Modern Orthodox Judaism: A Documentary History

Modern Orthodox Judaism: A Documentary History

Modern Orthodox Judaism: A Documentary History

Modern Orthodox Judaism: A Documentary History

Synopsis

Modern Orthodox Judaism offers an extensive selection of primary texts documenting the Orthodox encounter with American Judaism that led to the emergence of the Modern Orthodox movement. Many texts in this volume are drawn from episodes of conflict that helped form Modern Orthodox Judaism. These include the traditionalists' response to the early expressions of Reform Judaism, as well as incidents that helped define the widening differences between Orthodox and Conservative Judaism in the early twentieth century. Other texts explore the internal struggles to maintain order and balance once Orthodox Judaism had separated itself from other religious movements.

Zev Eleff combines published documents with seldom-seen archival sources in tracing Modern Orthodoxy as it developed into a structured movement, established its own institutions, and encountered critical events and issues--some that helped shape the movement and others that caused tension within it. A general introduction explains the rise of the movement and puts the texts in historical context. Brief introductions to each section guide readers through the documents of this new, dynamic Jewish expression.

Excerpt

Jacob J. Schacter

In the last decade of the eighteenth century, Rebecca Samuel, then living in Petersburg, Virginia, wrote a letter to her parents in Hamburg, Germany, in which she explained why she was moving from that city to Charleston, South Carolina. She informed them that although her husband, Hyman, had earned the respect of their Gentile neighbors as a very successful clockmaker and silversmith, and although “one [i.e., a Jew] can live here peacefully,” she and her family were “leaving this place because of [the lack of] Yehudishkeit,” or Jewishness, which “is pushed aside here.” She explained that the shohet, or ritual slaughterer, buys nonkosher meat, there is no Torah scroll in town, all Jewish-owned shops are open on the Sabbath, there are no educational opportunities available for her two children, and almost none of the worshippers on the High Holidays wore ritual prayer garments. “You can believe me that I crave to see a synagogue to which I can go. the way we live now is no life at all.”

The desire of Jews in America to be financially successful and respected by members of the community at large without sacrificing Jewish observance and communal cohesiveness has been a hallmark of Jewish life in this country from the very dawn of its existence. But those eighteenth-century Jews living in America were acutely aware that America was different than the countries from which they had emigrated and in which many of their family members and religious authorities still lived. in a letter written in 1785 to a rabbi in Amsterdam seeking guidance on a complex issue challenging their community, two lay leaders in Philadelphia noted that they were “anxiously awaiting” the rabbi’s reply “because this matter touches the very essence of our faith, especially in this country where everyone does as he pleases [asher kol ish ha-yashar bi-enav ya’aseh].” They wrote that in America, “the Kahal has no authority” over those who live in its midst, unlike the situation . . .

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