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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 Eight: The struggle for preservation of religious education



The struggle for preservation of religious education

The Rabbis Journey

An extraordinary event that took place at the end of 1913 is clearly illustrative of the preoccupations which developed within the orthodox Jewish community in Eretz-Israel, the Old Yishuv, towards the mounting power of secular Judaism brought by the New Yishuv immigrants, mostly Zionist. Eight leading rabbis of Old Yishuv undertook a journey of about a month1 to twenty six moshavot in northern Eretz-Israel most of them in remote Galilee. The group included Rabbi Avraham Kook, at that time rabbi of Jaffa, who conceived the idea of the journey, Rabbi Yosef Haim Sonnenfeld, leader of orthodox Jews in Jerusalem with his son and some other leading rabbis of the Jerusalem community, rabbis of holy cities of Tiberias and Safed and the rabbi of Haifa.2 The religious situation in the moshavot has worried leading rabbis for several years already. At 1912 rabbi Kook sent an itinerant rabbi, Ben Zion Yadler, to regularly tour the moshavot and other Jewish settlements. During his voyages Yadler noticed growing lack of religious enthusiasm which needed to be reinvigorated, and sensed that the presence of the most notorious rabbis of Eretz-Israel was much needed as it could ‘penetrate the thick shell of peasants’ hearts and revive respectability [towards religion] even at the souls of lost brothers which, due to the circumstances of the time, have burned the bridges that connected them to traditional paternal past’.3 While there was...

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