Gabriel Abensour


The term “Masorti” commonly refers to the Mizrahi-Masorti identity that characterizes many Jews of Middle Eastern/North African ancestry.94 We should certainly not downplay the importance of the Masorti-Mizrahi discourse, which retains its primacy with regard to Masorti identity and the consolidation of Masortiyut in Israel. In light of what we have seen above, however, I would like to broaden the scope and acknowledge that, alongside Mizrahi Masortiyut, there is also a secular Masortiyut and a Religious-Zionist Masortiyut. This refers, first of all, to what we saw clearly above. There are many people in Israel who self-identify as belonging to the secular or the Religious-Zionist sector, while at the same time embracing Masorti practices and outlooks. The contention that many members of the secular and Religious-Zionist publics are actually Masorti or become Masorti in the course of their lives is not new.95 However, this is not merely a set of practices related to some level or other of mitzvah observance, but rather a broad worldview in the process of coalescing. Alongside the Mizrahi-Masorti discourse, the secular-Masorti and National-Religious-Masorti discourses have been of decisive importance in Masortiyut’s transcendence of its ethnic boundaries. These are discourses that arise from different cultural spaces but together establish Masorti identities founded on the same principles.

An exploration of the unique roots and heritage of each of these Masorti discourses lies beyond the scope of this study. However, we can generalize and say that the secular-Masorti discourse germinated in Jewish renewal circles such as the college in Oranim and, later, in the Elul and Alma batei midrash (study halls). This is a discourse that aimed to span the continuum between “Tanakh and Palmach” without giving up on either, while also bringing the halutzim (the early Jewish immigrants to Palestine) into the Masorti spectrum.96

The Mizrahi-Masorti discourse emerged among intellectuals and education professionals who wanted to promote the righting of social wrongs from within the Jewish spectrum, and not solely in the framework of secular-Mizrahi political activism. Restoring social capital to Mizrahi Jews was thought to be a means of redressing social ills for Israeli society as a whole. The third discourse, which grew out of the Religious-Zionist matrix, was greatly influenced by the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and by the sense of a religious-secular divide within Israeli society. Although the first goal was to try to build bridges between the sectors, a different discourse soon emerged that underscored the continuity between the various Jewish identities and the ability to compose a different narrative, based on a non-fundamentalist Jewish and Israeli heritage.

These three circles burst into public consciousness simultaneously in the 1990s, at a time when the organizations dealing with Jewish identity and culture in a broader Jewish-Israeli context were proliferating. In the late 1990s the intensive re-examination of the religious-secular rift in Israel following the Rabin assassination led to ongoing dialogue between the different actors. Since the first decade of the 21st century, there has been cooperation at the organizational level as well.97 Panim, the umbrella organization for Jewish renewal in Israel, founded in the late 1990s, includes organizations from the Mizrahi-Masorti, the Religious-Zionist, and the secular Jewish renewal spheres.98 This is true as well of Rashut HaRabim, the Jerusalem network of Israeli-Judaism organizations.99

These organizations see themselves as belonging to the same broad Israeli-Jewish space, and they are regarded as such by the foundations that donate to them. The Honey Foundation for Israel, the Matanel Foundation and (formerly) the New Israel Fund, financed organizations from these three spheres that they identified as belonging to the same new Israeli-Jewish space.

Thus, when we examine the Masorti web of discourse we also find common motifs in the attempts by intellectuals from different schools of thought to formulate an alternative worldview for Israeli society. However, the broadening of the term “Masorti” by declared secular and Religious-Zionist Israelis may be perceived as identity paternalism.100 We should therefore again note that for purposes of this study, “Masorti” is not a noun but rather an adjective that can be coupled with many different particularist identities. This is not to undercut the self-identification of secular or religious Israelis within a given sector, but rather to emphasize that large swaths of these sectors have deliberately embraced a softer sectoral identity while also engaging in open dialogue with Jewish tradition. Those secular Jews who are in dialogue with tradition, and those Religious Zionists who are fed-up with categorical religious nationalism, certainly belong to the new Masorti space that itself belongs to no single sector or ethnic group.