Agudat Yisrael’s Council of Torah Sages, Shas’s Council of Torah Sages, rabbis Shalom Elyashiv, Ovadia Yosef, Eliezer Menahem Shach, and Menachem Mendel Schneerson—all are familiar names in Israel, partly because they are mentioned frequently in the media. These and other rabbis, and the members of the councils of the haredi parties, represent the top, established leadership of haredi society in Israel, which draws its authority from diverse religious sources. However, in recent decades haredi society has seen the emergence of second-tier leaders, who draw their authority also from nonreligious sources, including medical, pedagogical, psychological, or literary knowledge, and who integrate that knowledge into the fabric of everyday haredi life in Israel.
The papers in the book are based on the multi-year activity of a research group at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. The papers reveal diverse patterns of second-tier leadership and alternative authority in contemporary haredi society, and they seek to understand the forms in which these patterns develope and their place in haredi society and its consciousness. They also examine the encounter between these second-tier leaders and the establishment leadership in this society and the meanings derived from that encounter. The examination of these new patterns of leadership and authority affords a glimpse into haredi society from a unique and innovative vantage point and invites research and public discussion on this complex, multifaceted, and fascinating subject, with all its manifestations and expressions.