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Masortim (Hebrew: מסורתיים, lit. "Traditional [people]", also known as Shomrei Masoret, שומרי מסורת, "upholders of tradition")' is an Israeli term of self-definition, describing those who perceive and describe themselves as neither strictly religious (Dati) nor secular (Hiloni). Usually, they observe a number of minhagim and several basic religious commandments that are the most recognizable symbols of the Jewish tradition. In doing so they express their affinity to the Jewish people and especially their will to continue their family's religious customs and traditions, as they maintain that there is a need to preserve the traditional values and customs, in order to guard the continuity of the existence of the Jewish people, and to the extent that at times the observance of traditions, minhagim and family customs become stronger than religious observance.
Masortim should not confuse the Israeli term Masorti with Conservative Judaism's alternative name, "Masorti Judaism".
The majority of Shomrei Masoret are Mizrahi Jews, i.e. those of oriental origin (i.e. Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa). The exact number of the Masortiim is hard to determine, since it is based upon the self-definition of the participants in the Questionnaires, however, according to Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, as of 2006, 39% out of the Jewish population within Israel define themselves as Shomrei Masoret. Pew Research Center estimates the masorti at 29% of Jews in Israel (or 23% of all Israeli adults).
The tradition, the family and the Mizrahi sector
Shomrei Masoret perceive the preservation of the Jewish tradition, minhagim, and family customs, as an educational and a Family value.
The tradition, minhagim, and family customs is also relevant in terms of the Jewish denomination of origin affiliation, and thus the percentage of Shomrei Masoret is especially high among the Mizrahi denomination of origin affiliation. Many of them (and their offspring) define themselves as Shomer Masoret (or Masorati), even if some or part of their lifestyle's customs are generally accounted as secular (Hiloni), still, they pay heed to preserving and keeping the Jewish Tradition heritage as it was observed in their or their parents' country of origin. In that conjunction, one should mention the political party of Shas (a religious-Orthodox Mizrahi-denomination political party), who raised the banner of להחזיר עטרה ליושנה (Restore Past Glory), a slogan that swept many non-religious-Orthodox Mizrahi-denomination voters, who, nevertheless, see the importance of preserving their Jewish Tradition denomination.
One may not find many Ashkenazi (European origin) Israelis defining themselves as Shomer Masoret (or Masorati). This is because, among other reasons, the dichotomy that was created after the Age of Enlightenment, between Secular, Reform and Orthodox European Jews, was a dichotomy that did not exist among the Middle Eastern Jews.
The Traditionalist and Tradition Keeper distinguishing qualities
The Masoratiim are not a defined type of Judaism (since it is based on a self-definition phenomenon, rather than an organized movement), and their attitude towards the religious observance has much do with one's personal preferences and tendencies, and in the context of their desire to see themselves as part of the comprehensive Jewish religious system, without being obligated to full observance of the religious commandments (613 Mitzvot). Nevertheless, one may ascribe to the majority of them, a notable distinguishing quality – the preservation of the basic Jewish traditional minhagim, that are accounted of the most recognizable elements of Judaism:
- Kashrut observance – Many Masoratiim give heed not to eat pork, seafood, or any other non-Kosher food, and observe the separation of Milk and meat kitchen activities and dishes.
- Kiddush Shabbat – a weekly family dinner on the eve of every Shabbat, and sanctification (Kiddush) of the entering day of Shabat, over a Kiddush-cup of wine.
- Mezuzah – affixing a Mezuzah at the house's front door.
- Attending their synagogues on Shabbat and on the most recognizable Jewish festivals (such as: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur etc.), on regular basis. Some even wear the Tefillin every morning.
- Following Orthodox traditions and maintaining an Orthodox atmosphere on family events, such as weddings, Bar Mitzva, and Brit milah.
- Usually, the male does not wear a kippah/yarmulke (Only on Shabbat and Jewish festivals), and thus does not appear observant-religious. Some keep a yarmulke within their pocket or in their car, instead of wearing it, as to be ready for any event or time that the Shabbat or a Jewish festival has come and thus is time for them to pull out the yarmulke and start observing, or so they will be ready to go to the synagogue at any given time, as well as attend a wedding or any other event with a religious aspect in it.
Some Masortim prefer to send their children to religious schools, especially during their children's infant and elementary school education periods. Others tend to regularly visit their Rabbis and other Kabbalahist figures and take their advice on a regular basis. Every Masorti level of observance depends only on one's own free will and one's personal selection of what is perceived by him as a relevant religious commandment or custom.
- Prof. Yaacov Yadgar, Jewish Secularism and Ethno-National Identity in Israel: The Traditionist Critique, Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 26, No. 3, October 2011, pp. 467–481.
- Charles S. Liebman, Yaacov Yadgar, Beyond the Religious-Secular Dichotomy: Masortim in Israel, in: Zvi Gitelman, Religion or Ethnicity? Jewish Identities in Evolution, Rutgers University Press, 2009, pp. 171-192.