Sectors of American Judaism: Reform, Orthodoxy, Conservatism, and Reconstructionism

By Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

19
THE ORTHODOX STREAM

JACOB B. AGUS

Given the complexity of Orthodoxy, which exhibits the greatest variation and vitality in American Judaism, we are fortunate to have a succinct account of the four major theological components of twentieth century Orthodoxy. Rabbi Agus describes the European trends which influenced American Orthodoxy, beginning with the "mussar movement". That movement laid its primary stress on piety as formative of the good human being. The Jewish personality was to be shaped by the ethics and religious values of the tradition. It is an important trait of Orthodoxy that one must begin the study of its American formulation in Europe. While Reform and Conservative Judaism likewise draw upon European sources, particularly the thought of German Jewish theologians, only Orthodoxy preserves an unmediated picture of the European heritage.

A second, very present legacy of European Judaism is in Hassidism, the religious ideas of which are set forth by Rabbi Agus.

The third major component is the philosophical heritage of the masters of halakhah, represented by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. The theological foundations of halakhah, uncovered and exposited by Rabbi Soloveitchik, form the basis for much of American Orthodox intellectuality.

The fourth, and final element is provided by German Jewry, deeply rooted in America since the 1930's, and by its philosophical spokesman, Isaak Breuer.

Rabbi Agus not only provides reliable summaries of the chief ideas of these four components of American Orthodox theology but also tells us his opinion of them. In so doing, he exemplifies such religious dialogue as takes place between Orthodox theologians and Conservative ones.

American Orthodoxy has not yet matured to the point of assuming a definite cast of thought or pattern of practice. Consisting of many strands which vary in the timbre of their orthodoxy and the degree of their resistance to the modern temper, its texture is still unfinished and

-107-

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