Anyone interested in Jewish – Polish as well as haredi history should read this book:
I just bought the Hebrew edition but it is also available in English. It includes tons of information and the author writes about Polish Haredim dealing with modernity. With Haskalah, the Reform movement, secular Zionism introduced by Theodore Herzl as well as secular Jews.
In 1912, Polish haredi Jewry decided to form a political haredi party in order to represent their interests in Polish city councils and the parliament. The main interests then were Jewish education, Shabbat and other halachic regulations. Agudat Israel, which really only came into existence in 1916, wanted to be in charge of educating haredi children and refused any interference by the Polish Gentile government. Actually Poland, as we know it today, hardly existed until World War I.
I haven’t finished reading the book yet, however, I have already learned quite some history. What I didn’t know was that two German Rabbis (Rabbi Pinchas Kohn and Rabbi Emmanal Carlebach) were helping the Agudah to gain some sort of a structure. Polish Agudah leaders such as the Gerrer (Gur) Rebbe thought that Torah values are enough but the two Germans suggested an party agenda .
At about the same time, also religious Zionism came into existence. Until today we distinguish between secular political Zionism (Herzl) and religious Zionism (Mizrachi Movement).
Actually those movements are still part of the Knesset today. The former Agudat Israel became the Knesset party YAHADUT HATORAH with the Litvishe, Belz, Vishnitz and Gur. We also know the religious Zionists and its BAYIT YEHUDI party. Maybe not as religious anymore as the party used to be earlier still called MAVDAL. Secular Zionist parties are the Labour Party (HA’AVODAH) and even Netanyahu’s LIKUD.
The Ashkenazi haredi Knesset party is more interested in representing their own people. Haredi education, health system issues as well as other social topics. They are not too much interested in international or security matters. However, they are part of Netanyahu’s coalition and Yaakov Litzman (Chassidut Gur) serves as the Israeli Minister of Health.
On the history of Agudat Israel: