The organization was founded in Katowice (Upper Silesia, now in the southwestern part of Poland), in 1912, as a worldwide movement of Orthodox Jews. It established the Council of Torah Sages as its religious authority on all political matters. Opposed to secular Zionism and the World Zionist Organization (the settlement of Jews in Palestine; a return to Palestine), it consisted of three major groups: German Orthodox followers of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch; the Lithuanian yeshiva (religious school) community; and Polish Hasidic rabbis and their followers—especially the Gur Hasidic group. The major objective was to provide a range of religion-based communal services to strengthen the Orthodox community.
In Palestine, Agudat Israel was established to be independent of the organized Jewish community (the Yishuv). Despite its ideological opposition to secular Zionism, in 1933 it entered into an agreement with the Jewish Agency there (which represented the Yishuv to the British mandate authority), according to which Agudat Israel would receive 6.5 percent of the immigration permits. In 1947, just before Israel's independence, it entered into an even more comprehensive agreement, which has come to be known as the status quo letter. This purported to guarantee basic religious interests in Israel and served to legitimize Agudat Israel's joining the government-in-formation and the initial 1949–1951 government coalition. At this point, it bolted—opposing the government's decision to draft women into the military. In 1977, Agudat Israel supported the Likud-led coalition; it joined Israel's national unity government in 1984 and has since remained part of the government, although it has refused a ministry.
Agudat Israel experienced a number of internal rifts that came to a head in the 1980s and have resulted in the emergence of a group of ultra-Orthodox, or haredi, parties. In 1983, due to long-simmering anger over the absence of Sephardic leadership in the party, the Jerusalem sephardi members of Agudat Israel broke away and established the Sephardi Torah Guardians party, SHAS; it was so successful in the municipal elections in Jerusalem during October 1983 that it ran a national slate of candidates in 1984 and became an impressive force. At the same time, an old conflict between the Hasidic and Lithuanian-type yeshiva elements within Agudat Israel—represented by the Hasidic rabbis of Gur and Vizhnitz, on one side, and the head of the Ponevez yeshiva in B'nei Brak, Rabbi Eliezer Shach, on the other—reached new heights and culminated in the formation of Shach's Degel HaTorah (Torah Flag) party for the 1988 national elections.
Agudat Israel, like the other haredi parties, is generally moderate on foreign-policy issues, including the administered territories; but it is concerned with all matters of domestic policy, those it perceives as affecting religion, in general, and especially its own educational institutions.
see also israel, political parties in.
Don-Yehiya, Eliezer. "Origin and Development of the Aguda and Mafdal Parties." Jerusalem Quarterly 20 (1981): 49–64.
Friedman, Menachem. Dat ve-hevrah. Religion and Society: Non-Zionist Orthodoxy in Eretz Israel, 1918–1936. Jerusalem, 1977.
Fund, Yosef. "Agudat Israel Confronting Zionism and the State of Israel—Theology and Policy." Ph.D. diss., Bar-Ilan University, 1989 (Hebrew with English summary).
Greilsammer, Ilan. "The Religious Parties." In Israel's Odd Couple: The 1984 Knesset Elections and the National Unity Government, edited by Daniel J. Elazar and Shmuel Sandler. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1990.
Chaim I. Waxman
"Agudat Israel." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/agudat-israel
"Agudat Israel." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . Retrieved July 22, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/agudat-israel
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"Agudat Israel." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/agudat-israel
"Agudat Israel." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved July 22, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/agudat-israel