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After Emancipation

After Emancipation: Jewish Religious Responses to Modernity

David Ellenson
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 547
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    After Emancipation
    Book Description:

    David Ellenson prefaces this fascinating collection of twenty-three essays with a remarkably candid account of his intellectual journey from boyhood in Virginia to the scholarly immersions in the history, thought, and literature of the Jewish people that have informed his research interests in a long and distinguished academic career. Ellenson, President of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, has been particularly intrigued by the attempts of religious leaders in all denominations of Judaism, from Liberal to Neo-Orthodox, to redefine and reconceptualize themselves and their traditions in the modern period as both the Jewish community and individual Jews entered radically new realms of possibility and change. The essays are grouped into five sections. In the first, Ellenson reflects upon the expression of Jewish values and Jewish identity in contemporary America, explains his debt to Jacob Katz’s socio-religious approach to Jewish history, and shows how the works of non-Jewish social historian Max Weber highlight the tensions between the universalism of western thought and Jewish demands for a particularistic identity. In the second section, “The Challenge of Emanicpation,” he indicates how Jewish religious leaders in nineteenth-century Europe labored to demonstrate that the Jewish religion and Jewish culture were worthy of respect by the larger gentile world. In a third section, “Denominational Responses,” Ellenson shows how the leaders of Liberal and Orthodox branches of Judaism in Central Europe constructed novel parameters for their communities through prayer books, legal writings, sermons, and journal articles. The fourth section, “Modern Responsa,” takes a close look at twentieth-century Jewish legal decisions on new issues such as the status of woemn, fertility treatments, and even the obligations of the Israeli government towards its minority populations. Finally, review essays in the last section analyze a few landmark contemporary works of legal and liturgical creativity: the new Israeli Masorti prayer book, David Hartman’s works on covenantal theology, and Marcia Falk’s Book of Blessings. As Ellenson demonstrates, “The reality of Jewish cultural and social integration into the larger world after Emancipation did not signal the demise of Judaism. Instead, the modern setting has provided a challenging context where the ongoing creativity and adaptability of Jewish religious leaders of all stripes has been tested and displayed.”

    eISBN: 978-0-87820-095-5
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Foreword
    (pp. 9-11)
    Michael A. Meyer

    In his autobiography, Jacob Katz, the prominent historian of medieval and modern European Jewry, pointed to a paradox: Jewish religious reformers have tended to cling to the formal rules of Jewish law in order to justify religious advance whereas the champions of Orthodoxy have subverted those same rules in order to advance a religious politics intended to preserve the tradition or to rescue it from the danger of Reform.

    David Ellenson, who has frequently attested to the influence that the writings of Jacob Katz and his personal experience sitting in Katz’s classroom at Columbia exercised upon him, has explored his...

  2. Reflections on Modernity

    • 1 Judaism Resurgent? American Jews and the Evolving Expression of Jewish Values and Jewish Identity
      (pp. 27-50)

      In 1943, at the height of the Holocaust and at a moment of intense agitation for the creation of a Jewish state, Joseph Proskauer, then president of the American Jewish Committee, authored an AJC-sponsored “Statement of Views.” Addressed to world leaders who would eventually frame the terms of an armistice and dictate postwar conditions of peace, the document stated : “We urge upon the United Nations and those who shall frame the terms of the peace the relief from the havoc and ruin inflicted by Axis barbarism onmillions of unoffending human beings, especially Jews.” In commenting upon this statement,...

    • 2 Jacob Katz on the Origins and Dimensions of Jewish Modernity The Centrality of the German Experience
      (pp. 51-79)

      The gifts Jacob Katz bestowed upon modern Jewish scholarship were by any standard immense. No one more brilliantly analyzed the course and complexity of modern European Jewish history than he did. In his landmark workTradition and Crisis, Katz fruitfully defined the motifs that were to mark his lifetime of scholarship. In its pages, he also employed the social-scientific methodology he had imbibed during his student years at the University of Frankfurt. With that methodology he illuminated the content and trajectory of the Western European Jewish world as it confronted the ongoing challenges of the modern world. Although he would...

    • 3 Max Weber on Judaism and the Jews A Reflection on the Position of Jews in the Modern World
      (pp. 80-96)

      Max Weber stands as one of the truly seminal thinkers in the history of western intellectual thought. His interest in understanding how a particular approach to life — which he called “rational” — had become a potent force in history animated and informed his voluminous writings and researches. He was certain that a comprehension of this approach and the ethos that marked it would yield insight into the current nature and future direction of modern society. Weber was further convinced that the teachings of ancient Judaism had played a major role in the development of this ethos, and he therefore devoted a...

  3. The Challenge of Emancipation

    • 4 Emancipation and the Directions of Modern Judaism The Lessons of Melitz Yosher
      (pp. 99-120)

      The impact of Emancipation on Jews living in Western Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century was decisive and thorough. Its advent created new imperatives and frameworks that influenced and in many ways determined the directions that Judaism would follow in the modern world. Jews assumed a new sense of selfhood in this new political and cultural order, and a new aesthetic as well as new understandings of Judaism subsequently emerged. The resultant patterns of thought and practice led to a set of denominational and aesthetic options that continue to inform Jews in their practice of Judaism even today....

    • 5 A Disputed Precedent The Prague Organ in Nineteenth-Century Central European Legal Literature and Polemics
      (pp. 121-138)

      When the Hamburg Reform temple was dedicated on October 18, 1818, the employment of an organ during worship was among the central innovations the Reformers proposed in order to enhance the aesthetics of the contemporary Jewish service. This innovation, as well as other changes the Reform temple had introduced, aroused the fierce opposition of the Orthodox. In 1819, a pamphlet issued by the Orthodox Rabbinic Court of Hamburg under the titleEileh Divrei ha-Brit(These are the Words of the Covenant) collected twenty-two opinions signed by forty rabbis asserting that the “work of the ‘innovators’ stood outside the pale of...

    • 6 Samuel Holdheim and Zacharias Frankel on the Legal Character of Jewish Marriage An Overlooked Debate in Nineteenth-Century Liberal Judaism
      (pp. 139-153)

      Samuel Holdheim (1806–1860) was the preeminent spokesman for radical Reform during the nineteenth century. He assessed theHalakhahas a transitory element within Judaism and abjured law as an enduring dimension of the Jewish religion. Nevertheless, in his most famous work,Über die Autonomie der Rabbinen und das Princip der jüdischen Ehe(On the Autonomy of the Rabbis and the Principles of Jewish Marriage) (1843)¹ he offered a serious and insightful analysis ofkinyan(the legal act of acquisition) as it related todinei kiddushin(laws of marriage) in Jewish law. The reasoning he employed in this analysis can...

    • 7 Traditional Reactions to Modern Jewish Reform The Paradigm of German Orthodoxy
      (pp. 154-183)

      Rabbi Leo Baeck, in his famous essay “Does Traditional Judaism Possess Dogmas?” pointed out that “whether Judaism, in its form of belief, is a religion without dogmas is a question that has oft en been raised.”¹ At the outset of this article, Baeck recalled that Moses Mendelssohn, inJerusalem, had maintained that “the Israelites have a divine legislation:commandments, statutes, rules of life . . . but no dogmas.” However, Baeck noted that a number of Jewish scholars disagreed with Mendelssohn’s assertion and claimed that Judaism had a number of theological assertions and dogmas that provided the foundation for Jewish faith....

    • 8 The Rabbiner-Seminar Codicil An Instrument of Boundary Maintenance
      (pp. 184-190)

      On October 22, 1873, theRabbiner-Seminar für das Orthodoxe Judentumopened its doors in Berlin under the leadership of Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer. From the outset, the seminary intended, as its name indicated, to “increase the power of Orthodox Judaism internally and raise its esteem externally.”¹ It saw itself as a rival to both the Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau and theHochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentumsas a source of rabbis for the Jewish community in Germany and central Europe. Within a decade after its inauguration, the hope of its founder was realized and the position of the Rabbiner-Seminar...

  4. Denominational Responses

    • 9 The Israelitische Gebetbücher of Abraham Geiger and Manuel Joël A Study in Nineteenth-Century German-Jewish Communal Liturgy and Religion
      (pp. 193-222)

      The nineteenth century was a time of great liturgical ferment in the life of the German-Jewish community.¹ Reform Judaism bounded onto the stage of history in the 1810s as a movement of liturgical change, but Hebrew prayer book creativity, as evidenced in the production of a constant stream of newsiddurim, continued unabated among all the religious streams in Germany throughout the 1800s. These prayer books played a central role in the religious developments and conflicts of the nineteenth-century German-Jewish community, and the theological nuances and sensibilities of the leaders in these denominational struggles were reflected in the prayer books...

    • 10 The Prayers for Rain in the Siddurim of Abraham Geiger and Isaac Mayer Wise An Exploration into the Relationship Between Reform Jewish Thought and Liturgical Practice
      (pp. 223-236)

      As is well known to students and practitioners of classical Jewish prayer, there are two seasonal insertions in the daily liturgy of the traditionalAmidahthat express a Jewish acknowledgment of God’s mastery over nature as well as a specific request for rain. The first of these insertions is found in the second benediction of theShemoneh Esreh. In this blessing, labeledGevurot, all traditionalminhagim, Sephardic and Ashkenazic, add the phrase, “Mashiv ha-ruaḥ u-morid ha-gashem— who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall,” during the fall and winter months, after the words, “Ata rav le-hoshi’a–You...

    • 11 German Jewish Orthodoxy Tradition in the Context of Culture
      (pp. 237-256)

      The study of German Jewish history of the last two hundred years has primarily centered around a description of Jewish religious and cultural reform. Jewish defense organizations and the rise of a small but significant Zionist movement have also garnered considerable academic attention. With the exception of some work on Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the Orthodox have not been a major focus of these investigations: Orthodox Judaism has largely been perceived as irrelevant to this tale of how Jewish tradition confronted the challenge of living in a radically changed milieu. Since the focus of Jewish academic concerns has been the...

    • 12 Gemeindeorthodoxie in Weimar Germany The Approaches of Nehemiah Anton Nobel and Isak Unna
      (pp. 257-279)

      Historians and sociologists of the twentieth century have frequently filtered their discussion and analysis of social and political trends in the modern Occident through the lens provided by the theme of community and its decline. They have asserted that European life at the end of the Middle Ages was marked by an organic sense of community that provided individuals with institutional and cultural patterns, forms, activities, and values that allowed for group solidarity and identification. The premodern community has been depicted as a haven from the existential fears of solitude and individual isolation that are increasingly said to characterize and...

    • 13 The Curriculum of the Jewish Theological Seminary in Historical and Comparative Perspective A Prism on the Emergence of American Jewish Religious Denominationalism
      (pp. 280-320)

      In a sermon delivered at Congregation Chizzuk Emunah in Baltimore during the winter of 1886, Sabato Morais, founder of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, made the following pledge to his audience:

      A seminary of sacred learning will be set up. . . . I acknowledge that as far as it lies inmypower, the proposed seminary shall be hallowed to one predominating purpose — to the upholding of the principles by which my ancestors lived and for which many have died. From that nursery of learning shall issue forth men whose utterances will kindle enthusiasm for the literature of...

  5. Modern Responsa

    • 14 Women and the Study of Torah A Responsum by Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin of Jerusalem
      (pp. 323-343)

      Patriarchal cultures have regularly assigned separate spheres of influence to men and women. In general, such cultures have reserved the public arena for men, and designated the domestic realm as the proper area for the activity of women. Jewish civilization, as Susan Grossman and Rivka Haut have pointed out, has been no exception to this pattern.¹ As a result of this role-assignation, the realm of Torah study within traditional Judaism has throughout history remained the near-exclusive province of men. Undoubtedly, students of gender would link this phenomenon to the implications that such study possesses for the exercise of public positions...

    • 15 Gender, Halakhah, and Women’s Suffrage Responsa of the First Three Chief Rabbis on the Public Role of Women in the Jewish State
      (pp. 344-366)

      As discussed in the previous chapter, a modern notion of gender equality is foreign to classical rabbinic Judaism. The ancient Sages, like patriarchs in other cultures, assigned men and women distinct gender roles. In their view, Psalm 45:14, where it was written, “Kol kevodah bat melekh penimah— the King’s daughter is all glorious within,” consigned women to the domestic realm. Susan Grossman and Rivka Haut, in commenting upon this passage, have observed that it serves as the halakhic warrant for the position that a woman can play no role in public life.

      This verse has been cited as proof that,...

    • 16 Parallel Worlds Wissenschaft and Psak in the Seridei Eish
      (pp. 367-393)

      In his remarkably insightful memoir-essay, “Confluent Myths,” Arnold Band, scholar of Hebrew and comparative literature, wrote what he has described as an element of his “intellectual biography.”¹ He observed that as a Boston-area Jewish child of the 1930s and 1940s, he was involved in “two educational systems,” that of the public elementary school and Boston Latin School for Boys as well as Harvard University, on the one hand, and the Boston Hebrew College, on the other. Each of these universes had its own “elitist myth.” The former promoted a Jeffersonian ideal of the individual as paramount and contended that it...

    • 17 A Jewish Legal Authority Addresses Jewish-Christian Dialogue Two Responsa of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein
      (pp. 394-409)

      October 28, 1965 will stand as a milestone moment in the history of Catholic-Jewish relations. On that date, the Second Vatican Council, in response to a call first put forth by Pope John XXIII in 1960, issued a statement on the Jews,Nostra Aetate. This document provided a positive assessment of the role played by the Jewish people throughout history and sought to repudiate antisemitism. In many Jewish circles,Nostra Aetatewas received with enthusiastic, albeit cautious, optimism. After all, the spirit of openness found in its pages contained a promise of hope. Its proponents heralded it as marking the...

    • 18 Jewish Legal Interpretation and Moral Values Two Responsa by Rabbi Ḥayim David Halevi on the Obligations of the Israeli Government towards Its Minority Population
      (pp. 410-424)

      The texts of a specific legal system provide a bedrock of authority and identity for the community that dwells within its precincts, and the community itself evidences its ideals and self-understanding through the ongoing way that its judges apply the rules and principles of that system to a contemporary case. The legal decisions that emerge from these writings mark a crossroads where traditional texts and current contexts meet in an ongoing process of legal hermeneutics. As the famed legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin has pointed out, a legal judgment is, therefore, an act of both fidelity and imagination.

      Legal pronouncements constitute...

    • 19 Interpretive Fluidity and Psak in a Case of Pidyon Shevuyim An Analysis of a Modern Israeli Responsum as Illuminated by the Thought of David Hartman
      (pp. 425-451)

      A spirit of Jewish religious humanism animates the texts of Rabbi David Hartman, and two primary themes seem to find expression over and over again in his thought. On the one hand, Hartman displays the passionate conviction that Judaism is marked by an ongoing Jewish hermeneutical enterprise, a supple rabbinic ethos that remains capable, in multiple voices that are simultaneously authentic and measured, of guiding Jews through the shoals of a challenging modern world. He contends that Jews must recover and uncover that ethos, for the integrity of Jewish religious and national identity in both the Diaspora and Israel is...

    • 20 Artificial Fertilization and Procreative Autonomy Two Contemporary Responsa
      (pp. 452-470)

      Modern medicine has developed new reproductive technologies that have allowed the genetic, gestational, and social components of parenting to be separated in unprecedented and astonishing ways. As Professor Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania has observed, “[If ] Leonardo da Vinci were suddenly transported to the United States in 1994,” he would find “a reproductive clinic [where] we make babies in this dish and give them to other women to give birth . . . more surprising than seeing an airplane or even the space shuttle.”¹ A cartoon on the editorial pages of theLos Angeles Timeson january...

  6. New Initiatives, New Directions

    • 21 A New Rite from Israel Reflections on Siddur Va’ani Tefillati of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement
      (pp. 473-498)

      Thesiddurand the ritual performance that has accompanied its communal recitation have long occupied a central role in Jewish life. As the classical repository of Jewish memory and faith, thesidduris in a profound sense a conservative document. For nearly two millennia, the basic form and content of Jewish prayer has remained remarkably consistent.

      At the same time, the Jewish prayer book has hardly remained static. Flexibility and freedom have always marked its texts. Throughout the centuries, the variegated nuances and emphases of ongoing Jewish life and faith have found diverse expression in the liturgy. Different customs (minhagim)...

    • 22 David Hartman on Judaism and the Modern Condition A Review Essay of A Heart of Many Rooms and Israelis and the Jewish Tradition
      (pp. 499-527)

      As discussed above, Rabbi David Hartman of Jerusalem is surely renowned in the English-language Diaspora as the preeminent Israeli philosopher and representative of traditional Jewish thought. A week rarely passes in which Hartman does not appear on CNN or speak in the pages of publications such asThe New York Times,The Jerusalem Report,The Jerusalem Post, orHa’aretzas an authoritative Jewish voice on the issues of the day. For over three decades, scores of rabbis and lay people of all stripes from both Israel and the Diaspora have justifiably flocked to study with him at both the Hebrew...

    • 23 Marcia Falk’s The Book of Blessings The Issue is Theological
      (pp. 528-534)

      Poet and translator Marcia Falk has long been known for her English renderings of Hebrew poetry and prayer. The publication of her new prayer book,The Book of Blessings:New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life,the Sabbath,and the New Moon Festival(1996), has elicited both praise and criticism, and above all, careful attention on the part of many commentators.

      Simone Lotven Sofian’s review in theCCAR Journal,“Pushing the Envelope: Reflections onThe Book of Blessingsby Marcia Falk,”¹ focuses on the issue of gender in an appreciative, yet critical review essay. Her detailed, knowledgeable, as well as passionate...

  7. Permission Acknowledgments
    (pp. 535-538)