||Periodical by the Agudat Israel youth group of Zurich. 7 Jahrg., Heft 3 (Dezember 1944). Agudat Israel, world Jewish movement and political party seeking to preserve Orthodoxy by adherence to halakhah as the principle governing Jewish life and society. Its geographical and linguistic orientation made it automatically a purely Ashkenazi movement. Agudat Israel was constituted of three groups reflecting German neo-Orthodoxy, Hungarian Orthodoxy, and the Orthodox Jewries in Poland and Lithuania. These differed in political and social outlook, and in their opinions on cultural and organizational matters. A major divergence was the attitude to general European culture, society, and mores, which German Orthodoxy accepted. They also disagreed about whether to remain part of the main Jewish communal unit or to form separate Orthodox communities, and whether Jews should adopt the language of the state or adhere to Yiddish. Their attitude toward Zionism was also a moot point. Branches of Agudat Israel were established throughout the Ashkenazi world.
Within its ranks, Agudat Israel presented a spectrum of the attitudes which had influenced its creation. Particularly acute was the question of secular education. In regard to Zionism, Agudat Israel was created partly by groups who consistently opposed any attempt to revive Jewish nationhood in Erez Israel through human agency. The secularist elements in the nascent Hebrew culture added to Agudist resentment of Zionism. The zaddikim of Eastern Europe (Hasidism) regarded the influence of Zionism on the youth, and its negative revolutionary view of Diaspora existence as religiously and socially destructive. Agudat Israel, therefore, maintained an ambivalent attitude toward renewed settlement in Erez Israel, mainly because of its opposition to the Zionist movement. The Agudists resented the cooperation of religious with non-religious Jews within the Zionist movement on the basis of national unity, and unequivocally resisted the creation of a secular Jewish society in the Holy Land. Most Agudists considered that the way of life and culture gradually taking shape in the modern settlements in Erez Israel, and propagated by Zionist educational and cultural activities, were subverting and destroying the only true Jewish way of life, upheld by religious families and communities in the Diaspora. The revival of Hebrew as a secular language seemed a sacrilege.
However, there emerged an opinion which after the Holocaust apparently became the ideological basis of the organization in Israel. Erez Israel should figure at the center of their program, which should, according to the Agudist leader Isaac Breuer, aim at "uniting all the people of Israel under the rule of the Torah, in all aspects of political, economic and spiritual life of the People of Israel in the Land of Israel."
The constituents of Agudat Israel were united in their aim to reestablish the authority of the prominent rabbis as the supreme institution of Jewry. This was a basic ideal, even if views were divided on the qualifications for leadership. German members considered secular academic qualifications acceptable, while Eastern European members demanded exclusively rabbinical qualifications. However, the agreement on the overall objective, to give expression to rabbinical authority on all matters, was reflected in the structure and central institutions of the new party, providing them with a unique pattern. The Agudat Israel central institutions as eventually established are, in order of formal importance:
(1) The Mo'ezet Gedolei ha-Torah ("Council of Torah Sages") all halakhic authorities, chosen on the basis of preeminence in talmudic learning. There are no defined criteria whereby its members are appointed. The number of members of the council is not predetermined. The council ensures, at least. in theory, that no activity will be undertaken by Agudat Israel without the consent of representatives of halakhic authority. The decisions of the Council of Torah Sages are accepted as legal verdicts, and the details of their consultations are secret.
(2) Kenesiyyah ha-Gedolah ("Great Assembly"), "the highest (political) authority of the association," is composed of representatives of the local branches of Agudat Israel. Each two hundred members may elect a representative to the Great Assembly. The first two Great Assemblies were held in Vienna in 1923 and 1929.
(3) Central World Council, or Presidium, is elected by the Great Assembly.
(4) The World Executive Committee.
Before World War II the strongest numerically and most active politically of the branches of Agudat Israel was in Poland. Its local political aims and strength were reflected in the Jewish representation in the Polish Sejm (parliament) and the Agudist achievements in the elections. In 1919 Agudat Israel presented an independent slate, obtaining 92,293 votes, and returning two deputies to the Sejm. In 1922 it joined the "Minorities bloc" with the Zionists, returning six deputies (to the Sejm) and two senators.
After the rise to power of the Nazis in Germany the policy of Agudat Israel to Zionist settlement in Palestine changed fundamentally. The third Great Assembly, held at Marienbad in September 1937, was influenced by the pressure of political events in Palestine and the Diaspora. It discussed anew its attitude toward the eventual creation of a Jewish state and cooperation with the Zionists. Ideologically the strict stand prevailed: "A Jewish State can only be founded on the law of the Torah being recognized according to the Torah. A Jewish State not founded on and governed by Torah principles... cannot possibly call itself a Jewish state." But Agudat Israel took part in the St. James Palace Conference convened by the British government early in 1939. The Agudists coordinated their policies there with those of the Zionist Organization.
The numerical strength of Agudat Israel was seriously impaired by the Holocaust. By the end of World War II the movement in Eastern Europe was all but annihilated. Most of its members were living in Erez Israel, although some eventually emigrated to the United States and Western Europe. At the meeting of the Central World Council at Marienbad in August 1947, three centers for the movement were established: in Jerusalem, New York, and London. Agudat Israel cooperated with the Zionist Organization in extending help to Diaspora Jewry. In practice it completely identified itself with the Zionist demand for the establishment of a Jewish state. Faithful to its basic principles, Agudat Israel, nevertheless, hesitated to recognize a secular Jewish state. However, on the strength of assurances given in a letter from the Jewish Agency in June 1947 that the status quo in matters of religion would be observed, Agudat Israel was prepared to join the provisional council of the State of Israel.