It represents many members of the so-called "black hat" yeshiva world and sectors of Hasidic Judaism, commonly known as Ultra-Orthodox Jews, or Haredim. Not all Hasidic Jewish groups are affiliated with Agudath Israel. For example the vocally anti-Zionist Satmar scorn Agudah's relatively moderate stance towards the State of Israel. But Satmar pursues politicians in America no less than Agudah does.
It has ideological connections with Agudath Israel of Israel, Agudat Yisrael, an Israeli religious and political movement, and also with Degel HaTorah (Hebrew, "Flag of Torah"), another Israeli Orthodox Jewish political party. In Israel, Degel and Agudah of Israel are in a political coalition called United Torah Judaism, UTJ. There is also a "World Agudath Israel" that convenes international conferences and religious conclaves called a knesiah .
The original movement was established in Europe in 1912 by some of the most famous Orthodox rabbis of the time. It grew during the 1920s and 30s to be the political, communal, and cultural voice of those Orthodox Jews who were not part of Zionism's Orthodox Jewish Mizrachi party. Rabbi Eliezer Silver, an Eastern European-trained rabbi, established the first office of Agudath Israel in America during the 1930s, organizing its first conference in 1939 . After the Holocaust, some prominent rabbis made their home in America who established a moetzes (council)and the movement began to grow rapidly with the rise of the yeshivot and the Orthodox communities of the Rebbes .
Its policies and leadership is directed by a moetzes (Moetzet Gedolei Hatorah, in Hebrew): Council of Torah Sages, comprised of both leading rabbis who are Roshei Yeshiva, heads or deans of major Yeshivot also known as Talmudical Academies or Rabbinical Academies, (a Rosh Yeshiva is the chief spiritual and scholarly authority in a yeshiva), and by Hasidic Rebbes who head hasidic dynasties and organizations.
These rabbis have asserted their leadership over their followers in various ways. In 1956 for example, they issued a written ruling forbiding any of the alumni of their yeshivot who serve as rabbis to join with any Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism rabbis in rabbinical communal professional organizations that then united the various branches of America's Jews, such as the "Synagogue Council of America". This position was not endorsed by the Modern Orthodox . Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik initially aligned himself with Agudah but later established his independent views on these matters and a host of other issues, such as attitudes towards college education and attitudes towards the secular-led Israeli governments. However, some of the more traditionalist rabbis at Yeshiva University aligned themselves with Agudah's positions.
The organization has a huge lay staff, many of whom are also ordained rabbis , but not of the calibre comparable to the roshei yeshiva and rebbes. After the passing of its last lay leader, a member of the Moetzet was appointed as the Rosh Agudat Yisrael ("Head of Agudah").
They actively lobby all branches of government, including the President and Congress of the United States of America as well as the Supreme Court on any issues that they deem crucial to the welfare of their large constituencies. Local government leaders such as any Governor, assembly, senate or city council are all dealt with directly when issues important to the Agudah's members are involved. It also has a representative at the United Nations.
Agudah maintains a network of summer youth camps attended by several thousand children. It has a number of social service branches that cater to the elderly and disadvantaged. It has a job training program called COPE, a job placement division,and a housing program.
It advocates its position in several ways: By its monthly magazine "The Jewish Observer"; Through a public relations arm called Am Echad ("One Nation"); Full time offices in Washinton D.C., the West Coast, Mid-West, and South;Providing legal briefs in cases before the Supreme Court of the United States; Prominent lay person missions to government agencies; Having an official spokesman, such as Rabbi Avi Shafran respond to articles in the media and offensive statements; A privatley owned weekly Jewish newspaper in English called Yated Neeman conveys news and views according to the Agudah party line.
Interestingly, Agudath Israel does not have its own website since its official policy is to ban use of the Internet for any uses other than work-related by its members, similar to its official prohibition of television in homes. It does allow the use of E-mail. However, it does broadcast its message via surrogate websites that are not official agencies of the movement yet fully convey its message and worldview.
In America, one of their most successful lay presidents was Rabbi Moshe Sherer.