Israel has found growing ideological diversity as the community grows, and has named three groups in particular as central to the movement as a whole. The study was conducted by Dr. Yitzchak Geiger, an expert in the field.

In Israel's first years, the religious-Zionist community was relatively uniform, Geiger said. “There were fewer groups within the religious community, because the religious community was much smaller,” he explained.

Over the past 50 years, however, there have been major changes. Among the largest is the move by a previously peripheral group to grab center stage.

“These are the 'Torani' Zionists. This group existed from the time that the religious-Zionist community came into being, but in the past decades has grown stronger. Today we can say with certainty that it is among the strongest streams in the religious-Zionist world,” he said.

The “Torani” stream, which is distinguished by its more stringent approach to religious observance than some other streams, is sometimes inaccurately referred to as “hareidi-nationalist,” said Geiger. “This name does not fit them, because that is not how they identify themselves, they do not see themselves as hareidi,” he said. There is a separate “hareidi-Zionist” stream, he added.

Another one of the three central subsects in the religious-Zionist world is the more liberal urban orthodox, said Geiger. This group is similar to the “Torani” group and often sends its children to Torani schools, but teaches a more liberal approach at home, he said. As an example of this group's views he said, “When it comes to feminism, they are for equality, but have a problem with complete equality in the synagogue.”

The third major group is the Modern Orthodox sect, which rejects the vision of the return to the entire land of Israel as a crucial step in Israel's redemption as put forth by the Merkaz Harav school of thought, and does not believe Israel must maintain a presence in as much of the land as possible.

Instead, this group seeks to find as much common ground as possible with the general Israeli public, leading it to push the boundaries of traditional Jewish law and to seek room for modern liberal values, said Geiger.

Geiger also named five smaller subsects of the religious-Zionist world, which he said are peripheral, with less influence than the first three. Among these are: “religious lite,” made up of those who choose not to observe Jewish law in its entirety, “sociological-religious,” made up of those who identify as religious Zionist Jews for the sake of the community and not out of religious faith, the “spiritual fringe” with new-Age tendencies, which sees religion as a personal spiritual experience more than a communal one, a core group of Sephardi Jews who reject general religious-Zionist culture in favor of unique Sephardi culture, and “hareidi Zionists,” who unlike Torani Zionists reject some tenants of religious-Zionist philosophy and have taken a somewhat hostile approach to the state of Israel since the Disengagement.

When asked what unites the eight groups he named, Geiger explained, “Objectively, they marry each other, and their behavior and style of dress are similar; subjectively, if you ask them which sector of society they belong to most will say they belong to the religious-Zionist community.”