Coping with Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century

By Peter Y. Medding | Go to book overview

The “Family-Community” Model
in Haredi Society

Menachem Friedman
(bar-ilan university)

The character of the Jewish shtetlakh in Lithuania and Byelorussia changed considerably in the early part of the twentieth century. The erosion of the traditional way of life among the younger generation had become a mass phenomenon. Local batei midrash and yeshivot, the venues of religious study, became depleted—many of them had even closed down. 1 It would seem that almost all Jewish youth had fallen captive to the Haskalah, Zionist, and revolutionary socialist, movements. This phenomenon has been described in countless biographies, most of which were written by those who had personally experienced such a transformation. Though born into religiously traditional families, they adapted to the changing world around them.

If they described it at all, those who remained faithful to the Jewish religion and tradition commonly characterized their encounter with the process of secularization in the traditional shtetl as a survival experience—one guided by the Divine hand— whereby, whether by virtue of ancestral or other merit, they were deemed worthy of heavenly grace. Thus, for example, wrote Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin (1880–1966), head of the Va'ad hayeshivot, 2 and at the end of his life the chairman of the Council of Torah Sages of Agudat Israel, about his birthplace, the district of Mogilev in Byelorussia, where previously the mitnagdim, who “encouraged the study of Torah, ” had clashed with the hasidim, who were devoted to “the study of Hasidism and imbued the Jewish masses with the fear of God and belief in the sages. ” In his words:

That was back in the good old days, but when I was a child no traces of this “holy war” remained…. The yeshivot had closed down and only a privileged few made the journey to visit their hasidic rebbe. Children still studied in the heder3 …but with no yeshivah— even at the elementary level—in the entire district, none of the thousands who became acquainted with the text of the Torah went on to become a talmudic scholar or a rabbinical authority … the youth went straight out into the world from the heder, [and] studied crafts or peddling…. Those endowed with talent and ability rejected the Torah and embraced the Enlightenment.

And who would have ever imagined that I would be an exception and leave that environment to study Torah in the great yeshivot? … For only because the Lord took pity on me did He rescue me … from the land of my birth, where the flame of the Torah was al

-166-

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Coping with Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Studies in Contemporary Jewry *
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • Symposium - Coping with Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century *
  • The Place of Ethnic Identity in the Development of Personal Identity: A Challenge for the Jewish Family 3
  • Notes *
  • Marriage, Americanization and American Jewish Culture, 1900–1920 27
  • Notes *
  • Making Fragmentation Familiar: Barry Levinson's Avalon 49
  • Notes *
  • The Economics of Contemporary American Jewish Family Life 65
  • Notes *
  • Children of Intermarriage: How “jewish”? 81
  • Notes *
  • What Happened to the Extended Jewish Family? Jewish Homes for the Aged in Eastern Europe 128
  • Notes *
  • Cohesion and Rupture: the Jewish Family in East European Ghettos During the Holocaust 143
  • Notes *
  • The “family-Community” Model in Haredi Society 166
  • Notes *
  • We Are All One Bereaved Family: Personal Loss and Collective Mourning in Israeli Society 178
  • Notes *
  • Essays *
  • Evangelists in a Strange Land: American Missionaries in Israel, 1948–1967 195
  • Notes *
  • Balfour's Mission to Palestine: Science, Strategy and Vision in the Inauguration of the Hebrew University 214
  • Notes 228
  • Review Essays *
  • Vichy and the Jews: A Past That is Not Past 235
  • Notes *
  • Mastering the Middle East: Israel in a Regional Context 250
  • Examining the Oslo Process: A First Cut 256
  • Notes *
  • Book Reviews *
  • Antisemitism, Holocaust and Genocide 265
  • Notes *
  • Notes *
  • History and the Social Sciences 281
  • Notes *
  • Notes *
  • Notes *
  • Language, Literature and the Arts 307
  • Notes 309
  • Notes *
  • Religion, Thought and Education 325
  • Notes *
  • Zionism, Israel and the Middle East 339
  • Notes 349
  • Recently Completed Doctoral Dissertations 351
  • Studies in Comtemporary Jewry XV 360
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