Gabriel Abensour


During the early decades of Israeli statehood, the Masortim were regarded as a residual category destined to be absorbed by the religious and secular publics. In recent decades, however, they have become the sector of greatest utility to all of Israel’s political camps, which try, through them, to increase their numbers and their power. Religious-Zionist political activists are trying to build a broad “believers’ camp,” ideally based on a Religious-Zionist leadership and a Masorti electorate.75

The Haredi parties, including Degel HaTorah, also frequently claim to protect the Masorti public, even justifying their alliance with the Likud as an alliance with, and for, the “Masortim.”76 The liberal camp also, and rightly, emphasizes the secularized way of life of most Masortim, their principled support for freedom of conscience, and their opposition to religious coercion, as common ground.77

Through the Masortim, the liberal camp dreams of restoring mamlachtiyut – what might be termed “statism with civic consciousness” – and of eradicating religious extremism.78
The data we have analyzed above paint a more complex picture that accords neither with the conservative nor with the liberal claims to ownership. It is doubtful, for instance, whether Masorti views on religion-and-state issues – on conversion, on Halacha and the Chief Rabbinate, or on freedom from religious coercion – can coexist with those of the Haredi or Hardal (“National Haredi”) publics. Furthermore, despite the Masorti public’s opposition to religious coercion and its tolerance of non-Orthodox groups, the centrality of Jewish identity to Masortim, as well as their respectful approach to their heritage, differentiate them from the liberal-secular public.

Masortim are not a collection of individuals waiting for conceptualization and formulation so that they can find their political, cultural, or social home. They have clear and principled views on an array of Jewish and democratic topics. They are a public that strongly believes in Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. In Masorti Israel, not only are the Jewish and democratic components necessary to each other, but Judaism is regarded as a matter of culture and heritage, not as a religious category. Democracy is Israel’s undisputed political system, and always takes precedence when it clashes with religious opinions and beliefs. At the same time, the Masortim are an essentially pluralistic group that opposes coercion of any kind and supports freedom of, and from, religion, for the secular and the ultra-Orthodox alike. Masorti pluralism is not declarative-philosophical, but rather existential-practical, and manifests particularly in conflict situations. In such instances, Masortim prefer pragmatic compromise between the opposing parties to principled and unequivocal positions.

Incidentally, the data also indicate a multiplicity of opinions on several basic issues. These opinions go far toward debunking the stereotype of the Masortim as an ethnic, cultural, and political monolith. We have seen, in regard to the Nation-State Law and the idea of adding an equality provision to it, that the Masortim are deeply divided between those who think the state’s Jewish character should be reinforced, and those who support adding the equality provision. Regarding attitudes toward Halacha and the non-Orthodox streams, we have again seen that a significant proportion of Masortim support freedom of religion for these streams, and even identify with some of their appeals to update Halacha. Another segment of the Masorti population embraces more conservative views and is closer to the Orthodox camp. Finally, we have seen that the Masortim are divided regarding the dominant component of their identity (Jewish or Israeli), and regarding the sense that a proper balance does nor does not exist between the Jewish and democratic components of the state.

These are notable examples of issues that elicit foreseeable responses by Israeli sectors. Secular Jews describe themselves as Israelis first and oppose the Orthodox monopoly in matters of religion and state. Datiim and Haredim, by contrast, emphasize the Jewish element of their identity and aspire to strengthen the country’s religious-Jewish character. The exceptional diversity of Masorti views on these issues highlights the fact that for Masortim, Masortiyut is, first and foremost, a kind of meta-identity that connects with other particularist identities.