Saturday, May 25, 2013

American Orthodox Judaism: Its History, Structure, Practices, and Ideology

What Cultures Contributed to American Orthodoxy?

pg. 27  "These various trends in world Orthodoxy were imported to America and at least three distinct streams converged on the shores of the New World.  There was the austere and somewhat pomp-ridden Sephardic Orthodoxy imported from Holland and England;  there was the dignified intellectualized Orthodoxy of Germany;  and there was the parochial Talmud-oriented, ghetto-minded, disorganized East European brand from Poland, Galicia, Russia, and Hungary." (from Contemporary Judaism by Rosenthal)

What is the Main Congregational Institution for American Orthodoxy?

pg. 41  "In 1898 a thousand delegates gathered at New York's Shearith Israel--scene of so many historical events--to form the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations...The purpose of the group was to 'advance the interests of positive Biblical, Rabbinical, Traditional, and Historical Judaism.'  The group disclaimed any intention to become a synod, declaring itself merely a representative body...Ideologically, the Union affirmed its belief in Divine revelation of the Bible and ceremonial law, and it emphasized its commitment to 'the authoritative interpretation of our rabbis as contained in Talmud and Codes' and the Maimonidean thirteen principles of faith." (ibid)

What is the Rabbinical Council for American Orthodoxy?

pg. 45  "Meanwhile, the American-trained Orthodox rabbis had formed an organization of their own, and it proved to be the most potent force for Orthodoxy in America.  Out of the Alumni Association of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (1923) developed the Rabbinical Council of America (1935)." (ibid)

pg. 45 "The spiritual leader of the RCA and charismatic leader of most of modern Orthodoxy is Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik." (ibid)

How May One Categorize American Orthodoxy?

pg. 116-117  "A useful way to categorize Orthodox Jews was put forward by Charles Liebman.  In his pioneering study, he differentiated between the 'uncommitted Orthodox,' the 'modern Orthodox,' and the 'sectarian Orthodox.'  The first were East European immigrants who, out of inertia rather than religious choice, identified as Orthodox, or they were individuals who had no particular commitment to Jewish law but preferred to pray in an Orthodox synagogue.  The modern Orthodox 'seek to demonstrate the viability of the halakha for contemporary life...[and also] emphasize what they have in common with all other Jews rather than what separates them.'  The sectarians are disciples of either roshei yeshiva (heads of yeshivas) or Hasidic rebbes, whose strategy it is to isolate their followers from non-Orthodox influences." (A People Divided by Jack Wertheimer)

What is the Political Structure of American Orthodox Judaism?

pg. 116  "The issue of authority is more complicated in Orthodoxy than in any other denomination.  In some ways, Orthodox Jews are the most likely to accept the opinion of a rabbi as authoritative on questions of Jewish living...At the same time, Orthodox Jews are less dependent on a rabbinic elite to guide their fortunes than are those in other denominations.  Pulpit rabbis have less status in the Orthodox world than in any other segment of the Jewish community, and most Orthodox institutions rely heavily on lay rather than rabbinic leadership.  For this reason, many of the most important developments within Orthodoxy that we will discuss are not traceable to any elite institution or to the pronouncements of any particular rabbi." (ibid)

pg. 66 "...the lack of a central authority or rabbinic body in Orthodox life makes it virtually impossible to discern a consensus on some basic issues.  Responsa are written, votes are cast, opinions are pronounced, anathemas are declared--and we are as confused as ever as to where Orthodoxy stands."  (Contemporary Judaism by Rosenthal)

What are the Unifying Practices and Ideologies of an American Orthodox Jew?

pg. 66 "Of course, Orthodox scholars are in accord on certain fundamental rules of the Torah as interpreted by the Talmud and the sages, and codified in the Shulhan Arukh...The Sabbath is inviolate for an Orthodox Jew...The Orthodox male prays daily with talit and tefillin, and wears a yarmulka (skullcap) at all times as a sign of reverence for God...Orthodox partisans observe the dietary laws both in and out of the home....It should be obvious to the reader that Orthodoxy's focal point is Halakhah.  He who would understand the ideas and ideology of Orthodoxy must survey Halakhic literature and the philosophies of Jewish law propounded by the various legal experts and Talmudists." (ibid)

What Does Orthodox Communal Life Look Like?

pg. 74  "...despite all disclaimers, many Orthodox synagogues are really synagogue-centers as envisioned by Orthodoxy's nemesis, Mordecai M. Kaplan.  Many have gymnasiums and pools, most run club programs, and virtually all hold social functions with mixed dancing, Orthodox law notwithstanding....In one area, however, the Orthodox synagogue has made almost no concessions, namely, in liturgy." (ibid)

pg. 76  "Orthodoxy has made an uneasy compromise with the realities of life:  it closes its parking lots on sacred days so that the worshipper parks around the corner if he cannot walk to shul."  (ibid)


pg. 84  "Summary
Out of the welter of varied Orthodoxy ideas, concepts and pronouncements, we can draw some conclusions as to the basic ideology of the mainstream of American Orthodoxy.
1.  Orthodoxy accepts the classical notion of God with little theological speculation.  To the Orthodox Jew, God is a personal deity whose providence is a reality.
2.  Orthodoxy teaches as its cornerstone the Divine origin of the Torah as interpreted by the rabbis of the Talmud and as codified in the authoritative Shulhan Arukh.  Halakhah is Orthodoxy's guide; it is eternal, binding and irrevocable, and it can be interpreted and applied to new situations only by the Gedole Ha-Dor--the great sages of Israel.
3.  Orthodoxy believes in the unity of the Jewish People....Orthodoxy is convinced that its version is the only correct interpretation of Judaism.
4.  Orthodoxy is passionately devoted to the restoration of the State of Israel to be run along the lines of Torah and mitzvot as directed by the rabbinic sages...
5.  Orthodxy has worked with other Jewish groups in behalf of Jewish life, culture, and rights...
6.  Orthodoxy believes that the liturgy is immutable and that  the synagogue and yeshivah are the basic institutions of Jewish life..." (ibid)

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