Israel’s Ultra-Orthodoxy


Ultra-Orthodoxy was born in Europe in the end of the 18th century as a conservative reaction to demands within the Jewish world for religious adaptations in light of modernization and secularization. Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Jews therefore view themselves as strictly bound by traditional Jewish law and to their rabbis as authoritative interpreters, even concerning topics which are not clearly halachic1 The adjectival form of Halacha, the Hebrew term for Jewish law. Most visible is its three-way societal split, with two longstanding Ashkenazi2 Jews of European origin currents — Lithuanian and Hassidic — and a more recent Sephardic3 Jews from Islamic countriesone. These three similarly sized sub-communities have distinct social structures, political parties, rabbinic hierarchies, religious traditions and sartorial customs. They comprise 12 percent of the Israeli population.

Conflict Resolution Challenges

Core narratives

True Judaism should withdraw from the modern world, build communities in light of the values and practices of the Torah and pursue proximity to G-d. The attitude toward the state of Israel should be formed based on its policies toward authentic Judaism – as expressed through Ultra-Orthodox interpretations of Judaism, in particular its support for Torah study and its approval of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism in the state’s religious institutions.

Primary Legal System

Halacha as ruled by Ultra-Orthodox rabbinic authorities.

Desirable Trajectory

Based on an a-historic view, the desirable future is one preserving purportedly authentic Judaism, primarily in mostly-closed communities.

Prominent Stakeholders

The Lithuanian Degel HaTora party and the Hassidic Agudat HaTora party form together United Torah Judaism; Shas is the traditional Sephardic party; senior-most ultra-Orthodox rabbinic authorities are paramount (currently primarily Rabbi Haim Kanyevski, Rabbi Gershon Edelstein and Rabbi Shalom Cohen).


The Ultra-Orthodox is right-leaning yet the seminal Ultra-Orthodox rulings are politically moderate. First, regarding territory, Sephardic Ultra-Orthodoxy deems the sanctity of Jewish life as supreme to the value of maintaining political rule over the entire Land of Israel. It therefore allows for territorial compromise to the extent that Israeli security and military experts deem such concessions as reducing the risk for loss of Jewish life. Ashkenazi Ultra-Orthodoxy shares the same halachic view and habitually complements it with an injunction “not to anger the nations of the world”. Second, regarding the Temple Mount, the site of the al-Aqsa Mosque and hence a scene of Jewish-Muslim and Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jewish visits to the site are entirely rejected because of its great sanctity and the impurity of all Jews nowadays due to contact with the dead (tum’at met). There is, therefore, considerable co-incidental overlap between the liberal logic of peacemaking and the illiberal logic of Jewish Ultra-Orthodoxy.

Meet Dov: Ultra Orthodoxy Worldview

Dov: on the Conflict