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Piety and Power, by David Landau; Defenders of the Faith, by Samuel Heilman; Hasidic People, byJerome R. Mintz

- Abstract

When Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, decided to exempt his young country’s few ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students from military service, the gesture was considered a minor concession to a tiny, fragile group on the brink of extinction, the last relics of the fossilized Judaism of Eastern Europe. But Ben-Gurion turned out to be a poor prophet. Far from disappearing, the ultra-Orthodox Jews, known in Hebrew as “haredim” (literally, “tremblers,” from Isaiah 66:5, “Listen to the Word of God, all ye who tremble at His word”), have thrived and are currently enjoying the fruits of a post-Holocaust baby boom. Today, thanks to the naive generosity of Israel’s founders, tens of thousands of young men and women in Israel take full advantage of the draft exemptions still accorded to religious seminary students, to the consternation and resentment of most Israelis whose sons and daughters do serve in defense of their country.

The remarkable and unexpected resurgence of Jewish ultra-Orthodoxy, both in Israel and North America, is a matter of both fascination and concern to many Jews today and has occasioned a growing literature, including these three books. Before looking at them, it would be useful to note a number of important distinctions.

About the Author

Allan Nadler is professor of religion and director of the Jewish studies program at Drew University. He is currently completing a book about the reception of Spinoza in modern Yiddish thought and literature.