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Secularism, Education, and Emotions

Cultural Tensions in Hebrew Palestine (1882–1926)

Yair Seltenreich

Secularism, Education, and Emotions: Cultural Tensions in Hebrew Palestine (1882–1926) aims to explore the sources of secularism, its social and emotional significances, its various expressions, and its thorny frictions with different religious environments during the first decades of modern settlement of Jews in Eretz-Israel (Palestine). Accordingly, this book develops four main concepts about secularism in Eretz-Israel: (1) Secularism was, in large part, a reaction against religion; (2) Secularism was not an isolated local occurrence but rather a product of the wider European cultural stage, influenced by ideas of contestation against religious dominance and nascent nationalism; (3) Secularism was essentially an emotional phenomenon in Europe and in Eretz-Israel likewise; (4) In the struggle between religious and secularists in Eretz-Israel, education occupied a major place as the main vehicle for the promotion of ideas.
Utilizing these four main concepts, Yair Seltenreich analyzes the general European frameworks of secularism. His studies illuminate secularist features within European Jewry and its subsequent translation into the Zionist movement and the Eretz-Israeli arena. Lastly, he examines the specific struggles between religious and secularist teachers in Galilee, where the culmination of tensions and of emotional expression allows a deeper understanding of secularism as a cultural issue.
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Chapter Eleven: Religious struggles in the moshavot



Religious struggles in the moshavot

Towards struggle

When responsibility for the moshavot schools was transferred from JCA to the CE a new era began. The privileged autonomous position Hamizrahi has earned inside the CE fortified the self-assurance of its leaders and their aspirations for more influence in educational domain in Eretz-Israel. Hamizrahi, it should be recalled, was a small but well organized political movement, which aspired to influence Zionism from within and bring New Hebrew society back to its traditional religious origins. That idea put Hamizrahi at odds with the conservative local orthodoxy in Eretz-Israel, which preferred as little contact as possible with secular Zionist circles, fearing its potential effect on masses of common believers. Hamizrahi, for his part, has well understood that the issue of influence was double-edged as traditional Jews could be tempted by the glamor of secularism. Yet it was ascertained that a great number of secularists retained nostalgic attachment to religion, many of them with latent guilt feelings. Hamizrahi leaders believed that many individuals inside this huge New Hebrew mass, still in unsure position between the religious and the secular cultural options, could be pulled back to the straight old traditional road. The best strategy to achieve this cultural revision was through education. Sending their children to schools of Hamizrahi educational current could give parents a feeling that they exposed them simultaneously to modern and ← 191 | 192 → traditional values, and thus allowing them either to choose for themselves...

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