You've seen the black hats and long dresses--but who are the people underneath?
Many haredim are fundamentally opposed to a secular, modern, pre-messianic Jewish state. A minority, including Sephardim and Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidim, are either ardently or passively Zionist. In 1947, Agudat Israel attempted to dissuade the General Assembly of the United Nations from voting in favor of the partition of Palestine. To this day, Agudat Israel members run for election and sit in the Knesset, but they refuse to accept any official ministerial post in the Israeli cabinet, and remain steadfast in their anti-Zionist ideology.
Though resistant to active participation and affiliation with Israel's mostly secular democracy, haredi political groups function with the aim of aligning Israel's policies with halakhah, or Jewish law, as well as insuring that haredi schools and institutions continue to receive government funding.
Although one may be tempted to view haredi culture as a monolith, various subtle and not-so-subtle distinctions exist. For example, Sephardim may or may not be considered haredi--since, as a group, ultra-Orthodox Sephardim do not reject the validity of the modern state of Israel. Also, since the haredi phenomenon began exclusively among Ashkenazic Jews, there is debate as to whether Sephardic Jews educated and socialized in European yeshivot that were restored in Israel, should actually be called haredi. The existence of institutions such as the Israeli political party Edah ha'Hareidit ha'Sepharadit suggest that today there indeed is racial diversity among haredim.
Despite internal differences, the political and demographic strength of haredim--both in Israel, and in world Jewry in general--continues to grow dramatically. Their ardent and uncompromising devotion to their principles, together with their prodigious birth rate, virtually assure that the haredi community will be a major force in shaping the Judaism of the future.
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