Gabriel Abensour


The Masortim are both Israelis and Jews. This is a near-absolute working assumption, whether we are referring to the Mizrahi-Masorti sector, the secular sector, or the religious sector. But are the Israeli and the Jewish two separate components, or two synonyms? Meir Buzaglo has described the Masorti as someone who distinguishes between the Jewish and the Israeli elements of his identity. His Israeliness plays a central role but does not fully merge with his Jewishness:

Unlike the secular person, the Masorti does not anchor his Jewishness in his Israeliness. For the most part he does not do what secular people commonly do – define themselves in relation to an Israeliness that developed in Israel and give Eretz Israel a significant place in their lives. This does not contradict the tremendous importance that Israeliness can have in the self-definition of Masortim, but Israeliness is not the sole haven of their identity.118

Per this depiction, the Masorti has a clear Jewish identity that manifests in his way of life, his solidarity with other Jewish communities around the world, and his historical and cultural heritage. He also has a clear Israeli identity that manifests in his patriotism, his positive attitude toward the state, and his desire to anchor his life within it. And yet the fact that Israeliness and Jewishness remain separate pillars of his identity keeps his Jewishness from being reduced solely to its national element; it prevents the nationalization of Jewish tradition. Furthermore, if Israeliness exists in its own right, then it does not try to turn Israel into a Jewish state in the restrictive and anti-democratic sense of the term. The most striking manifestation of this is the critical attitude taken by Masortim to the mixing of religion and state, and their desire to preserve the honor of Halacha and the honor of the state separately.

Another feature of the Masorti sector’s moderate nationalism is its attempt to integrate Zionism within the broader Masorti continuum. This effort manifests in a variety of ways, depending on the specific affiliation group. The Mizrahi subsector connects Zionism with Masortiyut by emphasizing the pro-Zionist attitude of Sephardic rabbis and activists, or even by framing the waves of Sephardic migration to Israel from the 16th century on as harbingers of Zionism.119 The secular subsector also embraces this narrative by reinserting the halutzim and the Second Aliyah into a broader Masorti framework that emphasizes the Jewish origins of their rebellion and of their nationalist aspirations.1120

Due to the Masorti sector’s moderate approach to Jewish nationalism, as well as its incorporation of Zionism into the cross-generational and cross-sectoral Jewish spectrum, recent years have witnessed growing interest in the embrace of Masortiyut as a means of reinforcing Israeli mamlachtiyut. The chief spokesman for this trend is Rabbi Shai Piron, who has devoted an entire book to the connection between Masortiyut and mamlachtiyut.121 His main argument is that, just as Masortiyut successfully rises above the religious/secular dichotomy without erasing either side, the new mamlachtiyut needs to establish an Israeli yachad or “togetherness” based on recognition and cultivation of the various particular Israeli identities. Leaders of the Tikkun movement and of the Masorti Union forum have recently joined this endeavor. They also have noted Israeli society’s need for a Masorti language, as well as the necessity of a post-ethnic Israeli language for the continued flourishing of Masortiyut.122