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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 Five: Yishuv secularism

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CHAPTER FIVE

Yishuv secularism

Settlement and secularism in Eretz-Israel

During Ottoman period, and particularly since the end of the eighteenth century, there was a constant presence of strictly orthodox Jews, both Sephardi and Ashkenazi, who stayed mainly in Jerusalem. Towards the end of the Nineteenth century they numbered about sixty thousand and named themselves Old Yishuv, meaning: old settlement,1 in contradiction with the new wave of nationalist immigrants, many of them secularists, the New Yishuv (or, simply, the Yishuv). Considered as spiritual representatives of the whole Jewish world, most of Old Yishuv orthodox concentrated on sacred learning and were financed by contributions of diaspora Jews. This particular economic structure, considered sheer idleness by New Yishuv secularists, became a principal target for their criticism. The interactions of orthodox and secularists in Eretz-Israel differed from those that existed in Eastern European diaspora, where most Jewish communities existed in relatively small localities, and those who were attired to secularism tended to migrate and socially mix with non-Jewish societies. In Eretz-Israel the waves of immigration brought to urban centers—Jerusalem was the most obvious example—an active secular population, which by its mere presence became a menace to the existing orthodox communal life. ← 87 | 88 →

Like European Jewish orthodox environments in Europe, Old Yishuv orthodox had definite negative view of New Yishuv secularists, which they considered as denied of any spiritual sentiment and interested by material and worldly attractions only. This consideration remained too superficial,...

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