Modern Judaism

University of Minnesota

Dr. Tzvee Zahavy, Professor

Jewish Studies 3126, Modern Judaism

Fall, 1990

This course undertakes a study of the challenges to Jewish life and thought, self-understanding and survival posed since the 17th century enlightenment and emancipation of the Jews of Europe to the present day. The course takes up the development of Zionism, secularism and Yiddishism, the European Shtetl, the emigration experience and the formation of American Judaism, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist; reactions to the Holocaust; modern ideologies of the State of Israel; the contemporary forces of egalitarianism and reversionism.


Nathan Glazer, American Judaism

Zbrowski and Herzog, Life is With People

Arthur Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea

Additional short photocopied selections to be assigned during the course

Supplementary Reading List (SRL) (Topic - Author, Title)

On the experience of immigrants: Handlin, The Uprooted

On the life of modern Israel: Elon, The Israelis

A critique of communal values in America: Neusner, American Judaism: Adventure in Modernity

A feminist approach: Plaskow, Standing Again at Sinai

The fellowship alternative: Prell, Prayer and Community

An American religion: Sklare, Conservative Judaism

The rabbis: Helmreich, The World of the Yeshiva

Orthodox life: Heilman and Cohen, Cosmopolitans and Parochials

Hasidic people: Mintz, Legends of the Hasidim

The Shoah: Roth and Berenbaum, Holocaust: Religious and Philosophical Issues

Analytical model: Neusner, Death and Birth of Judaism

Jewish Social Studies: Goldscheider and Neusner, Social Foundations of Judaism


Abba Eban, Heritage: Civilization and the Jews (parts 7-9)

Tzvee Zahavy, Interviews with Local Rabbis

Course Study Guide

by Professor Tzvee Zahavy


This course asks some bold questions about the development of modern Judaism. Where did it begin? How did it grow? What does it teach? I urge you to set aside what you know about Judaism or any other religious system and allow this course to speak to you afresh. It is important that you do not bring any preconceived conclusions to this course. Just do the work and watch the story unfold.


The course readings will first introduce you to a foreign culture in the form of the Eastern European Jewish shtetl (small town). It is here that the roots of modern Judaism took hold. You will consider the trauma of the transplantation of this culture to American soil as you read of the struggle of three million Eastern European immigrants in America at the turn of the 20th century.

You will examine the complex ideological development of Zionism in its European beginnings at the end of the nineteenth century. Out of this context European pioneers founded the modern State of Israel. Then you will watch a more familiar culture, American Judaism, unfold. You will learn what practices and beliefs are central to the religion and culture of American Judaism. The varied readings for this course include the writings of anthropologists, historians, sociologists, and theologians.

Your Goals

You may be interested in religion, or in history in general, or in Judaism in particular. You may be taking this course out of academic interest or for personal reasons. Perhaps you want to understand our modern society and its diversity better and gain some insight into the heritage of your neighbors or your family. This course gives you a framework, but does not provide you with complete structure. As you complete each unit, you may find that you want to know more about some aspect of the topic it covered. You will find the suggested readings valuable in this quest. When you have completed this course you will have been introduced to a complex and challenging chapter in the history of western religion and cultures.

Required Texts

Glazer, Nathan. American Judaism, 2nd edition. Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1974.

Arthur Hertzberg. The Zionist Idea. New York: Atheneum, 1975

Zborowski, Mark, and Elizabeth Herzog. Life is With People. New York: Schocken Press, 1952.

Lesson Format

Lessons contain a Required Reading assignment, Study Notes, Study Questions, and may have a Written Assignment. Many contain Suggested Readings.

The Required Reading forms the core of each lesson in this course. Before you begin reading the assigned pages, however, you should read through the Study Notes to get an idea of what you should learn. As you do the reading, determine the approach of the text author. Because no author is totally objective, you should ask whether he or she is trying to paint a rosy picture of the subject or is perhaps attempting to criticize and provoke controversy.

Many lessons also contain Suggested Readings. You may find a number of books about Modern Judaism and fiction and poetry by modern Jews in your local public library or college library. Look in particular for the Encyclopedia Judaica, a valuable and comprehensive reference work. Synagogues and Jewish schools also often have useful libraries. Check first with the synagogue office to see about limitations on the use of its collections.

The Study Notes highlight the major ideas of each lesson, provide a framework of reference for the course, and help make the diverse issues and approaches of the course more coherent.

Each lesson contains Study Questions. They were designed to help you focus on the main points of a lesson. These questions are entirely for your use. Although you may find it helpful to write answers to these questions, do not submit your answers for evaluation.

For the Written Assignments you have to answer a question with an essay of approximately 500 words (two to three typewritten pages, double spaced). An interesting and somewhat original or creative paper that shows mastery of the lesson readings will receive a grade of A. A paper that is more than just a summary of the readings, but less than the above, will receive a B. A plain summary of the books gets, at best, a C. An irrelevant essay that ignores the assignment--no matter how brilliant--gets a D or F.

Style is very important in your writing. You should justify most assertions (footnotes from assigned and suggested readings for this course are acceptable but not required) and provide illustrations of your ideas. Needless to say, errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling detract from the quality of your papers. Think carefully and outline your work before you write your essays.

In writing your final assignment you may use whatever books, notes or other resources you wish. It is designed to test your mastery of the course materials and methods. It asks for synthesis and analysis rather than summaries and descriptions.

Course Grade

Your grade for this course will be determined on the following basis.

Written Assignments-50%

Classroom participation-20%

Final Exam-30%


The Shtetl

What Are the Roots of Modern Judaism? The shtetl: A Culture Together

What Are the Roots of Modern Judaism? The shtetl: A Culture Apart

How Does Transplanting a Culture Lead to Alienation?

How Does Transplanting a Culture Lead to Integration?


Who were the early Zionist writers?

What was Herzl's role?

What is cultural Zionism?

What are the forms of socialist Zionism?

How do we define religious Zionism?

American Judaism

Who Were America's Early Jewish Immigrants?

What Happened to the New Immigrants in America (1880-1920)

What Role Does the Rabbi Play in Modern Jewish Life?

What Traits Define the Modern Jewish Community in America?

What is the Character of the Religion of American Jews?

What Does American Judaism Say About Israel?

What Does American Judaism Say About God?

What is Modern Judaism?


The Shtetl



Reading Assignment


Life is With People--pages 11-68, 88-104, and 124-141


Life is With People--pages 69-87 and 105-123

Study Notes


We begin our study of modern Judaism in the small towns of Eastern Europe. As you shall see in Zborowski and Herzog's description, the culture of the European shtetl was simple, and in many ways primitive or archaic. The life style and beliefs of the Jews in these towns appeared to be conservative and traditional, hardly what we would consider "modern". So it is appropriate to ask why we begin this course with the study of the culture of the shtetl?

There are two answers to this question, one simple and the other complex. Simply speaking, we begin the study of modern Judaism at a particular date, the year 1800. The world's largest Jewish communities in the 19th century were in what are now the countries of Poland, Russia, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. It clearly makes sense to start our study of modern Judaism at a predetermined date and with the most populous Judaic cultural centers.

But our concerns are much more complex. For as you will see, these centers of Judaic life have disappeared and others have grown to take their place. Because of persecution and economic hardship, some three million Eastern European Jews emigrated to the to the United States between 1880 and 1920. Then, during World War II, some six million Jews, most of them from Eastern Europe, were put to death by the Nazis to carry out their plan of genocide. There is now no Jewish culture of significance in Europe. The course of history has shifted the center of Judaic life to two other areas of the globe--North America and Israel.

Now we come back to our original query--why do we begin at the shtetl? Not merely because "it was there" as the most populous modern cultural center of Judaic history. You must understand shtetl life because three million Jews brought parts of its culture to America. Because we shall be concerned with the development of American Judaism for a large portion of this course, you must know something of the "roots" of Judaic life in America in order to understand the context out of which it grew. The European environment also gave rise to Zionism and its leaders. To understand the State of Israel you must know about the life many of its founders left behind.

An excursus: WHAT IS A JUDAISM?

Our investigation of Judaism must, by the nature of this course, be limited. We cannot delve into every aspect of the development of modern Judaism. So, we must be selective. We won't explore much of the political history of the Jews. We won't, for instance, focus on political anti-Semitism in Europe or on other external circumstances that profoundly affected the lives of Jews. Rather, we shall look at the religious life of the Jewish people.

To do this, it is best that we agree at the outset on a working definition of religion. I propose that we view religion as a distinctive life style and as a recognized set of beliefs. as applied to a defined social entity. When you turn to your readings in Life is With People, keep this definition in mind. As you read the required pages in this text, make lists--one of the elements of the way of life of shtetl Jews and the other of the world view of shtetl Judaism. These lists will be valuable when we later analyze American Judaism, for then you can use them to help you understand the sharp contrast between the two versions of modern Judaism.

Study Questions

1. It has been said that "the Sabbath was not given to the Jews, but that the Jews were given to the Sabbath." How as this illustrated within the life of the shtetl?

2. The study of Torah played a central role in the social and educational life of the shtetl. It has been said that if all aspects of religious life were placed on one side of a scale and the study of Torah on the other, the latter would outweigh the former. How did shtetl practices illustrate this general statement of relative values in Judaic culture?

3. Family roles were clearly defined in the conservative society of the shtetl. What was the role of husband? Of wife? Of children? Of grandparents?



Reading Assignment


Life is With People--pages 239-265, 269-290, and 361-380

Study Notes


You have seen evidence of the two major characteristics of shtetl culture Zborowski and Herzog wanted to describe. First, Life is With People gives you an idea of the overwhelming sense of community that characterized the shtetl. Some students have found it helpful to think about small town America at the turn of this century as in some ways analogous to the shtetl community. Sinclair Lewis' descriptions of shared life styles and world views in Main Street illustrate how a person may take a critical view of the conservative tendencies of small town life. Zborowski and Herzog, by contrast, paint a uniformly rosy picture of shtetl existence. We are overwhelmed by a sense that so much of life was shared among the Jews of the shtetl-- the calendar, weekly, monthly, and seasonal celebrations, family life and transitions (marriage, birth , death), the school, synagogue and home.


Yet a second aspect of shtetl life and belief must be noted. The shtetl saw itself as existing in a kind of vacuum apart from the "world of the gentiles." While Jews came into contact with "goyim" in the street and marketplace, they saw their world as apart from that of the gentiles. Jews sought above all to distinguish what was the Jewish way, the "proper" way, and what was the "goyish" way, the way to be avoided. This was the attitude in the best of circumstances. Under the worse circumstances, Eastern European Jews became xenophobic (afraid of strangers) and saw gentiles not only as different and apart, but also as adversaries or potential enemies. Sholom Aleichem humorously depicts the Jews' self-image in the gentile world in his brief story of "On Account of a Hat." Isaac Babel depicts the more violent confrontation of Jew and gentile in "The Story of My Dovecote."

Study Questions

1. Parnosseh, sustenance or making a living, was naturally central to shtetl life. Describe its unique qualities in this setting.

2. What were the main "rites of passage" of life cycle of the shtetl, and how were the observed?

3. What was a "kosher home"? How did it contribute to the inner cohesion and contextual disjuncture of the shtetl?

4. Much evidence suggests that Life is With People presents only a partial account of shtetl life. Is this true? How?

Written Assignment 500-750 words

How did the life style of the shtetl contribute to a sense of social cohesion, a feeling that life is indeed "with people"?


Write critical assessment of Life is With People. Emphasize the limitations of an account that attempts to depict a broad spectrum of communities in a single account. Also address the one-sided nature of this glowing description of shtetl culture.


Reading Assignment


Oscar Handlin, The Uprooted--(xerox)

Study Notes

Your are undoubtedly familiar with the historical background of the great emigrations to America from your secondary school studies of the attraction of "the land of opportunity and freedom" to oppressed and impoverished people of other nations. In these accounts, for the most part, you were told about the affect of these large scale emigrations on the American scene. Rarely, however, was the point of view of the immigrant who made the tremendously perilous journey to America taken into account. Oscar Handlin's work will give you just this perspective, because he focuses on the major components of the migration experience. First, he describes the alienation, insecurity, fear, and trauma of leaving ones homeland. Then he indicates the challenge of facing integration into a new society.

Handlin's description attempts to encompass the experience of all European immigrants to America and to analyze the common components of their shared experience. You should note that his discussion applies to Irish, Italian, Scandinavian, and German immigrants, in addition to Jewish and gentile Polish and Russian immigrants. Note further that these Jews are not to be categorized as peasants who lived off the land, but in Handlin's terms, as "dissenters" within their European context. This distinguishes them from most European immigrants or the 19th and early 20th centuries. Yet much of what Handlin says about the experience of the immigrants applies to the Jews who departed for America. You might find a schematic presentation of some of Handlin's ideas helpful.

Migration Experiences

alienation reversal integration

(insecurity, ethics/cheating sometimes via

fear, crisis) family/individual reconstitution

isolation laborer of religious

trauma tradition/competition institutions

success/$ucce$$ (synagogue, school,

old/new charity society),

community/ghetto often only in the

second or third


Study Questions

1. What were the five stages of the immigration experience? How was the immigrant vulnerable at each stage?

2. Some say that the immigrants had only two choices: (1) make it as businessmen, or (2) transfer their hope to their children. Explain what this means.

3. What does Handlin mean when he says, "to live in the old way was to court failure or hardship, while success brought the pangs of unsettled uprooted values"?


Study Notes

No matter where they came from or under what circumstances, reconstructing their culture was the task of the immigrants, the first generation Americans. The Jews transplanted many aspects of their religious culture, and in the process adapted them to their new environment. But after replanting the old institutions, all immigrants found that religious life in America was more complex than in their old countries. In particular, America afforded its citizens an open atmosphere that encouraged religious pluralism (a term commonly used in the 1950s). Most bluntly put, this meant that no single religion had a monopoly in American culture--all were, in effect, competing with each other in an open marketplace. So the Jews found that they were confronted with a wide choice -- and this often lead to confusion.

The Jewish immigrants sometimes also faced a much worse set of problems. They often found themselves resettled in a ghetto, most frequently on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In the ghetto they faced crime, neuroses, alcoholism, and disease. Add this to the alienation they felt on losing the security of the old world and the confusion of facing an open diversity of religious preferences, and you have a modest picture of some of the factors that influenced the state of mind of the first generation American Jew--the new immigrant.

Study Questions

1. What difficulties did Jewish immigrants face in attempting to transplant the "Sabbath" to America?

2. Handlin says that rapid splintering was a characteristic of Jewish synagogue development in America. How does this compare with the apparently harmonious and undifferentiated life of the shtetl as depicted by Zborowski and Herzog?

3. Looking at the ghetto, Handlin says that "the immigrants witnessed in themselves a deterioration." Yet despite the problems they faced, almost none went back to Europe. Can you account for this?

4. Handlin say the immigrant's experience destroyed the context of his or her religion. Explain what this would mean to the shtetl Jew.

5. Religion played a role in the immigrants' adaptation to their new environment. Which aspects of shtetl life were particularly threatened by the American environment, and which elements of shtetl culture (at least theoretically) proved to be adaptable and even helpful in the new life of the Jewish immigrants?


Reading Assignments


Who were the early Zionist writers?

Hess: Zionist Idea, 22-45, 116-40

Pinsker: 178-98

What was Herzl's role?

Zionist Idea, 45-51, 200-231

What is cultural Zionism?

Ahad Ha'am: Zionist Idea, 51-72, 247-288

What are the forms of socialist Zionism?

Zionist Idea, 72-80, 329-82

How do we define religious Zionism?

Zionist Idea, 80-100, 397-465

Study Notes

The modern age in Europe in the 19th century followed in the aftermath of the French revolution. A half century or more of great change took place across the continent. The French revolution brought the Enlightenment to western Europe--the age when society moved out of the former period of time and became receptive to the new ideas associated with the revolution and with the new themes and philosophies of society. While society was in the process of being reshaped by radical ideals and revolutionary events, beneath the surface the old attitudes and prejudices continued.

Universalism was a prevailing idea that through the actions of revolution and change, the universal goals of mankind would be achieved. After the French Revolution, especially after 1848, this concept of universalism was supplanted by a new wave of romantic rationalism--in the wake of the reunification of the German and Italian nations.

Nationalism grew over the course of the century and eventually led to two world wars. It exerted a powerful force over the imagination of the peoples in Europe including many prominent Jewish thinkers mainly in the Zionist ideology of the period. A perverse spin-off of nationalistic thinking was the rabid and dogmatic racism which arose within western Europe.

Nationalism, Universalism, Socialism, Racism were each to have been able to further the march of history forward to the ultimate time, the end of days, the redemption of the world, the end of all travail. In this milieu Zionism developed and grew.

Let me provide some basic definitions and aspects of the Jewish community in the 19th century in Europe: "emancipation" means freedom--in specific freedom from slavery (e.g. the Emancipation Proclamation). For our historical setting it connotes the attainment of the basic rights of citizenship for the Jews. Beginning in France and spreading across the European countries the Jews were for the first time given equal rights to live as citizens. Previously, they lived in self-contained units, towns of small size with their own social institutions, schools, charitable organizations, medical help and so on, the small Shtetlach we have studied. Emancipation for the Jews came in the wake of the French Revolution. Both Jew and Gentile greeted the idea of emancipation. The Jews hoped that equal rights and citizenship would bring an end to antisemitism. The Jew would be equal and no longer subject to persecution. The Gentiles hoped that the kindness of extending a hand to the Jews would be the enticement needed to further their hopes of converting the Jews to Christianity. Few opposed the emancipation of the European Jewish Community.

With the new freedom the Jews pursued the ideas and ideals of the Western thinkers. To the traditional, religious adherent of Judaism, Enlightenment of the mind to new ideas and philosophies, especially to the current philosophies of the nineteenth century, which were hardly sympathetic to religion, and not at all kind to Judaism, was dangerous. It contradicted the goals of the established religious group. A few binary pairs form the basic vocabulary of modern Jewish thought in the Enlightenment: East Europe/West Europe; Reform/tradition; Antisemitism (racism)/national hope; Diaspora/refuge in a homeland.

Background of Zionism

The idea of Zion is at the center of Jewish thought going back to the Tanakh. For instance:

If I forget thee O Jerusalem let my right hand lose its cunning, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.

By the waters of Babylon there we sat, there we mourned for the land of Israel.

The exiles in the Diaspora longed for many millennia to return to a homeland. The rabbis carried over the idea of returning to Zion into their own reformulation of Jewish thought 1500-2000 years ago. In the liturgy, the prayers which they arranged for the synagogue and the home of the rabbinic Jew, they placed the idea of Zion. The Jew prays through the words of an anonymous rabbi

Gather us from the four corners of the world--to Jerusalem. Return rulership to the Jew, return the land to the Jew, give the chance for the messianic age to dawn----for the son of David to rule, and by so doing to redeem the Jews.

What was so peculiar about the situation of the Jews in Europe in the 19th century that lead them to conclude that then was the proper time for the rebirth of the active Zionist Ideal? The Zionists perceived a situation intolerable at worst and unfulfilling at best for the Jews of Europe. The earliest thinkers alluded to the antisemitism of the times.

Zionism is a system of Judaism. After the creation of the State of Israel, Zionist thought was put into practice. The State of Israel is a complex society, based in large part on the complex ideology behind the Zionist movement. Our understanding of the ideas of Zionism help us to understand the modern state of Israel and the modern state of mind of the American Jew as he/she regards Israel, Judaism, and America.

Hertzberg's classic introduction to the subject on pages 15-100 serves as your best study notes for the readings in these units.


Discuss or debate two of the bases for modern Zionism: one primarily external motive and one dominantly internal force. Refer specifically to the primary writings of the founders of Zionism.

American Judaism


Reading Assignment


American Judaism--pages 1-78

Study Notes

The Jews of Eastern Europe who came three-million strong around the turn of the century found that the faced not only the trauma of the passage to America, but also confrontation with native American Judaism that had been taking shape since the 17th century. The religion of the Sephardic (Spanish and Portuguese) and Ashkenazic (Franco-German) Jews in America was a bit different from that of the shtetl Jews. But more important, the native Jews were at best indifferent to the droves of unrefined immigrant Jews from Eastern Europe.

Curiously, the writing of Nathan Glazer reflects a somewhat reserved judgment of the shtetl Jew. You should read Glazer with some care, for he provides you with valuable facts concerning the early Jewish communities in America. He describes the nature and influence of these communities and explains the growth of reform and conservative Judaism in the mid-19th century.

While Glazer does describe the influx of Eastern European Jews, you should note his attitude. He takes the point of view of the native American Jew viewing an influx of foreigners. Glazer is never reluctant to judge which group you should consider enlightened and modern and which group you should see as rigid and backward. As you read his book, note his judgmental tone throughout, a characteristic of the 1950s attitude toward the history of the growth of America. Handlin, by way of contrast, for the most part avoids such judgments and is an exception to the rule.

Study Questions

1. What was the impact of the Jewish community on American culture before 1825?

2. Describe the elements of reform Judaism in America from 1825-1894. What elements of the religion were most profoundly affected by the reforms?

3. How did the Eastern European Jewish immigrants differ from the Jews who arrived in this country earlier?


Reading Assignment


American Judaism--pages 79-105

Study Notes


The immigration restrictions of 1921 cut the flow of Jewish immigrants to America to a trickle. Because of this there was a natural break in the development of American Judaic culture. The immigrants themselves gradually lost dominance in their society. Their children, the second generation, began to formulate the consensus of life style and belief we call American Judaism. As you read Glazer's book, note the many important traits of the second generation he refers to. I've listed a few of these traits below, and added some others.

First Generation Second Generation

first area of settlement second area--uptown, city fringes

"Jewish" "American"

religious secular

hopeful, ambitious bitter, sense of futility

illiterate educated

stability of residence much moving about

population boom stable population, little growth

disorganized more community organization

adherence to shtetl building American Jewishness

Judaism (orthodoxy (growth of conservative Judaism)

or nothing)

Study Questions

1. What changes in demography affected the Jews of the 1920-1945 period?

2. What institutions did they develop? Why?

3. How did conservative Judaism grow in this era?

4. Outline the thought of Mordecai Kaplan.

5. How does the Sioux City, Iowa, story, recounted by Glazer on pages 101-2, suggest that Reform Judaism developed in some ways as a reaction to the institutional growth of "Eastern European Jewish Life" in America?

6. What theological developments marked the second generation's contribution to American Judaism?

Written Assignment. Your response should be two typewritten pages (500 words).

One writer has said, "what the second generation tries to forget, the third generation wants to remember." In general, the children of the immigrants selectively "forgot" some aspects of immigrant culture and religion while they retained others. Explain.


Reading Assignment


American Judaism--pages 106-128


American Judaism-Adventure in Modernity--xerox

and Understanding American Judaism, Vol. I, pages 115-306. New York: KTAV Publishing, 1975.

Study Notes

While Jewish immigrants fought for survival, their children and grandchildren were able to establish the basic institutions and formulate the dominant conceptions that define the common character of American Jewish culture from 1945-1967. In this lesson, you will be studying about the rabbi, the Jewish community structure, and the religious system of life belief of American Jews. You will be reading about phenomena that exist in contemporary Judaism. I briefly outline the history and development of the second and third generations of American Jews, the children and grandchildren of the immigrants. With this you can better understand the continuities and disjunctures between the life of the old country and the religion of the new.

The Second Generation (1920-1945)

As the floodgates of immigration were shut off by legislation, the children of the Eastern European Jewish immigrants found themselves growing up as a generation with shared common interests and concerns, and no longer overwhelmed by a constant stream of new arrivals from abroad. Picture if you will and "ideal" second generation adult, a composite of many traits of his or her contemporaries and in some ways, a caricature. This model may be described as follows. The world view of the second generation was dominated by the children's intense conception that they would and could throw off the bonds of their immigrant heritage and become true Americans. Many shared a sense of bitterness, futility, and resentment. The old ways would not fit the new context, they thought. Given a choice, they would choose to be American rather than Jewish. The fiction of Malamud, Olsen, Weidman, Rogin, Liben, and Schwartz, among many others, reflects the complexity of those beliefs and how they were acted out in family relationships between parents and children.

The life style of the second generation Jews may also be generally characterized. The children of the immigrants were highly educated, geographically mobile, and demographically less volatile. They focused their energies on developing community organizations and movements. They sought to be Americans and secular. This process too was shaped by their Jewishness. The second generation, in short, tried to forget.

The Third Generation

But the third generation wished to remember. The general religious and social traits of the grandchildren of the immigrants were greatly different from those of their parents. This generation of Jews (1945-1967) underwent a religious revival of sorts. For the remainder of the course you will be confronting the religion that took shape in this generation and was challenged in the next. You will see that the grandchildren of the immigrants did not return to a shtetl religious system, but to a religion that was distinctively American. Even the recent phenomena of "reversion" lead followers to new forms of Orthodox culture.

The third generation Jews found themselves educated, in the middle-class, out of the ethnic ghettos, and yet attached to religion. Their choices of emphasis in formulating their religious system were guided by American practice and American thought of the 40s, 50s, and 60s. So the Sabbath and the complex ritual structures of the shtetl became less important. Passover gained centrality in the life of the third generation Jew. The institutional structure of the synagogue resembled in some respects the Protestant church.

In all, the Jewish religious world view and way of life deviated little, if at all, from that of the "normal" American. "Religion is good in small doses." "It is as American as apple pie." Because great Americans came from all walks of life, there were many models of great Jewish-Americans. There were, as 1950s texts tell us, even Jewish baseball players and boxers. Compare the story by Meyer Liben, "In Homage to Benny Leonard." Differences in religion were confined to the buildings Americans entered to worship and the way individuals spoke about God. "There is one God and merely many paths to reach him." It was an age of consensus and unity whose culture never sank deep roots in American culture and disappeared quickly as the 60s unfolded.

The institution of the American rabbi was defined in American terms in this period. As turn to your readings on this subject you should note some speak of the American rabbi as a "Holy Man." He may not fit this label. That is an issue to be examined. Some of his traits are less debatable. Unlike the shtetl "Rov," a rabbi served not a whole town but his single synagogue. His role as Torah-master and kashruth supervisor diminished to allow for other functions in his day-to-day life. By and large he tended the pastoral needs of his congregation and maintained a congregation. Individual rabbis, depending on their abilities and aspirations, rose to become outstanding leaders or remained content merely to be highly paid "page announcers" who made certain that the congregation worshiped in unison. In any case, if a shtetl rabbi met his American counterpart, they would have few concerns in common.

Study Questions

1. According to Stuart Rosenberg, the life of a rabbi seems much like that of a busy executive or, perhaps, social worker. How so?

2. Why does an American rabbi have so little clout in his community?

3. How has the rabbinate changed in America over the last three generations?

4. What are the major personal concerns of a rabbi, as depicted by Rubenstein?

5. What is the role of the rebbetzin (rabbi's wife) in the community?

Written Assignment

A scholar says, "However much the contemporary rabbi differs from the rabbi of antiquity and medieval times, far more does he continue in roles and tasks they began" (p. 60). Based on your readings about the shtetl and the American rabbi, argue either that the statement is correct or incorrect in this general statement.

Your essay should be two typewritten pages long (500 words).


Reading Assignment


American Judaism-Adventure in Modernity--xerox, pp. 15-34


Understanding American Judaism, Vol. I, pages 67-114. New York: KTAV Publishing, 1975.

Study Notes

Your reactions to the readings of the last lesson may have been mixed. You may have found the picture of the rabbi to be bluntly negative and critical. But this portrait to a large degree is accurate. It was necessary for you to read first about the rabbi to adjust any preconceptions you may have brought to this course. Now you are better ready to hear that a picture of the community of American Judaism cannot place the rabbi at the center of activity as sole communal leader, authority figure, and role model. Indeed, in many cases the rabbi plays a peripheral role in Jewish life. How then may we best portray this community--its concerns and its basic activities?

You will turn first in this lesson to the way of life of American Jews, the consensus that took shape in the third generation of Eastern European Jewish immigration. In later materials you will look at the world view that characterizes the "mainstream" of American Jewish thought. In this latter set of concerns you will find much of what you expect. In the former you may find some surprises.

The "Holy Life" of American Jewry is a far cry from that of shtetl culture. To be a good practicing Jew one "joins an organization and gives money." So the main characteristics of Jewish American life as pictured in your readings include:

1. checkbook Judaism

2. the culture or organizations; and

3. the community professionals.

These constitute some communal aspects of American Judaism. In the next unit you will turn to the personal religion of the modern Jew in America.

Study Questions

1. How would you define the three terms listed above?

2. What does Howard Singer's critique see as the main shortcoming of the culture of organizations?

3. Who are the real "leaders" of the Jewish community?

4. How would you describe the role of the Federations in Jewish life?

5. You know some features of the life style of shtetl Judaism and of American Judaism. Some argue that the latter is so greatly different from the former that it constitutes an entirely new system rather than a simple adaptation of the old way of life. Do you agree or disagree?


Reading Assignment


American Judaism, 129-150


Understanding American Judaism, Vol. I, pages 3-66. New York: KTAV Publishing, 1975.

Study Notes

Now that you have started to examine the life of the modern Jew in his or her community, you should ask, what of the activities of each individual, the personal side of Jewishness? The Lakeville study of Sklare and Greenblum (American Judaism-Adventure in Modernity, pp. 71-75) will give you some insight into this question. Not surprisingly, you see that giving to charity and belonging to an organization rank as third and fourth in this survey of Jewish opinion about the desirable traits of Jewishness. Other traits include:

1. Knowing About Judaism

This somewhat vague category varies from one setting to another. What is considered basic knowledge of the Bible and Jewish history in one intellectual milieu may be considered advanced scholarship in another cultural context. Of late, knowing about the Holocaust (destruction of European Jewry in World War II) has become more central.

Emphasis on knowledge goes hand-in-hand with insistence on formal schooling for the young in Hebrew schools. These schools are usually affiliated with synagogues and hold classes after school and on Sundays. Some have criticized the effectiveness of this institution.

2. Supporting Israel

This second trait is often expressed by giving donations to Israel. Frequently a pilgrimage to Israel is undertaken by those with means. Often this becomes a vacation in a nice Jewish resort area that just happens to be in the Middle East. In the next unit we will turn to the importance of "Israelism" in American Judaism.

3. Attending Synagogue

There are usually three purposes for which American Jews attend synagogue.

a. Rites of Passage--to celebrate the bar mitzvah (coming of age for a boy at 13), bat mitzvah (coming of age for a girl), or a wedding, and less frequently for a funeral (often held in a funeral parlor), birth celebration, or circumcision (often held at home).

b. High Holidays--The New Year (Rosh Hashanah), and Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) in the fall of the year, which are commonly attended by many more marginally-affiliated Jews.

c. Recitation of Memorial Prayers--on Yom Kippur and other holidays, prayers for deceased relatives are recited (Yizkor). In the first year of mourning for parents, and on the anniversaries of their deaths, mourners recite prayers (Kaddish). Reverence for the dead is a factor that brings many marginally-affiliated Jews into the synagogue.

While this is not a complete catalogue, it restates some of the items judged central in the Lakeville study. They represent activities of individuals rather than of the community. Yet, you should consider to what degree these "individual" practices potentially guide the personal and internal life of a Jew. For it has been said that on the inside the life style of the American Jew is nearly identical to that of most Americans. The distinction between Jew and non-Jew remains confined, it is said, to external manifestations of Jewishness.

Study Questions

1. Why does a crisis of identity plague modern Jews?

2. What accounts for the sanction of Judaism as the third "official" religion in America?

3. How did the Jews in America maintain their religious identity when other immigrant groups lost theirs?

4. Summarize the results of the Lakeville Study.

5. What are the collective doubts of American Jews regarding their identity and attitudes toward Judaism?


Reading Assignment


American Judaism--pages 150-186

Study Notes


The modern state of Israel, founded in 1948, plays an important role in the life and thought of American Jews. You have already read about the ongoing activities many organizations undertake to support this "western" state in the Middle East--to raise money for Israel and publicly assert political and moral backing for it. You also should recall that taking a trip to Israel is among the many things American Jews do to assert their religiosity.

But quite often the average American Jew is not aware of how deep and substantial is the thought, the philosophy, and the ideology of modern Zionism. To the average Jew, Israel is both the homeland of ancient ancestors and of the modern Jew as well -- an outrageous and yet self-evident idea.

The Idea of a "Homeland"

The Jews you are concerned with in this course came, as you recall, mainly from Eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century. Factually, then, their homelands included Russia, Poland, Rumania, Hungary, and the like. But the collective consciousness of these immigrants never accepted these countries as the place of their origin. Intuitively, logically, and psychologically the Eastern European Jews knew that they had no homeland--no country they could call their own. To fill this void, these "orphans" adopted a new land as their homeland--Israel. It took quite a while for the adoption process to be completed. While modern Zionist thought as we have seen it, began in earnest in the 1860s, only in the 1960s and 1970s did most Jews of the world acknowledge Israel as their homeland.

America's Jews do support Israel and do visit Israel, but when they arrive they find not the hometown of their grandparents or great-grandparents but the archaeological remains of ancestors who called Israel their homeland thousands of years ago. You will find that the relationship of Jews to Israel is one of the most engrossing, interesting, and perplexing characteristics of modern Judaism.

You are now familiar with many intellectual justifications for and ideological goals of Zionist thought. Israel appears to be a crucial factor in defining Jewishness in the modern world. Moreover, the theological support of the meanings of Israel in the world often takes the form of a deeply religious kind of messianic prophecy--through Israel the world will be redeemed.

But some people have criticized the average Jew's perception of Israel's relationship to American Judaism as superficial. They say that simple support of Israel in the political arena and a tour of that country every few years gives Jews something "Jewish" to do, but that kind of activity touches nothing of the inner or personal life of an individual. A deeper and warmer inner commitment to Israel would constitute a genuinely meaningful religious component of an individual's life. But for America's Jews, they say, this is rare.

So the relationship of Jews to Israel is somewhat contradictory and certainly complex. While it has potentially positive ramifications for modern Judaism, a superficial understanding of the ties that bind Jews to Israel may not deepen Judaic religious life.

Study Questions

1. Steinberg lists a number of potential benefits that a Jewish homeland would provide Jews. Is he correct, based on what you know of the world view and life style of the third and fourth generation descendants of Eastern European Jewish immigrants?

2. What is "enlandisement"?

3. How is Zionism at once modern and secular, and also archaic and religious?

Written Assignment. Your essay should be two typewritten pages (500 words).

Many shtetl Jews were, and many American Jews are, ardent Zionists in deeply intellectual and personally religious ways. Yet they came to settle, and continue to live in America. Based on the required readings, explain:

1. what Zionism contributes to the self-understanding of a Jew; and

2. in what ways Zionism is a "curious amalgamation of the most modern and secular, with the most archaic and religious."


Reading Assignment


American Judaism-Adventure in Modernity--XEROX, pp. 117-142


Understanding American Judaism, Vol. II, pages 3-299. New York: KTAV Publishing, 1975.

Study Notes

Many of you have anticipated this part of the course from the outset. On entering a Jewish Studies course, a student once remarked to me that he was not Jewish, but that he came to that course to find out "why the Jews do not believe in Jesus and what they do believe in." We cannot to simplistically list a catalogue of dogmas and call it "modern Jewish theology."

I have emphasized that the formation of a proper agendum of inquiry or set of questions is the best way to enter into an analysis of the issues of this course. So, too, as we approach the beliefs of America's Jews. The thoughts and ideas of a community can be derived from just a few of the general issues that it confronts. Those issues that are paramount in the minds of the Jewish intellectual elite generate in turn its agendum of problems. The issues include:

1. chaos

2. existence; and

3. death.

These issues are explored by Richard Rubinstein who sees chaos in the world. He is angered by the hopelessness of humanity's existence, which is underlined by communal historical tragedy. Soloveitchik, like Rubinstein, sees the existential dilemma of humanity as the paramount issue to be faced by the theologian. But he responds to it out of traditional framework. Fackenheim, too, takes a traditional attitude toward death and destruction in his call to reassert life and create a stronger identity.

These Jewish theologians, like many of their Christian counterparts, formulate a modern agendum for theological inquiry. They face the modern secular world with its tremendous capacity for building and for destruction, and they bring to it archaic yet enduring ideas and create afresh new worlds of thought, new answers to humanity's need to explain the unknowable and to understand the mysterious forces of our society and our world.

Study Questions

1. How is the modern Jewish intellectual different from the classical Jewish sage, according to Arthur Cohen?

2. Summarize the theological concerns of Richard Rubenstein and the existential posture of Soloveitchik.

3. Emil Fackenheim formulates a theological response to the Holocaust. In what ways does it deal with that dark era of history?

Written Assignment

Some people have pointed out that Fackenheim's call to respond to the Holocaust was answered in the creation of the modern state of Israel. Examine this assertion, considering whether the Holocaust (suffering and death) and Israel (redemption and rebirth) can be seen as enduring symbols in a new Judaic world view.

Write a 500-word essay in response to this topic (two typewritten pages).


Study Notes and Questions

At the conclusion of this course I would like to review the issues you have explored and the story you have followed. there is a little need to emphasize the changes you have seen in Judaism as Jews moved from the shtetl to North America. The history of the modern world over the past 100 years puts before us a constant drama of change in technology, in society, in life, and in thought. Change is self-evident. For the immigrants the uprooted, change was often traumatic. What then should you reflect on in the account you have followed in this course? In my opinion, the enigma is how so many scholars, theologians, leaders, and common people persist in the conviction that there is continuity from the archaic world of the past to the turbulent situation of the present. What is interesting, as I see it, is the insistence that modern Judaism is a continuation and extension of the true and authentic religion of the past.

Another major issue runs through the entire course and in fact is related to the preceding. That is, in a world of flux and contradiction, what is sacred and what is holy? shtetl Jews never faced this question. This dichotomy of life was thoroughly worked out for them. They knew the elements of the sacred and how it differed from the profane. But the modern context admits contradiction and confusion. What are the elements of the holy life, holy man, holy ways? Why do theologians dwell on death and existence, and relegate classical themes such as God and revelation to a secondary position? So, at the conclusion of this course you must turn both to the facts gathered by sociologists and historians and to the great thoughts and concepts produced by theologians and philosophers and ask of them the larger, yet unsettled questions.

Final Assignment

Outlines of your final paper must be approved before the end of classes. The completed assignment is due one week from the last class meeting.