(From left to right) Ze’ev Aharonowicz, Natan Wiszinski, and Gershon Rajngwirc, members of the Mława (Pol.) branch of Tseirey Agudas Yisroel, at a hakhsharah (training farm) at Kibbutz Khofets Khayim (Ḥafets Ḥayim), Palestine, 1930s. (The Ghetto Fighters’ Museum/Israel)

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Tseirey Agudas Yisroel

Male youth movement of Agudas Yisroel. As an Orthodox party, Agudas Yisroel viewed the thousands of young men who devoted years to the study of the Talmud and its commentaries not only as a source of future strength for the Aguda, but also as a key to the survival of the Jewish people. For those young people who had to stop their formal education, the party wished to establish a youth movement that would keep them within the ideological fold. In practice, however, a large part of the membership consisted of students still in yeshivas.

Tseirey Agudas Yisroel was founded in Poland in 1919, some three years after the parent movement’s Polish branch was established. The rabbinic leadership associated with Aguda had serious reservations about embarking on youth activities, just as it had hesitated about the very idea of establishing an Orthodox political party. In the end, however, the rabbis gave their blessing to the movement, once they had assurances of adult supervision. In 1921, the central committee of the Polish Aguda set up a youth affairs division in the party’s national office; this department supplied organizational assistance and published Diglenu (Our Banner; 1921–1932) and Ortodoksishe yugnt bleter (Orthodox Youth Paper; 1929–1939).

What distinguished Tseirey Aguda from its Zionist and socialist counterparts was its major emphasis on traditional education and culture and its exclusively male membership. Unlike the other movements, it did not devote time to specific party indoctrination nor to physical fitness training. A typical chapter of Tseirey Aguda ran daily or weekly study groups of sacred texts, and had a lending library for members. Other cultural activities included choirs, a youth orchestra, and drama groups. Many chapters ran a junior group called Pirkhey Agudas Yisroel for boys age 10 to 15. Some local groups engaged in social and economic activities, such as providing kosher meals for Jewish soldiers or aid for the local poor. At election times, local chapters of Tseirey Aguda played a major role in putting up posters, handing out leaflets, and urging Orthodox passersby to vote for Agudas Yisroel’s candidates.

No reliable figures exist for membership in the movement. Official proclamations issued at the national conventions of Tseirey Aguda in Poland claimed 110 chapters in 1927; 298 chapters in 1931 (with an estimated 10,000 members); and 442 chapters in 1935. In the 1930s, the movement made its first inroads in Galicia and the eastern border (Kresy) region. At the same time, interest in settlement in Palestine increased, and Tseirey Aguda, as was true of other youth movements, established training farms for potential immigrants, as well as vocational courses for trades thought to be useful in Palestine.

Leading figures associated with the movement in Poland included Aleksander Zysha Frydman, Avraham Me’ir Krongrad, and the party’s spiritual guide in the 1930s, Rabbi Tsevi Hirschhorn. While Poland was the largest and most active center of the movement in the interwar period, branches also existed in Latvia, Slovakia, and other countries, and it eventually spread to the United States and Palestine.

Suggested Reading

Gershon C. Bacon, The Politics of Tradition: Agudat Yisrael in Poland, 1916–1939 (Jerusalem, 1996), chap. 6; Binyamin Eliav, Mendel Bobe, and Elhanan Kremer, eds., Yahadut Latviyah: Sefer zikaron (Tel Aviv, 1952/53), p. 118; Gertrude Hirschler, “The History of Agudath Israel in Slovakia,” in The Jews of Czechoslovakia: Historical Studies and Surveys (Philadelphia, 1971), vol. 2, p. 162.