A People who Live Apart: Jewish Identity and the Future of Israel

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Prometheus Books, 2003 - History - 313 pages
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Since its establishment in 1948, the State of Israel has been torn by a deeply rooted conflict between secular and religious Jews. Although this internal culture war has not received the publicity of Israel's violent conflicts with its Arab neighbors, it is every bit as serious. For it concerns the very nature and identity of the Jewish state, and it pits an Orthodox minority who envisions Israel as a religiously conservative theocracy against Jewish secularists who are keen on ensuring that their country becomes a European-style democracy.

Journalist and historian Els van Diggele portrays and analyzes the complexity of this "quiet civil war" through more than sixty interviews with a wide spectrum of religious and secular Jews, as well as lively and penetrating reports of key events that over the past two years have widened the schism.

Among the principal flashpoints between the two segments of society, van Diggele notes the exclusive Orthodox domination in the domains of marriage, divorce, burial, and conversion, as well as the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to rule in religious affairs. Exacerbating the problem, she points out, has been the massive immigration of secular Jews from Russia during the last decade of the 20th century, coupled with the emergence of a powerful Orthodox movement. This rising Orthodox political and religious force often expresses the longstanding resentment of Israel's underprivileged Sephardic population against the traditional Ashkenazi secular leadership. Through interviews with the Ashkenazi chief rabbi, members of the Israeli parliament, and people from the rank and file, such as Yeshiva students and nonkosher butchers, she reveals the intensity of feelings on both sides and the intractable nature of this confrontation between two radically different worldviews.

This nuanced, multifaceted portrait is must reading for anyone who wants to understand the State of Israel and the complexity of tensions in the Middle East.

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About the author (2003)

Els van Diggele, a Dutch citizen, is a freelance journalist and historian who has lived in Israel since 1997.

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