Author Archives: Moshe D. Sherman

About Moshe D. Sherman

Moshe D. Sherman is an Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Jewish Studies, Touro College.

Orthodox Judaism in America

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The following article is reprinted from the American Jewish Historical Society’s American Jewish Desk Reference: The Ultimate One Volume Reference to the Jewish Experience in America, published by Random House.

Eminent Orthodox leaders among postwar Jewish refugees

American Orthodox Judaism in general and yeshiva education in particular were transformed following World War II, when several distinguished rabbis, rosh yeshivas [heads of Jewish academies], and Hasidic rebbes fled Europe and relocated their institutions in America. [A Hasidic rebbe is a religious leader of a particular group of Hasidim, members of a pietist movement which originated in the first half of the 18th century.]

orthodox judaism in americaRabbi Eliyahu Meir Bloch and Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Katz established a Telshe yeshiva in Cleveland in 1941. Initially comprised of a small number of European students who had escaped war- torn Europe, by the 1960s the Telshe yeshiva had developed a boys high school, post-high school yeshiva, a kollel [for higher level study], and a girl’s seminary. In 1944, Rabbi Aharon Kotler established the Beth Midrash Gevoha in Lakewood, New Jersey. After developing some outstanding students of Talmud, the Lakewood yeshiva came to have an enormous influence on American Orthodoxy and its graduates established new yeshiva schools and kollels throughout North America.

These transplanted European yeshivas were different from the American institutions established prior to World War II. The American yeshivas established prior to World War II encouraged secular study and promoted programs in rabbinical ordination, while the Telshe yeshiva in Cleveland, Beth Midrash Gevoha in Lakewood, and other postwar yeshivas founded by eminent European rosh yeshivas, encouraged Torah study exclusively, and eschewed accommodation with American mores.

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A Short History of Orthodox Judaism in America

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The following article is reprinted from the American Jewish Historical Society’s American Jewish Desk Reference: The Ultimate One Volume Reference to the Jewish Experience in America, published by Random House.

Nascent American Orthodox Communities

The earliest communities of Jews who settled in America during the colonial period established Orthodox congregations according to a Dutch Sephardic version of ritual and custom. The synagogues they formed, including Congregation Shearith Israel, New York (1686), Congregation Nephuse Israel, Newport, Rhode Island (1754, changed to Yeshuat Israel in 1764), and Congregation Mikveh Israel, Philadelphia (1771), were responsible for the early institutions of Orthodox Jewish life in America. These congregations founded America’s first mikvahs [ritual baths], kosher slaughtering facilities, Hebrew schools and charities.

orthodoxy in americaFollowing the arrival of large numbers of Jews from the German states and Central Europe during the first half of the 1800s, most Orthodox synagogues in American reflected Ashkenazi practice. [Ashkenazim are Jews who trace their ancestry to the German lands.] By the middle of the nineteenth century, with the arrival of Rabbis Abraham Rice (1802-1862) and Bernard Illowy (1814-1871), an Orthodox rabbinic leadership emerged. Together with several talented ministers, including Isaac Leeser (1806-1868), Samuel Isaacs (1804-1878) and Morris Raphall (1798-1868), Orthodox clergy led the struggle to protect the integrity of tradition in the face of the growing influence of the Reform movement.

By the early 1880s, most Orthodox congregations were headed by non-ordained ministers. Moreover, the leading Orthodox clergy at the time were Western or American-born, English speaking, and university educated. Among the prominent Orthodox religious leaders was American-born Bernard Drachman (1861-1945), English-born and educated Henry Pereira Mendes (1852-1937), Italian-born Sabato Morais (1823-1897), and American born Herny Schneeburger (1848-1916). The institutions they founded, including the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (1886) and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (1898), had a profound influence on the development of Conservative and Modern Orthodox Judaism.

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